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Top 30 Developers of All Time

June 25, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

In this article from the final issue of Game Developer magazine, the Game Developer and Gamasutra staffs collaborate to offer a list of the 30 best developers of all time. (The complete issue is available as a free download here.)

For a few years now, we at Game Developer have consulted with the Gamasutra editors to determine a list of the top 30 developers of the past year (from June to June, that is). Normally, this list is meant to recognize the studios that have shown excellence in creativity or in business, in product or production; in other words, the people out there doing work that inspires the rest of us by virtue of being new, better, or different.

When it comes to the last issue of Game Developer, however, a simple list of the last year’s best simply won’t do. Instead, we chose to assemble a list of the greatest game developers of all time. What follows is a list of 30 studios that have left (and in some cases, continue to leave) an indelible mark on the medium of video games for generations to come.

Note that whenever possible we’ve gone out of our way to avoid recognizing developers solely for being the first to do something in video games -- our medium’s pioneers are important, but we wouldn’t have room left in the list for anyone else. So we’ve generally tried to stick to the last 30 years of game development or so, and focus on the studios that we think have shaped the current era. 

Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development

Kyoto, Japan

Odds are that most people reading this article owe their fascination with video games in some part to Nintendo EAD (Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda), so including it on this list is a no-brainer. However, we feel compelled to point out that it’s not just their work from almost 30 years ago that earned Nintendo EAD a spot; we’re impressed by the way they consistently manage to push video games as a whole in new directions. Plus, as people who grew up with video games, we think there’s something to be said for knowing there is someone out there keeping Nintendo’s genuinely friendly blue-skies aesthetic alive.

Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts

San Francisco, California

We have a soft spot in our hearts for Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts) and their adventure games: Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, among others. When it comes to their impact on the industry as a whole, though, we think Other Ocean chief creative officer Mike Mika said it best in the May 2013 issue of Game Developer: “Even today, my fantasy of what game development nirvana feels like stems from my experience playing those games, and the insinuation that they were created in the most liberating and creative environment on earth.” Well said.

id Software

Richardson, Texas

For better or worse, we can trace the dominance of the first-person shooter straight back to id Software and its seminal titles Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. To be sure, these games have left an indelible impact on the game industry -- particularly when it comes to 3D graphics programming and networked multiplayer, for example -- but we’re also inclined to honor them for their generally dev-friendly attitude toward game development, as demonstrated by their encouraging and open stance toward modding, and their habit of open-sourcing their id Tech engines. Also, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a gritty Commander Keen reboot.

Epic Games

Cary, North Carolina

Certainly, Epic’s list of games is impressive enough -- nobody can doubt the impact that Unreal and Gears of War have left on the modern game industry. But we’re including them on this list for the Unreal Engine itself. Between the raw power of Unreal Engine and UDK’s relative ease of use, Epic has proven that they’re not just good at making games, they’re good at making tools to help people make games -- and make those games look better than ever. (Just for the record, we’d accept a gritty Jazz Jackrabbit reboot, too.)

Bungie

Bellevue, Washington

We knew Bungie was cool way back in their Macintosh-only days, when we were devouring the terminal text in Marathon and tossing grenades in Myth: The Fallen Lords, but we never could have imagined that Bungie would have basically carried Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360 with Halo. We’re sure that lots has changed since the studio grew from three people to over 300, but we’ve remained impressed by how Bungie has consistently maintained a deeply thoughtful combination of technology, design, and creative direction over the years. 


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Comments


Forestier Adrien
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I feel so sad for Westwood.

Ian Welsh
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I really liked Earth and Beyond. If they hadn't been forced to publish it before it was actually, y'know, finished...

Also, it had probably the best fictional background and writing of ANY MMORPG, before or since.

Sigh.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Frank Cifaldi
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I think of old Atari more as a publisher that owned a hundred micro studios than I do as a development team and, honestly, the majority of its games weren't classics.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

C L
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Atari had an amazing run in the arcades from the 80s into the 90s. Outside of the well-known classics Bill listed, we still have gems like Paperboy, Toobin', 720, APB, PackRat, Road Runner, Road Blasters, Gauntlets I & II, San Francisco Rush, Xybots, Marble Madness, Cyberball, Space Lords, T-Mek. They were incredibly innovative in the arcade scene, and those games I constantly return to for inspiration.

Daniel Backteman
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Thank you for using a picture from Final Fantasy 6. As Square Enix/Squaresoft has so many games to pick from, I'm glad that you chose that one. With my avatar coming from their universe, I suppose my love for that game isn't very subtle.

Daniel Backteman
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@Tony

"Oh Mass Effect 2 if so revolutionary. You can actually do the main mission whenever you want to and the outcome is based on preparation and skill!"

World of Ruin; chew soggy cotton, ME2.

Edit: I like ME 2 as well, but I love FF VI so much that I really think that they deserve special credit for the World of Ruin. :)

Carlos Rocha
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My favorite game too :)

Dane MacMahon
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Other than Valve being a bit low and Epic being a bit high I agree with this list a surprising amount.

Patrick Miller
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It's an unranked list. :)

Matt Ponton
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Was expecting to see some mention of Team NINJA. On more than the average, their games were well designed and polished with good features both online/offline.

Jean-Michel Vilain
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Final Fantasy VI <3

Jean-Michel Vilain
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Yes thank you for having its box here. Greatest piece of art ever.

Wasn't expecting to find Epic in the list.

Michael Ball
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No Retro Studios?

Dedan Anderson
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yeah that's weird especially since out of bungie, rare, retro group i would have to say retro is the most consistent...

Ardney Carter
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"And it was super effective."

xD

Joel Bitar
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Someone explain riot games here.
Not to shit on the amazing job they've done with league of legends, but from a development standpoint: Streamlining a mod, monetizing it cleverly and take great care of the community seems a bit little to get onto this type of list?

Patrick Miller
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First: Lists are meant to be argued over. :)

Second: Riot was my pick for pretty much those exact reasons; I think that their amazing success doing those three things ought to stress to other devs how important those factors are to developing a quality game.

Tyler King
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Also as a result of the things that they have done right their 1 game happens to be the most played video game ever(Actually its just out of pc games, but I would be interested to see which console games would beat it.).

Sam Knudson
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Like the article said they implemented the free to play system that most games that go free to play try to copy.They really started the whole free to play craze here in the US. Starting a trend in the industry with your first game that because one of the most successful games in the world deserves a little credit.

Carlos Rocha
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Completely agree with you, one of the top 30 developers of all time? I would have prefered Enix, (not exactly Square), or even Rockstar

Kenneth Wesley
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From Software should've made it based on Metal Wolf Chaos. It's the most American game ever.

Dedan Anderson
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agreed they should be the only dev on the list because they made METAL WOLF CHAOS... are there any other games???

Anonymous Designer
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No Respawn/Infinity ward? Ridiculous.

Frank Cifaldi
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NEW RULE! Every time someone complains that a studio didn't make the cut, I'd like them to explain why they should be included and which of the 30 should be replaced.

Kyle Phillips
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As a great fan of MAME, I don't think they belong on this list. According to the beginning of the article developers are on this list for:

"doing work that inspires the rest of us by virtue of being new, better, or different."

As much as I love playing old games on MAME, they don't strictly hit any of those categories. They aren't making new games. They aren't making better games. They aren't even the only emulator outfit (just the best)- the only trait which might have distinguished them as 'different'. I realize this may be a militant interpretation of the guidelines set, and no one takes the best-of lists overly seriously, but it seems like a crime to bump devs who are pushing boundaries. If the criteria is simply 'excellence' then Naughty Dog, Rockstar Games, From Software, and a host of others would make fine substitutes.

If it were up to me I'd put CCP on the list because of the work they've done with their economy, community engagement, massive in-game wars, and cross-game integration (Dust). Their efforts in those areas are groundbreaking.

Maurício Gomes
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I loved the list, although it clearly neglects the early personal computer era (not the IBM-PC I mean, the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, etc... games).

Even current surviving developers that started on that era were not mentioned (like DICE or Codemasters)

George Menhal III
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I'm surprised that Irrational Games is not on the list. System Shock 2, Freedom Force, and Bioshock. That studio is single-handedly carrying the Looking Glass Studios torch into the modern era. They deserve to be on the list, for sure.

Michael Stevens
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The list really undervalues Japanese work after 2000.
My picks:
Atlus R&D 1
-They've done notable things before and since, but their 7-game streak on the PS2 is clearly hall of fame material. They've got at least four RPGs that could reasonably considered best of decade. I've cooled on them a lot since Index took over, but that PS2 stuff is just unimpeachable.

Sting, Tri-Ace, and Nippon Ichi are super innovative and it's a shame that people choose to frown at Square Enix rather than acknowledge the devs who picked up their old cause. I'd probably put N1 out in front of the other two.

Arc System Works
- Kept the flame alive while the fighting game scene hibernated, and Guillty Gear 2 was secretly one of the weirdest and boldest action games this gen.

Swap out:
Ubisoft Montreal: They make rentals. Too safe. Consistently playable doesn't make you top 30.
Riot and Mojang: They're good picks, but if we're talking "Best Ever" I'm not sure one big game is enough, and I feel like a lot of the interest those games get is only indirectly related to the actual work (if that makes sense?) I wouldn't include Capcom if it was exclusively on the strength of Street Fighter 2 either.

Titi Naburu
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MicroProse also developed Formula One Grand Prix, one of the first proper racing simulators in history. Gran Turismo and Forza owe to them. Even games that now are considered arcade, like Need for Speed, Grid and Dirt, have proper physcs engines like GP, only tuned for less realism.

Jordan Johnson
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Neversoft should be on here. Mojang should not. One indie game (even with huge success) doesn't qualify as a top developer. Neversoft brought us some of the best sports games of all time with the Tony Hawk series, and had huge success with the Guitar Hero series. Seriously, they had some masterpiece games. Oh and Naughty Dog should be on here too obviously.

Craig Jensen
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Ditch EA and add Free Fall Associates...

Why is EA even on this list as a publisher--Are you just trying to cheat and cram in a several teams under one umbrella?

Also, why do you mention Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall but not Paul Reiche III?

Michael Wenk
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EA is much more deserving to be in this list than many on it. Many of the others on that list wouldn't exist w/o EA. I'm not saying EA is great now. But in the beginning it was one of the easiest and best for the developer ways to get published. I also find it odd that Activision isn't on the list for similar reasons. It is good to see OnLine Systems and credit going to the Williams for the same reason, sad to not see Activision on it.

I also am surprised to not see SSI on the list. Many of the most popular games now have roots in SSI games.

Michael Pianta
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Glad that Treasure got some recognition. One of my absolute favorites.

Andreas Gschwari
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Very odd to see Mojang in there to be honest. As a studio they have not done much yet - Minecraft was pretty much a solo effort by Notch.

I would say Naughty Dog, DICE and even Core could take that place easily.

Carlos Rocha
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With so many people having their own opinions, how about making a list made up of the most voted 30 developers by the Gamasutra community? Just a thought :)

Addison Martinez
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I like the fact this list looks at quality as well as quantity of games. Nods for including Riot.

Terje Barth
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To see no mention of Mike Singleton (RIP) (Lords of Midnight, Midwinter etc..) is somewhat discouraging.

Blackjack Goren
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"The 30 Developers We Want to Recognize" would be a more appropriate title for this article. The list betrays the desire to spotlight a diversity of developers over the best developers ("Ok, we got the indie entry, the community-friendly entry, the middleware entry... what are we missing, people?") That's completely acceptable as long as we ignore the current title, because as it stands, some entries and omissions raise a few questions about the consistency of the list.

Should Cave be omitted? Cave is one of the most consistently dedicated developers that continually release fantastically designed shmups, yet is it the relative obscurity of the genre that keeps them away from praise? Is it because Treasure is already on the list, so the category is sort of accounted for?

What about id? They were indeed the developers who brought first-person shooters to the forefront (Masters of Doom is a magnificent read on the subject, for the few here that haven't read it), but since this list isn't solely about "recognizing developers solely for being the first to do something in video games," then how does id remain on the list when they have yet to match their early success? Rage was a disappointment and Doom 4 is a ways away after what sounds like development hell, and while I'm one of the few who stand in support of Doom 3, it was hardly the critical, commercial or cultural darling their previous games were. Is their relatively open approach to id Tech really that relevant in an age of Unity and UDK, and is it strong enough to take the spots of other developers?

Is Rare really a better developer than Rockstar Games? Has Rare remained as consistent in its output of high quality games as Rockstar, and have they had the same impact in the industry, both on developers and culturally, as Rare? Can we really say with confidence Rare is the "top" developer of the two? Is their survival in the industry really worth that much more merit?

Should thatgamecompany be on a list of the "Top 30 Developers of *All Time*" when they have just released one game that is more than a tech demo? Isn't it too early to say they're one of the top developers when there hasn't been enough time to even stomach the influence, if any, Journey has had besides being ammunition for the game media's never-ending "games as art" debate? Don't they need to release more fantastic games to demonstrate their ability to be consistently successful as a game development studio to reach "The Top 30 Developers of All Time"?

Conversely, shouldn't Team Andromeda/Smilebit get the nod, instead? They released a highly unique game in Jet Set Radio, and unlike thatgamecompany, they had proven their mettle with the fantastic Panzer Dragoon franchise and GunValkyrie. They've demonstrated a talent for high quality entertainment in a variety of genres. However, I get it. It's not a recent developer (always a drawback when it comes to "top" lists of any kind) and its output came from the two systems that killed Sega's console division. While I would bet at least one of the editors of Gamasutra/ Game Developer bravely brought them up, I can't imagine most people in the room being sympathetic to the choice. A shame, as their games hold up incredibly well even to this day.

Still, let me make one thing clear.

I have extremely high respect for id. I grew up on Doom and Quake, and would love to see them release a game that can compete with today's best action games.

Journey captured my attention, and through its beautiful visuals and well placed music, it moved me by the time the credits were telling me who I had met on my way to the game's conclusion.

Rare is responsible for two of my favorite N64 games (Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark), and I wish I had the time to play Nuts & Bolts as it looks highly appealing.

These are all developers I sincerely like, and ones I look forward to see more games from.

However, when I look at studios like Naughty Dog and Rockstar as nothing more than honorable mentions, and studios like Cave and Smilebit entirely ignored, it makes me wonder if some of the devs who made it on the list need to be looked at with greater scrutiny, or by a wider, more diversely experienced group of game players and journalists.

Regardless of my comment, it's still a surprisingly good list of great developers. I'll say that much.

Fred Brunet
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Psygnosis is NOT in that lame list ?!? But Ubisoft Montreal is ?!?


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