These day the gaming world is split down the middle. On the one hand you have developers like Activision Blizzard, who seem to own everything, and on the other you have indie developers who focus on smaller games and release on console marketplaces, mobile app stores and online. In the old days, it was a different story (and by “old days” I mean the 80s and 90s, which makes me feel ancient). You had many top developers breaking through, creating games that would later influence many of the titles we know and love today. Some would even go on to inspire entire genres and if not for these games and these developers, the industry would look decidedly different.
So, here is a list of now defunct developers who changed the industry for the better and released some of the best games that I have personally ever played.
These guys created some of the best games of my childhood, games that I spent hours playing on. They were all PC games and many of them paved the way for genres and ideas that now rule the gaming wold. Founded in 1979, Sierra was the team behind titles such as the Caesar series, where the goal was to build and maintain your own Roman empire and fight invaders and barbarians at the same time; Half-Life, which changed the tone for FPS games; and the SWAT series, some of the ideas of which have since been adopted by tactical first-person shooter games.
They are also the team behind the controversial Leisure Suit Larry series of games, where anything went and your day-to-day involved chatting up busty women, avoiding DEA investigations after dubious activities and creating your own adult studio.
They are still technically active, but they are now an indie developer working as an Activision Blizzard company. They stopped developing big titles after 1999 and the soul of the company went with them.
This studio went defunct in 2003 and will probably not be recognized by many, but it was one of the first to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for achievements related to gaming. This entry was down to the Command & Conquer series of games, which was basically the 1990s version of Grand Theft Auto.
C&C has all but been lost to the annuals of video gaming history, but if you are above the age of 30 and spent a lot of time PC gaming as a kid then you will remember it very fondly. They also created the Blade Runner game, which was a personal favorite of mine and is a must-play for fans of the film, the book and the point-and-click genre.
The demise of Westwood Studios began when it was taken over by EA, who had hoped to cash in on Westwood’s sizable share of the PC gaming market. But they couldn’t and future releases didn’t meet expectations, leading to the eventual liquidation of the company.
This studio was headed by a certain Peter Molyneux, who went on to create other studios and to make great games like Fable. Molyneux has a reputation for promising the world and delivering something that falls way short. But the reason he gets so much respect from developers and gamers like myself is not just because he created Fable and the top games with Lionhead Studios, but because he was creating classics way back in the 90s with Bullfrog.
This is the company behind Theme Hospital, a strategy game that defined a genre and one that has yet to be bettered. This was the ultimate sim game, as anyone who played it will tell you, and the reason we haven’t seen anything like it since is because the studio behind it have been defunct since 2001.
As well as Theme Hospital, this studio created Theme Park, Theme Park World, Dungeon Keeper and Populous. That alone is deserving of Molyneux’s God-like status in this industry.
Looking Glass Studios
This company went through a few different names early on, including Blue Sky Productions and Lerner Research. The games had promise, but they weren’t special and were somewhat of a joke when compared to their later titles. Because when they were branded as Looking Glass Studios they created games like System Shock, Destruction Derby 64 and Thief. They don’t have as big of a classic gaming roster as some of the others on this list and many younger gamers won’t even recognize System Shock or its sequel. But everyone knows and loves Thief and it went on to influence countless games.