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When Blizzard made Warcraft, it seemed like everyone wanted in on real-time strategy games. When Blizzard made World of Warcraft, everyone wanted to make an MMO. We don’t know what’s in the water at Blizzard HQ, but whatever it is has enabled them to take an existing genre and turn it into an industrywide trend.
Whenever possible, we’ve tried to avoid recognizing a massive game company on this list in favor of highlighting specific dev teams. With Capcom, we simply can’t do this, because it’d mean picking favorites between the folks who made Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil (just to name a few!). Fact is, Capcom knows how to make a darn good video game, and that has kept them in the center of the industry for decades.
To be clear, when we mention Kojima Productions, we’re retroactively including the work that the core team did as part of Konami during the original Metal Gear Solid days. The Metal Gear Solid series embodies some of the most creative fusions between game design and storytelling we’ve ever seen in video games before. Yes, it gets weird sometimes, but we’re glad that Hideo Kojima is out there making big-budget games that get a little weird.
We can’t talk about inspirational devs without bringing up Bullfrog Productions, the studio that brought us Populous, Syndicate, Theme Park, and, of course, co-founder Peter Molyneux, who would go on to found Lionhead Studios (Fable, Black and White). We like that Molyneux chases after ways to tease out the medium’s potential for emotional engagement -- and in doing so, inspires other devs to do so as well.
Mojang makes Minecraft, Mojang sells Minecraft, Mojang makes millions and millions of dollars. Practically overnight, Mojang became a fairy tale to tell starving indies: Work hard on ideas you believe in, do right by your players, and the money will come. So Mojang is on this list because what they’ve done with Minecraft alone is an amazing accomplishment -- and also because we, too, want to believe.
When we were putting together this list, we found that it was easy enough to pick out studios that had landmark games early on in the industry’s history, or studios that emerged as dominant players in the current era. Ubisoft Montreal nearly flew under our radar -- not because they don’t deserve a spot, but because it’s strangely harder to recognize a great studio when they’re still around and doing great work like Splinter Cell, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and the rebooted Prince of Persia series. We like to think that in 20 years (forever, in this biz), Ubisoft Montreal will still be there, quietly cranking out a handful of top triple-A titles year after year.
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Riot Games basically took a Warcraft III custom map and turned it into an international phenomenon that spawned a genre of its own -- the multiplayer online battle arena, or “MOBA.” What’s more, they did so by championing the then-unproven free-to-play business model (well, unproven in American markets, anyway), and architecting a studio culture built solely around making League of Legends the best darn game they could make it. Since 2006, Riot has focused solely on developing and sustaining one game, which we think is a testament to how much they believe in their game. Here’s to the next seven years.
We’re going to cheat and cover two studios in one entry, since Platinum Games’s core trio of Shinji Mikami, Atsushi Inaba, and Hideki Kamiya previously worked together as Capcom subsidiary Clover Studios. Between the two studios, this dream team is responsible for Viewtiful Joe, Okami, God Hand, Bayonetta, and MadWorld. We like that Platinum Games is unafraid to unleash their creative energies and take risks; we love that they do this and make games that just feel solid, satisfying, and lovingly crafted.