[This article originally appeared as Game Developer magazine's October 2006 issue. You can subscribe to Game Developer in physical or digital form to receive the 2007 Top 20 Publishers ranking first, later this year.]
2006 brings the fourth annual Game Developer Top 20 Publishers ranking, and along with it evidence of an industry in flux as it prepares for the next generation of console hardware. Some publishers have sought to beef up their existing talents and resources to handle the oncoming storm, while others have contributed to the constant consolidation the industry has been experiencing.
Some familiar faces have joined forces with others (Bandai and Namco), and some have shaken up others’ spots on the ranking (notably Take-Two and Nintendo).
There are two newcomers to the list, and one graceful exit: Buena Vista Games and NCsoft both made respectable first showings this year, bumping off Codemasters. And while this ranking arguably marks the end of a console generation, the next will show just who has been most effective in making the transition, so there can only be more rise, fall, and shakeup as the industry matures.
[NOTE: The full Game Developer magazine feature includes more information on the methodology - since this Top 20 is the only empirically weighted countdown of video game publishers. It also includes a full table revealing the specific statistics used to work out the ranking, including average game review percentages, release SKU amounts, and anonymous milestone and producer feedback.]
1. Electronic Arts
Year formed: 1982
Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.
Studios: Criterion (Guildford, U.K.); Digital Illusions CE (London, Ont., Stockholm) EA Black Box (Vancouver); EA Canada (Burnaby, British Columbia); EA China (Shanghai); EA Los Angeles (Playa Vista, Calif.); EA Mobile; EA Montreal; EA Mythic (Fairfax, Va.); EA Japan (Roppongi, Japan); EA Redwood Shores (Redwood City, Calif.); EA Singapore; EA U.K. (Chertsey, U.K.); Maxis (Emeryville, Calif.); EA Phenomic (Leipzig, Germany); EA Tiburon (Orlando)
For the fourth year in a row, EA resides at the top of our ranking. Despite a loss reported in its earnings for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2006, a $15.6 million settlement paid to end a lawsuit over the company’s labor practices, and results below company expectations in 2005’s holiday season, the publisher managed to maintain robust revenue.
EA’s sports titles made an even more impressive performance than in previous years, and the Sims series and its expansions continue to generate high sales. Even a lower average review score than in last year’s tally hasn’t altered the company’s position in the top publisher ranking.
Perhaps to that end, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company has announced an intention to focus more on original intellectual properties. Along these same lines, EA ended its contract with the James Bond license early, likely due to poor sales of games from the franchise. Licensed properties continue to be a major source of income, however, with games based on The Godfather and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire having sold millions of copies each.
This megapublisher has continued to diversify its stable of development houses and partnerships. It has brought online its own digital distribution system for games and a system for collecting micro-transactions for in-game purchases. It carried off a major coup d’état when it acquired Jamdat Mobile, a global publisher of mobile phone games and the largest distributor of its kind in the U.S.
Other acquisitions included developer Hypnotix, responsible for Outlaw Golf and Outlaw Volleyball, who now reside at EA’s Tiburon studio, and German strategy-game developer Phenomic. In February 2006, EA announced a partnership with Neowiz, a Korean publisher of online games, and by the end of June the resulting project FIFA Online had beaten all previous records for online games in Korea. Plus, the publisher has further expanded into Asia, ramping up development with new hires in its Shanghai studio and opening a division for Asian localization in Singapore. With all the above and a five percent staff cut made in February, the company is well-positioned for the current generational transition.
Year formed: 1933
Headquarters: Kyoto, Japan
Studios: Intelligent Systems (Kyoto); Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development (Kyoto, Tokyo); Nintendo Software Technology Corp. (Redmond, Wash.); Retro Studios (Austin); Systems Research & Development (Kyoto, Osaka)
Nintendo’s DS portable has come into its own during this year’s considered period, moving the company into second place with increased software revenues and nearly double the number of releases. The incredible mass appeal and resulting sales of the company’s Nintendogs, Brain Training, and related titles, as well as the company mainstay’s latest foray, New Super Mario Bros., more than made up for its continually sliding console-game revenues.
The DS stands as the company’s clear focus—as far as portable games go—for the immediate future. By introducing a revised DS hardware piece, the sleek DS Lite, Nintendo further boosted the handheld platform’s popularity. Additionally, sales of Game Boy Advance titles have been steadily declining, as further evidence of the transition.
E3 2006 saw Nintendo unwrap its next-generation console, now known as Wii, which looks to boast the same bold design sense and philosophy of mass appeal as the DS hardware. If the new console can manage to reach an audience similar to that of the DS, Nintendo’s position near the top of our list will likely be solidified for next year. The company continues to maintain excellent relations with third-party publishers and external developers as well, and received the highest scores for producers and milestone payments out of any company via our anonymous survey.
Year formed: 1979
Headquarters: Santa Monica, Calif.
Studios: Beenox (Quebec City); Infinity Ward (Encino, Calif.); Luxoflux (Santa Monica, Calif.); Neversoft (Encino, Woodland Hills, Calif.); Raven Studios (Madison, Wis.); RedOctane (Sunnyvale, Calif.); Shaba Games (San Francisco);
Toys For Bob (Novato, Calif.); Treyarch (Santa Monica, Calif.); Vicarious Visions (Mountain View, Calif., Troy, N.Y.); Z-Axis (Foster City, Calif.)
Knocked down to third place from last year’s second by Nintendo’s powerhouse DS push, Activision retains a place near the top thanks to its Call of Duty and Tony Hawk franchises—Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty: Big Red One sold extremely well across many platforms. Activision’s release count declined over 2005, but a higher average review score and favorable developer survey ratings helped the EA rival maintain its footing in our list’s top three.
The most artful work we’ve seen from Activision on the business side has been to carefully secure intellectual properties and licensing agreements to sustain its projects for years to come. The company struck agreements that gave it licenses to produce games based on the Spider-Man and Transformers movies, four additional new Dreamworks pictures, Mattel’s Barbie toy line, and the potentially lucrative James Bond franchise, taken over from EA. Guitar Hero’s brisk sales led Activision to purchase the game’s publisher RedOctane in May, yielding an original IP for the publisher—but the company’s number one original IP in 2005 was Gun.
Activision has not proved to be immune to the sorts of legal threats that have faced its competitors, specifically EA and Take-Two. As of this writing, the company faces two separate lawsuits: one over its labor practices and another over allegedly backdated stock options. At the same time, the company has tightened its belt for the generational transition by reducing its workforce by seven percent back in February.
4. Sony Computer Entertainment
Year formed: 1993
Studios: Bend, Ore.; Cambridge, U.K.; Contrail (Tokyo); Foster City, Calif.; Guerrilla Games (Amsterdam); Incognito Entertainment (Salt Lake City); Insomniac (Burbank, Calif); Liverpool, U.K.; London; Polyphony Digital (Tokyo); San Diego; Naughty Dog (Santa Monica, Calif.); Seoul; SN Systems (Bristol, U.K.); Tokyo; Zener Works (Tokyo)
Sony gains the number four spot on the Top 20 Publishers list, as Microsoft drops from the top five. Despite strong continued sales of God of War and a respectable showing by MLB 2006 The Show for PlayStation 2, first-party software sales for the platform fell off during the period considered in our methodology. First-party PSP software sales buoyed Sony though, and allowed the Tokyo-based company to hold steady in terms of revenue. A slightly higher average review score — to which Shadow of the Colossus’s shining critical reception contributed — doubtless helped the company’s standing in our ranking.
Guerrilla Games has proved to be a valuable asset to Sony’s first-party portfolio, with Killzone games on the way for PSP and PlayStation 3, and Sony acknowledging the fact more concretely by acquiring the Dutch developer this year.
5. Take-Two Interactive
Year formed: 1993
Headquarters: New York
Studios: Cat Daddy Games (Bellevue, Wash.); Firaxis Games (Hunt Valley, Md.) Irrational Games (Quincy, Mass.; Canberra, Australia); Kush Games (Camarillo, Calif.); Rockstar Leeds (Leeds, U.K.); Rockstar North (Edinburgh); Rockstar San Diego; Rockstar Toronto; Rockstar Vancouver; Rockstar Vienna; Venom Games (Newcastle, U.K.); Visual Concepts (San Rafael, Calif.)
Take-Two Interactive, the owner of the powerhouse Rockstar Games publishing label and the lucrative Grand Theft Auto franchise, has proven successful at maintaining a plateful of successful releases, even in a year without a new mainline GTA release. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, co-published with Bethesda, broke sales records for Xbox 360 games and was no slouch in the PC format either. Civilization IV also performed well, and the PSP release of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories proved to be one of the top-selling titles on the platform during the period considered. Unsurprisingly, the now $20 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas continued to contribute to the company’s revenues.
Take-Two acquired sterling independent developer Irrational Games in January as a result of a relationship the two companies formed around Irrational’s upcoming release Bioshock. Nabbing this team will likely result in even more high quality, original IPs for the publisher and create an opportunity for Irrational’s often-niche projects to receive more marketing attention than they have in the past.
The scandal over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ “hot coffee” was still threatening Take-Two as this ranking’s period of consideration began. While the company in June received a subpoena from the District Attorney of New York County’s office for documents related to “hot coffee” and regarding financial issues, in July the FTC let Take-Two off the hook by announcing that no penalties or fines would be imposed as a result of its investigation. Of course, the FTC did gently remind Take-Two to properly represent games’ ratings and content descriptors in the future.
6. Microsoft Game Studios
Year formed: 1975
Headquarters: Redmond, Wash.
Studios: Bungie Studios (Redmond, Wash.); Ensemble Studios (Dallas); FASA (Redmond, Wash.); Lionhead Studios (Guildford, U.K.); Microsoft Game Studios Japan (Tokyo); Rare (Twycross, U.K.)
Microsoft’s internal game development endured a transition phase during this period, ignoring the all-but-defunct Xbox platform and preparing new titles for the Xbox 360. The lack of a release as popular as the company’s Halo series for Xbox has caused the publisher to drop three spots in our ranking. The stable of studios holds much promise for its home platform, however, with Halo 3 on the way and a pledge of support from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and his studio Mistwalker. With a lower console price point than Sony, Microsoft has some real opportunities to move forward in the coming generation.
On the PC side, Age of Empires III has consistently cleaned up the charts since its October release, reaching platinum status and becoming the fastest selling entry in the long-running series, and a Windows Vista-only Halo 2 will make for interesting results next year.
Year formed: 1989
Headquarters: Calabasas Hills, Calif.
Studios: Blue Tongue Entertainment (Melbourne); Concrete Games (Carlsbad, Calif.); Cranky Pants Games (Kirkland, Wash.); Heavy Iron Studios (Los Angeles); Helixe (Burlington, Mass.); Incinerator (Carlsbad, Calif.); Juice Games (Warrington, U.K.), Kaos Studios (New York); Locomotive Games (Santa Carla, Calif.); Paradigm (Dallas); Rainbow Studios (Phoenix); Relic Entertainment (Vancouver); THQ Australia Studios (Spring Hill, Australia); THQ Wireless (Calabasas Hills, Calif.); Vigil Games (Austin); Volition (Champaign, Ill.)
Thanks to heightened revenues, THQ moves up two spots on the list this year, though the company had a lower average review score, and respondents to our survey were less than favorable when ranking their milestones and payments. THQ’s highly rated producers and significant revenue aided the publisher’s climb up the list of Top 20 Publishers.
While the company has continued to expand its original releases, its bread and butter is still its collection of licensed titles, several of which sold more than one million copies during the period and aided the publisher’s rise on our charts (Cars and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 being the company’s most notable hits).
THQ expanded its operations and added considerable talent to its resources with the establishment of the internal studios Kaos and Incinerator, and the acquisition of Juice Games, Vigil Games, and Paradigm Entertainment (along with its Stuntman franchise). And in what seems to be a running industry trend, THQ is also now under SEC investigation for its handling of stock options over the years.
Year formed: 1986
Studios: Annecy, France; Barcelona; Blue Byte (Düsseldorf, Germany); Bucharest; Casablanca; Milan; Montpellier, France; Montreal; Montreuil, France; Quebec City; Red Storm (Morrisville, N.C.); Reflections (Newcastle, U.K.); Shanghai; Wolfpack (Austin)
Sliding two positions down the list from 2005, Ubisoft’s average review score and pay and perks ratings fell a bit from last year. The Parisian company’s revenues were quite solid, however, and were kept steady by healthy sales of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, 3DO acquisition Heroes of Might & Magic V, and releases from the Far Cry franchise.
While Far Cry developer CryTek has signed an exclusivity agreement with EA, Ubisoft has purchased the game’s engine and intellectual property. Another key acquisition this year was Ubisoft’s purchase of Driver developer Reflections from the ailing Atari.
Overall, the company hasn’t been as active as other major publishers in snatching up outside development houses, preferring to develop its existing talent instead, promoting its name talent and original IP whenever possible.
Year formed: 1973
Studios: Blue Label Interactive (Los Angeles); Hudson Soft (Tokyo, Sapporo, San Francisco); Konami Computer Entertainment (Tokyo); Konami Software Shanghai
Konami this year has continued its restructuring efforts, which began last year with the consolidation of its Japanese development studios into a single branch. Gaming and non-gaming divisions have been shuffled and reorganized, culminating with the consolidation of Konami’s European business operations into a single branch located in Germany, and the closure of its Honolulu studio.
Sales of games in the Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania, YuGiOh!, and Dance Dance Revolution series brought the publisher relatively consistent success in the U.S., though PawaPro and Winning Eleven sports titles brought much more success in other territories. Also looking to increase its involvement in the ever-growing mobile market, Konami purchased Los Angeles mobile developer Blue Label Interactive and formed a partnership with casual game publisher PlayFirst for mobile distribution of its games. But the Japanese publisher is clearly affected by the transition as well, with fewer major releases this year and more effort being spent on next-generation development.
10. Sega Sammy Holdings
Year formed: 1952 (Sega); 1975 (Sammy)
Studios: Creative Assembly (West Sussex, U.K., Fortitude Valley, Australia); Racing Studio (Birmingham, U.K.); Secret Level (San Francisco); Sega Shanghai Studios (Shanghai); Sega Studios (Tokyo); Sega Studios USA (San Francisco); Sports Interactive (London)
Sega Sammy’s consumer games division (the company simply
publishes under the Sega brand) has continued to post profits this year, with elevated revenues rescuing the company’s overall financial results from an ailing pachinko (Japanese gambling machines) division. U.S. sales of games in the Sonic series, especially the platinum-selling Shadow the Hedgehog, held down the fort in the U.S., while the company published a mix of Japanese and Western-developed titles, like Treasure’s Gunstar Super Heroes and the first Total War title, resulting from Sega’s acquisition of The Creative Assembly.
Sega has set its sights on Western audiences for the next generation of consoles. Over the last 12 months, the company has acquired skilled developers Sports Interactive and Secret Level, and has formed partnerships with Obsidian, Petroglyph, and Bizarre Creations for exclusive next-generation and PC projects. Sega has proved apt at managing relations with Western studios like these; the company received high marks with regard to producers and milestone payments in our anonymous survey.
The company has tuned up its Japanese-oriented next-gen development as well, with Sonic titles promised across all new home consoles, including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, in the coming year.
11. Namco Bandai
Year formed: 1950 (Bandai); 1955 (Namco)
Studios: Banpresoft (Tokyo);
Namco Networks America; Japan Bec Co., Ltd. (Tokyo);
San Jose, Calif.; Yokohama; Tokyo
This year we see the first results of the merger between Namco and the Japanese mega-conglomerate Bandai, which consolidated their U.S. operations in January. Unfortunately for both participants, sales of their major titles (including Soul Calibur III and Ridge Racer 6 domestically and Mobile Suit Gundam titles overseas) fell short of expectations for the year.
The publisher admits to being too soft in taking advantage of handheld development for the surging DS platform. The resultant decreased release count and a marginal review score has kept the publishers’ combined efforts out of the top ten, but the company has managed to remain in its Namco-occupied position from last year.
Licensed titles proved to be the biggest help for the company over the period, with its externally-developed Curious George games debuting in the U.S. market, and a new line of Tamagotchi games doing well in all territories. In addition, the publisher lost no time in taking advantage of the mobile market. In October 2005, Namco established a subsidiary mobile games division in the U.S. known as Namco Networks America.
12. Vivendi Games
Year formed: 2000
Headquarters: New York
Studios: Blizzard Console (Aliso Viejo, Calif.); Blizzard Entertainment (Irvine, Calif.); Blizzard North (San Mateo, Calif.); High Moon Studios (Carlsbad, Calif.) Massive Entertainment (Malmö, Sweden); Radical Entertainment (Vancouver); Sierra Entertainment (Bellevue, Wash.); Swordfish Studios (Birmingham, U.K.); VUG Mobile (Meudon, France)
Blizzard’s online RPG World of WarCraft — still the most popular game in the world — was responsible this year for driving revenues reported by the French conglomerate’s games division. Now simply called Vivendi Games (dropping “Universal”), the publisher’s income increased significantly over last year’s records, thanks to World of WarCraft mainly, but also successes such as 50 Cent: Bulletproof and games based on the Ice Age 2 movie license.
Seeking to capitalize on the wireless-game boom, parent company Vivendi established a mobile development division in Meudon, France. Vivendi Games added more talent to its studio list in January by snapping up Darkwatch developer and former internal Sammy developer High Moon Studios—and the Darkwatch franchise along with it.
All has not been so well for other development efforts, though. Even after a developer switch and years of production, Blizzard’s StarCraft: Ghost was put on indefinite hold recently.
The company stayed put on our ranking at number 12, with a reduced release schedule and lower average review scores hurting its overall score, while a higher producer rating raised them back up.
Interestingly, Vivendi Games has chosen to revive the Sierra publishing brand for a number of its products, playing on the nostalgia of gamers for that venerated label, which had been dormant for two years.
13. Square Enix
Year formed: 2003
Studios: Beijing; Osaka; Tokyo;
UIEvolution (Bellevue, Wash.)
2005–2006 saw a conservative release schedule from the Japanese publisher, with less than one title released for each month of the period considered. Sequels in mainstay series performed well, including Dragon Quest VIII and especially the Buena Vista Games partnership Kingdom Hearts II, which sold even faster than its predecessor. Square Enix nurtured its online games business during the period, with Final Fantasy XI receiving an expansion during the year and increasing its subscriber base to over 500,000 users. A friendly takeover of Japanese publisher and arcade distributor Taito was completed during the period, but that merger has not had much of an effect on U.S. software publishing to date; Taito’s strengths are in amusement machines and mobile development.
A high average review score and the successes of its mobile releases helped the publisher rise from two previous years spent in the number 16 spot on our list.
Year formed: 1979
Studios: Capcom Interactive (Los Angeles); Clover Studio (Osaka); Cosmic Infinity (Burlington, Ont.); Flagship (Tokyo); Team 1 (Osaka); Team 2 (Osaka)
Capcom rises a notch this year, thanks in part to the runaway success of Monster Hunter 2 (PlayStation 2) and Monster Hunter Freedom (PSP). Financial reports issued by the company obliquely referred to brisk sales for lower-priced titles, which seems to indicate good revenues brought by Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition and Capcom’s wide variety of retro remakes and compilations made available this year.
The DS version of the innovative courtroom adventure game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney surpassed Capcom’s sales expectations again and again in the U.S., and the title received four reproductions over five months of release. Two of the Japanese publisher’s attempts to appeal more to the Western market fell flat however, with Beat Down and Final Fight Streetwise failing both critically and commercially. Those titles’ poor critical reception helped drag down the publisher’s average review score this year, and Streetwise’s failure was the final nail in the coffin for California-based internal developer Capcom Studio 8, which was shut down in March. But more talent was brought on board this year as Capcom’s new mobile division, Capcom Interactive, bought up Ontario wireless developer Cosmic Infinity in May.
Year formed: 1997
Studios: ArenaNet (Bellevue, Wash.); Austin; Seoul
New to the Top 20 Publishers list is Korean company NCsoft, whose sales of Guild Wars have reached more than two million, bringing the company to our list for the first time. An expansion to the online role-playing game entitled Guild Wars: Factions, which also sold well, has helped to make up for another new release this year that didn’t fare so well: Auto Assault. Overall, NCsoft boasts only three releases for the year considered, which definitely helped the company secure the highest overall review score in our listing (which also contributed to its ranking this year).
Regardless of its three decent games, the publisher’s future among the big 20 may already be in doubt: the first of said releases, City of Villains, reportedly has been experiencing a drop in subscriber headcount (as of press time), which likely contributed to significant layoffs among NCsoft’s U.S. staff in June. Analysts have expressed concern over Auto Assault’s failure and whether Richard Garriott’s long-awaited MMO Tabula Rasa would make its current launch window. Luckily, the publisher doesn’t seem opposed to diversifying its efforts: NCsoft formed a partnership with the veteran staff at Spacetime Studios for a new online game, and it will also be publishing the Barcelona-developed, hooligan-friendly Soccer Fury.
Year formed: 1990
Studios: Beautiful Game Studios (London); Crystal Dynamics (Palo Alto, Calif.); IO Interactive (Copenhagen); Pivotal Games (Bath, U.K.)
Since its purchase by competitor SCi last year, Eidos seems to have kept its day-to-day operations largely independent from the parent company. But a slow release schedule and slightly lower average review scores have caused it to drop from the number 14 spot it held last year on the Top 20 list.
As an upswing, Eidos’ Tomb Raider series has been revitalized by Crystal Dynamics-developed Tomb Raider: Legend. The game was met with multi-platinum sales and favorable critical reception. Additionally, the latest Hitman release, Blood Money, sold over a million copies as well. SCi predicts that the company will be catapulted back into profitability by this welcome success, in the black again for the first time since the merger with Eidos, which bodes well for both halves of the relationship. During restructuring under SCi, the original Tomb Raider series creator Core Design was sold to developer Rebellion, ending the years-long business relationship between Core and Eidos once and for all.
Year formed: 1982
Headquarters: San Francisco
Studio: San Francisco
Up from the number 20 spot and landing at number 17 this year comes San Francisco-based LucasArts. LucasArts only published six games during the year considered, but a high average review score and high revenues, fueled by smash hits Star Wars Battlefront II and Star Wars: Empire at War, have propelled the rather quiet publisher to its current ranking. The company also released Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-Wan, an expansion for its struggling massively multiplayer online game, only to dole out refunds to players who were distraught over sweeping (and widely unpopular) changes made to the game in an update released just after the expansion.
But future prospects are bright. Partnerships with Day 1 and Free Radical for next-generation console development should bring more Mercenaries-style, non-Star Wars-dependent successes, and Traveller’s Tales has just finished a sequel to the hit Lego Star Wars.
18. Buena Vista Games
Year formed: 1994 (as Disney Interactive)
Headquarters: Burbank, Calif.
Studios: Avalanche Software (Salt Lake City); Propaganda Games (Vancouver)
Also new to the Top 20 Publishers roster is Buena Vista Games, Disney’s game publishing division. The company enters at number 18 due the success of Kingdom Hearts II, which was published and developed in partnership with Japanese developer Square Enix and has sold more than one million copies. The publisher has beefed up its internal development since the release of the first Kingdom Hearts with the purchase of Salt Lake City-based Avalanche Software and the establishment of a Vancouver studio, Propaganda Games, which is staffed largely by former EA employees. Also successful for Buena Vista this year were games based on the Chronicles of Narnia movies.
Buena Vista’s monetary foundation is admittedly rooted in a wide variety of games based on Disney-owned intellectual property, but the company has made some surprising moves this year toward original material and other licenses. In April, Buena Vista announced a deal to publish four games by Tetsuya Mizuguchi-headed studio Q Entertainment. Propaganda will be developing a new game based on the Turok license, taking the reins from previous license-holder Acclaim, and Japanese handheld developer Jupiter Corp. will be responsible for Spectrobes, an entirely new anime-styled RPG.
Year formed: 1983
Headquarters: Lyon, France
Studios: Atari Melbourne House (Melbourne); Eden Studios (Lyon, France); Humongous Inc. (New York); Shiny Entertainment (Newport Beach, Calif.)
Atari has had a rough year. The French-owned publisher posted reduced revenues over the past 12 months, which resulted in significant losses. The Matrix: Path of Neo and Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure underperformed. It faced mountains of debt, multiple lawsuits (two of which had been settled at the time of writing), and a warning from the Nasdaq stock exchange that the publisher would be de-listed if it didn’t improve its stock price.
Soon after the warning from Nasdaq, Atari announced a series of efforts aimed at hauling itself out from the muck, beginning with a 20 percent reduction in staff and the sales of two of its major subsidiary developers—Reflections (Driver) and Paradigm (Stuntman).
The publisher still hasn’t returned to profitability, Atari is losing much less money than it was around this time last year. The revenues it has managed to post, its fair release count, and a middling average review score have helped it stay in the top 20 this year, and its promising lineup for the next year (which includes Neverwinter Nights 2, two Dragon Ball Z titles, the next-gen iteration of Alone in the Dark, among others) should help push Atari closer to the black ink.
Year formed: 1988
Studios: Austin; Chicago; Los Angeles; Pitbull Syndicate (Newcastle, U.K.); San Diego; Surreal Software (Seattle)
Occupying the final spot on the list of Top 20 Publishers is Midway, who has suffered low revenues and losses all year long due to the generational transition and development costs. The publisher acquired studios in Australia (Ratbag) and England (Pitbull Syndicate) in August and October, respectively. But just a few months later, after posting major quarterly and yearly losses, Midway closed down Ratbag and gave the pink slip to all employees there. The revenues that the company did manage to post and its still-healthy release schedule saved Midway from sliding off the Top 20, as its average review scores fell considerably from last year’s grade. Keeping the publisher ranked this year were its mainstay sports titles, most notably NBA Ballers: Phenom, NFL Blitz: The League, and the successful Mortal Kombat side-trip Shaolin Monks.