[For the first time ever, Gamasutra is printing Game Developer magazine's 6th annual Top 20 Publishers report in full - with stats, ratings, and analysis on the top publishers in today's game industry.]
This year's Game Developer Top 20 Publishers report sees an industry changed. Last year, Nintendo claimed its place at the top of the publishing heap, due to the overwhelming success of its DS and Wii consoles, and the progress of those two systems has in no way abated.
This year's list seems to have been influenced somewhat by which companies could adapt with the times, and capitalize on the so-called "emerging markets" of casual and online games. That said, most of the publishers in our top 20 have a decided console focus, demonstrating that the adaptation of new forms of games into the existing model will take some time.
This year, Atlus left the top ranking due to a strong showing from Codemasters, which re-entered the list for the first time since 2005. Sony made a significant jump of three places, reflecting the company's increased interest in publishing titles itself, particularly on PSN.
It's a jump similar to Konami's, but in Konami's case this had much more do to with the release of a full stop Metal Gear Solid title than any change in trajectory. The largest decline went to Eidos, which didn't have a breakaway hit in the time recorded, and saw a number of financial difficulties.
One thing to note is that this is the final year for Activision and Vivendi Games to have separate listings, as the merger happened after the discussed timeframe. This could potentially make for a very interesting ranking shakeup, depending on how the company performs in the coming year.
This year's ranking was calculated by considering number of releases, average review scores, and revenue for the period reaching from August of 2007 until July 2008. We've also factored in the results of a Gamasutra.com survey we conducted to gather opinions on 28 major publishers.
Over 300 survey respondents-industry professionals-were asked to first give their opinions on the reputations of each publisher in the survey, or any we had missed. Then the respondents were asked for any specific comments they might have on each of the publishers.
Finally, specific feedback on publishers in the form of number scores and comments was gathered from respondents who had direct experience with said publishers. Each of these factors was carefully weighted to produce the ranking you see below.
A summary of the Top 20, with links to individual profile pages, is as follows:
19. Eidos Interactive
16. Disney Interactive Studios
13. Namco Bandai Games
12. Vivendi Games
10. Square Enix
9. Microsoft Game Studios
7. Sega of America
6. Take Two
5. Sony Computer Entertainment
2. Electronic Arts
In addition, we've reprinted the matrix of Top 20 Publisher scores and rankings from the latest October 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine (click through to see it all):
[NOTE: The complete, comprehensive comparative list of statistics, ratings, and specific written user feedback is available as part of a 100-page Top 20 Publishers 2008 report from the Game Developer Research division. For more information, check www.gamedevresearch.com.]
The Game Developer Top 20 ranks publishers using a score calculated from each publisher's performance in the following five measures: annual turnover, number of releases, average review score, an anonymous reputation survey, and detailed anonymous feedback from those who had worked directly with the publisher.
Annual turnover figures come from the publishers' annual accounts or, when these are not public, from our own estimates based on the sales of games they release. The number of releases, which counts the publication of the same game on different formats as separate releases, was obtained from information on the publishers' web sites and dedicated gaming web sites.
The average review score ratings were based on information from Metacritic.com. A confidential online survey of developers provided the data for the reputational survey and the detailed comments.
The 28 larger publishers were ranked according to each of these five measures. The highest scoring publisher in a category was assigned a figure, and this figure was counted down from in regular intervals for each publisher on the list, in order. The totals were weighted and added to produce a final score, which determined the top 20.
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained within this article. However, Game Developer does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness and does not accept liability for any direct, indirect, or consequential loss arising from its use.
Year formed: 1988
Studios: Austin; Chicago; Los Angeles; Newcastle (U.K.); San Diego; Surreal Software (Seattle)
Despite a year fraught with struggle, Midway clung to the number-twenty spot, the same position it occupied last year.
Review scores rose slightly while the number of releases was trimmed a bit-but revenues did not match those recorded last year.
Anchor titles Wheelman and This Is Vegas were delayed, and BlackSite: Area 51's under performance resulted in layoffs at Midway's Austin studio.
The publisher's financial reports showed losses posted once again this year, but the Mortal Kombat series, Unreal Tournament 3, the NBA Ballers franchise, and titles based on the Happy Feet movie license were high notes for Midway this year.
Midway's NBA Ballers: Chosen One
Year formed: 1990
Studios: Beautiful Game Studios (London); Crystal Dynamics (Palo Alto, Calif.); IO Interactive (Copenhagen)
This year's biggest fall goes to Eidos Interactive parent SCi, down to #19 from #10.
The UK publisher owes the drop to a release schedule slashed by more than half compared to last year, as well as lower revenues and a flat average review score.
SCi killed its internal studio Pivotal Games (known for the Conflict series) and cut staff across the board as it canned many titles in development.
The publisher was seeking a buyout this year, but when interested parties moved on, there emerged instead a publishing partnership with Warner Interactive and investment from NBC.
Mediocre survey scores did the publisher no favors, and a review-score scandal surrounding Eidos title Kane & Lynch earned the ire of several survey comments.
Eidos/Io Interactive's Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Year formed: 1985
Headquarters: Southam, U.K.
Studio: Southam, U.K.
Back on the ranking after a two-year absence, UK-based Codemasters reported record revenues in 2007, scooped up Sega's abandoned Racing Studio, and formed a partnership with casual games publisher and portal MumboJumbo.
The company's 65 percent review average beat last year's scores, and readers praised the publisher's "great racing games," saying how it "really set the bar high for Gran Turismo."
Other readers painted the publisher as an underdog that's "ambitious and focused on quality."
On our detailed survey, respondents gave high marks to Codemasters' pay and perks, as well as its milestone payments.
Year formed: 1982
Headquarters: San Francisco
Studio: San Francisco
Just as with last year, LucasArts' lineup this year relied heavily on LEGO-based titles, complemented by a multiplatform Thrillville sequel.
Both series were generally well-received, and this year they allowed the publisher to maintain a 74 percent review average (fifth in our study), in addition to a beefed-up lineup for the year.
The new Force Unleashed shows promise as a pending release (as of press time), but do June's layoffs bode ill for the publisher's well-being?
Reputation and detailed survey scores were merely average, and a couple of readers had harsh words for the publisher regarding the marketing of upcoming title Fracture.
LucasArts' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
16. Disney Interactive Studios
Year formed: 1994 (previously Buena Vista Games)
Headquarters: Burbank, Calif.
Studios: Avalanche Software (Salt Lake City); Fall Line Studio (Salt Lake City); Propaganda Games (Vancouver, British Columbia); Black Rock Studio (Brighton, UK); Junction Point Studios Inc. (Austin, TX)
Disney's games division saw review scores and number of releases down sharply this year.
Readers contributed a few backhanded compliments for the publisher's lineup, calling it "generally shovelware, but at least it's quality-ish shovelware."
Detailed responses praised the creative freedom available when working with the company and were grateful for "the time and resources to make better games."
The publisher received lower-than-average marks on reputation and middling-to-good scores on the detailed survey, with particularly high marks for overall experience and for pay and perks.
Disney/Propaganda Games' Turok
Year formed: 1997
Studios: ArenaNet (Bellevue, Wash.); Austin; Mountain View, Calif.; Seoul
As of this year, NCsoft's mainstay Guild Wars series has passed the 5 million mark, however sales flagged 50 percent during the year, signaling a trailing-off for the brand.
The MMO-centered Korean publisher showed signs of transition during the year, as it dropped the spacefaring MMO Blackstar, acquired a 100 percent share in the City of Heroes IP, and opened a new studio in Mountain View, CA.
NCsoft traditionally maintains a conservative release schedule, but this year saw three titles for last year's four, and the company's review average was down to 71 percent from last year's 79.5 percent.
NCsoft/ArenaNet's Guild Wars: Eye of the North
Year formed: 1979
Studios: Capcom Interactive (Los Angeles); Cosmic Infinity (Burlington, Ont.); Flagship (Tokyo); Team 1 (Osaka); Team 2 (Osaka)
Revenues were essentially the same as last year for this Japanese publisher, but while review scores fell, the surveyed period brought an expanded plate of releases.
Survey responses praised the company's stable of well-maintained, classic franchises and called its multiplatform strategy "an excellent choice."
The cross-platform release Devil May Cry 4 was the company's big hit for the year in the West, but in Japan the Monster Hunter Portable machine just can't be stopped.
Japan loves portable hunting, and the franchise has sold more than any other series on the PSP, bar none, with latest release MHP 2G having sold over 2.3 million copies.
Capcom's Devil May Cry 4
13. Namco Bandai Games
Year formed: 1950 (Bandai); 1955 (Namco)
Studios: Banpresoft (Tokyo); Bec Co., Ltd. (Tokyo); Namco Tales Studio, Ltd. (Tokyo); San Jose, Calif.; Yokohama; Tokyo
The arcade business is ailing across the globe, and Namco Bandai's operations are no exception to the rule.
The conglomerate announced plans to jettison fifty to sixty percent of its arcade business this year, blaming the Wii in particular for decreased arcade attendance.
But on the flipside, Wii software was responsible for much of this year's sales, with Japanese sales of Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 of particular note.
On the American side, Ace Combat 6 and Naruto helped add to the bottom line, and the latest Japan-only Taiko no Tatsujin title for DS and Gundam Battle Universe (part of an ever-growing series and a perennial brand) for PSP also contributed to sales.
Overall though, revenues from Namco Bandai's home video games were down compared to last year.
Namco Bandai Games' Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
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 (Malmo, Sweden); Radical Entertainment (Vancouver); Sierra Entertainment (Bellevue, Wash.); Swordfish Studios (Birmingham, U.K.); Vivendi Games Mobile (Los Angeles; San Mateo, CA)
In the last year prior to the merger of Vivendi's gaming unit with Activision, World of Warcraft powered sales year round, though financial reports cited the lack of a new WoW expansion as the cause of lower-than-expected revenues.
Outside of WoW, Vivendi's release schedule-populated in large part by F.E.A.R. sequels and movie licenses - was slim. Review scores were unimpressive, and ratings given by our readers were mediocre.
Reader comments were unkind to the publisher as well, though as one commenter acknowledged, this may all be academic, with the merger now finalized.
Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Year formed: 1973
Studios: Blue Label Interactive (Los Angeles); Hudson Soft (Tokyo, Sapporo, San Francisco); Konami Computer Entertainment (Tokyo); Konami Software Shanghai; Kojima Productions
This year Konami climbed four slots in the ranking in part through doubled revenues that quarterly reports attributed to sales of the latest Pro Evolution Soccer and the long-awaited Metal Gear Solid 4.
Music titles were as important an asset as ever for this publisher, and DDR Hottest Party and Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol all sold well during the year.
Review scores improved year-over-year too, and Konami expanded its release slate slightly.
But while many of our readers had brief but enthusiastic praise for MGS4, some expressed a desire to see Konami return to "better multiplatform support and diversity of titles."
Konami's Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party
10. Square Enix
Year formed: Enix (1975); Square (1986)
Studios: Community Engine (Japan); Taito Corp. (Japan); Square Enix China (Beijing); Tokyo
This RPG giant ended the year with more releases and a higher average review score than last year, helping it move up one slot in the ranking.
But revenues and profits for the period fell noticeably compared to last year, due in part to falling sales of aging MMO Final Fantasy XI.
Titles that performed better included Dragon Quest IV and Itadaki Street DS (in Japan) as well as Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (in the West) and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (around the globe).
This is one consistent publisher when it comes to review scores, and this year is no different: Square Enix achieved a 78 percent average score, second only to Microsoft Game Studios.
Square Enix's Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Year formed: 1975
Headquarters: Redmond, Wash.
Studios: ACES; Ensemble Studios (Dallas); Lionhead Studios (Guildford, U.K.); Microsoft Game Studios Japan (Tokyo); Rare (Twycross, U.K.); Turn 10 (Redmond, Wash.); Wingnut Interactive (Wellington, N.Z.)
Halo 3 was this console manufacturer's big hit for the year; meanwhile, Mass Effect, Ninja Gaiden II, Lost Odyssey, and Age of Empires III, each made respectable showings.
Microsoft's plate of releases had one fewer title than last year's 15, but a number of critical darlings pushed the publisher's average review score all the way up to 78 percent, the highest in this year's study.
Microsoft received only average marks on our reputation and detailed surveys: pay and perks were rated highly and the publisher was praised for its "serious effort(s) to develop long-term relationships," while readers felt Microsoft's marketing was somewhat poor.
Microsoft Game Studios/Bungie Software's Halo 3
Year formed: 1989
Headquarters: Agoura Hills, Calif.
Studios: Big Huge Games (Timonium, Maryland); Blue Tongue Entertainment (Melbourne); Sandblast (Seattle, WA); 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.); Mass Media (Moorpark, CA); Paradigm (Dallas); Rainbow Studios (Phoenix); Relic Entertainment (Vancouver); THQ Studio Australia (Spring Hill, Australia); THQ Wireless (Calabasas Hills, Calif.); Vigil Games (Austin); Volition (Champaign, Ill.)
2007-08 was a difficult period for this Los Angeles-based publisher. THQ posted losses throughout the year, and flagging sales on key original franchises forced layoffs and reorganizations.
Cancellations and delays of titles like Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon and de Blob, respectively, further hurt revenues.
Despite that, THQ's release schedule was dwarfed only by Activision's, and its inclusion of WWE and Pixar-licensed titles were the publisher's sales highlights for the year.
Original titles MX vs. ATV Untamed and Frontlines: Fuel of War were important successes during the year, and THQ seems to be depending on Saints Row and Red Faction sequels to steer the company back toward profitability.
THQ/Rainbow Studios' MX vs. ATV Untamed
Year formed: 1952 (Sega); 1975 (Sammy)
Studios: Creative Assembly (West Sussex, U.K., Fortitude Valley, Australia); Secret Level (San Francisco); Sega Shanghai Studios (Shanghai); Sega Studios (Tokyo); Sega Studios USA (San Francisco); Sports Interactive (London)
Flagging arcade performance caused declining revenues and increased losses for Sega parent Sammy, and as a result, construction of a major arcade center was ended and 400 employees were laid off.
But Sega's sales of home video games were up for the past year, as combined sales of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games passed seven million copies.
Sega showed signs of continued improvement in the home market, with a publishing deal inked with dream-team developer Platinum Games, as well as strong sales of Japanese-made Senjou no Valkyria and a just-before deadline smash with Phantasy Star Portable.
A release schedule double the size of last year's helped ensure that Sega held its position.
Sega/Nintendo's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
6. Take Two
Year formed: 1993
Headquarters: New York
Studios: 2K Czech (Brno, Czech Rep.); 2K Boston (Quincy, Mass.); 2K Australia (Canberra, Australia); 2K Marin (Novato, Calif); Cat Daddy Games (Bellevue, Wash.); Firaxis Games (Hunt Valley, Md.); Kush Games (Camarillo, Calif.); PAM Development (Paris, France); Rockstar Leeds (Leeds, U.K.); Rockstar North (Edinburgh); Rockstar San Diego; Rockstar Toronto; Rockstar Vancouver; Visual Concepts (San Rafael, Calif.)
EA's bid for a hostile takeover loomed over Take Two for much of the year, bringing with it much speculation and unrest, but as of press time, no deal has been made.
The spooky BioShock and cash cow Grand Theft Auto IV generated this publisher's best sales and critical reception this year. GTA IV alone doubled Take Two's profits in their second-quarter results, and has sold 8.5 million-plus units to date.
A new casual games label, 2K Play, is set to absorb the Global Star Software label and will brand the already-successful Carnival Games series.
And while Take Two released fewer games last year than the prior year of our study, the company's average Metacritic review score increased by a good seven percent.
Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto IV
5. Sony Computer Entertainment
Year formed: 1993
Studios: Bigbig Studios (Warwickshire, U.K.); Bend, Ore.; San Diego, CA; Cambridge, U.K.; Bangalore, India; Contrail (Tokyo); Evolution Studios (Cheshire, U.K.); Foster City, Calif.; Guerrilla Games (Amsterdam); Incognito Entertainment (Salt Lake City); Liverpool, U.K.; London; Polyphony Digital (Tokyo); Santa Monica; Seoul; SN Systems (Bristol, U.K.); Sony Online Entertainment (Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Los Angeles; San Diego, CA; Seattle; Taiwan); Tokyo; Zener Works (Tokyo); Zipper Interactive (Redmond, WA)
Sony's first-party publishing efforts brought nearly double the number of releases, compared to last year, and the average review score rose a percentage point to 75.5 percent-the fourth-highest average in this year's study.
But slowing sales of PlayStation 2 software counteracted revenue gains from PSP and PS3 sales that were more brisk.
Sony's strongest titles this year were its original properties-such as Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and God of War: Chains of Olympus.
2007-2008 saw the publisher looking to secure more developer talent for the future with purchases of Evolution Studios (MotorStorm) and BigBig Studios (Pursuit Force).
Survey responses gave Sony particularly high marks in our detailed survey, describing the company in particular as "honest and forthright in development contract negotiations."
SCEA/Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Year formed: 1986
Headquarters: Montreuil-sous-Bois, France
Studios: Annecy, France; Barcelona; Blue Byte (Dusseldorf, Germany); Bucharest; Casablanca; Chengdu, China; Digital Kids (Nagoya, Osaka, Japan); Hybride Technologies (Montreal); Milan; Montpellier, France; Montreal; Montreuil, France; Pune, India; Quebec City; Red Storm (Morrisville, N.C.); Reflections (Newcastle, U.K.); Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai; Singapore; Kiev, Ukraine
Ubisoft expanded operations all through the past year, opening new studios across the globe and acquiring new talent in Japanese dev Digital Kids and effects house Studio Hybride.
GRAW 2, Assassin's Creed, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, and the fruits of a successful casual-games venture drove sales up all year round.
Ubisoft's revenues were the fourth-highest in our study, just edging out Vivendi Games, and the company's 70 titles released during the year placed it in fourth for that category as well.
The publisher's average review score fell slightly this year, but higher revenues and more releases made up for it.
Our survey brought comments praising the company's quality and innovation, but noted that perhaps Ubisoft should "take the Wii core market more seriously."
Ubisoft Montreal's Assassin's Creed
Year formed: 1979
Headquarters: Santa Monica, Calif.
Studios: Beenox (Quebec City); Bizarre Creations (Liverpool, England); Infinity Ward (Encino, Calif.); Luxoflux (Santa Monica, Calif.); Neversoft (Encino, Woodland Hills, Calif.); Raven Software (Middleton, WI); RedOctane (Sunnyvale, Calif.); Shaba Games (San Francisco); Toys For Bob (Novato, Calif.); Treyarch (Santa Monica, Calif.); Vicarious Visions (Troy, N.Y.); Z-Axis (Foster City, Calif.)
Activision has just finalized a merger with Vivendi's games division, but for the period discussed here, Activision and Vivendi were considered separate entities.
According to the NPD group, Activision was the top-selling publisher in the US for the calendar year of 2007, and during our study period the company's revenues doubled and profits tripled.
But the publisher had the third-highest revenues this year, keeping it in the third-place spot for a third year in a row.
Several mega-smash releases powered those sales: Call of Duty 4 sold over ten million copies, and Guitar Hero III moved more than three million.
Licensed titles were an important part of the company's strategy: movie-based titles Spider-Man 3, Transformers, and Kung Fu Panda made strong contributions to Activision's bottom line.
To cap things off, the Vivendi merger will bring even more strength in intellectual property and development mojo -- via Blizzard -- under the Activision label.
Survey respondents gave somewhat mixed impressions of the publisher, offering no clear consensus. Some praised the company's franchise branding, marketing, Q/A, and management, and many readers were hopeful about the merger.
But a few readers noted that innovation could be better at the publisher, and some unfavorably compared Activision's focus on sequels in a few key franchises to the approach used by "the old EA."
Activision/Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
2. Electronic Arts
Year formed: 1982
Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.
Studios: Criterion (Guildford, U.K.); Digital Illusions CE (Stockholm) EA Black Box (Vancouver); EA Byrnest (Mout Sinai, NY); EA Canada (Burnaby, British Columbia); EA China (Shanghai); EA Los Angeles (Playa Vista, Calif.); EA Korea (Seoul, Korea); EA Mobile (Bucharest, Romania; Hyderabad, India); EA Mobile Korea (Seoul, Korea); EA Montreal; EA Mythic (Fairfax, Va.); EA Japan (Roppongi, Japan); EA Redwood Shores (Redwood City, Calif.); EA Singapore; Maxis (Emeryville, Calif.); EA Phenomic (Ingleheim, Ger.); EA Tiburon (Maitland, FL); EA Salt Lake (Bountiful, UT); BioWare Corp. (Edmonton, Alberta; Austin, Texas); Pandemic Studios (Los Angeles, Calif; Brisbane, Australia); EA North Carolina (Morrisville, NC)
No other publisher had a lineup this year that came close to EA's bursting-at-the-seams schedule: EA released a total of 123 titles in the period considered by our study-seven more than last year. But with revenue and average review scores that didn't reach Nintendo's lofty heights, EA remained in second place for the second year in a row.
Still, EA was no slouch, sales-wise. Powerful franchises like Madden, Rock Band, FIFA, and MySims -- each of which sold over a million copies -- gave EA the second-highest revenues this year.
EA acquired developers and made deals with outside studios year round, adding variety to an already diverse and well-reviewed lineup. The company's quarterly results showed revenue that grew all year long, and meanwhile losses incurred by accounting changes decreased.
EA did well above average on our surveys. Many readers acknowledged EA's new direction and praised it for focusing on "original IPs and support for innovative concepts."
Several commenters on the detailed survey had complaints about their time with the company: some noted an overabundance of crunch time at the company.
EA/MTV/Harmonix Music Systems' Rock Band
Year formed: 1933
Headquarters: Kyoto, Japan
Studios: Intelligent Systems (Kyoto); Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development (Tokyo); Nintendo Software Technology Corp. (Redmond, Wash.); Retro Studios (Austin); Systems Research & Development (Kyoto, Osaka); Brownie Brown (Tokyo); NDCUBE (Tokyo); Monolith Soft (Tokyo)
Surging revenues generated by an extremely strong stable of first-party releases for Wii and DS have allowed Nintendo to maintain its hold on the top spot this year, following last year's upset over EA.
The DS continued to dominate the portable market, and Nintendo's software for the platform consistently sold more than that of any other publisher.
Indeed, Nintendo's revenues were the highest of any publisher this year across all platforms, despite a relatively modest release schedule for the year.
Software revenues were up 46 percent and profits up 48 percent this year compared with 2007, and sales were a good 43 percent higher than nearest competitor EA's revenues.
Pokemon Diamond/Pearl was Nintendo's biggest seller this year, having sold 15 million copies to date. Brain Age 2, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, and Wii Fit also contributed to Nintendo's smashing success. And once again, Nintendo's games also found favor with critics, receiving the sixth-highest average review score this year.
The publisher garnered the highest average scores out of both our reputation survey and our detailed survey.
Readers praised Nintendo for "doing a great job of expanding the market," and commenting developers called the publisher "a pleasure to work with" and "far more personable than the other manufacturers."
This indicates that Nintendo is, at least somewhat, bucking the company's traditional "don't call us, we'll call you" approach to developer relations. As third party publishers continue to figure out Nintendo's hardware, future listings are anyone's guess. But for now, Nintendo rules the roost.
Nintendo's Mario Kart Wii