I’m a big sports fan – I won’t lie. I watch them, I play them and I read about them. A lot of sites run what are called “power rankings,” a ranking of every team in a league, which evaluates each team’s chance at winning a championship relative to everyone else. As a season goes on, the power rankings change as injuries, trades and reality enters into the mix. And I thought, “Hey, the game industry is pretty competitive. Why don’t we have something like this?”

And lo, The Escapist Power Rankings were born. Below, you’ll find a list of 20 of the most significant players in the industry, along with five cellar-dwellers. As time goes on, I’ll update the list as companies and people do things to either improve or degrade their brand.

So without further introduction, here’s The Escapist‘s Power Ranking Inaugural Edition.

Top 20

1: Microsoft
Despite the lawsuits, the man with the biggest pockets earns the top slot by a fair margin. Microsoft has cleaned up on big-name exclusives and is slowly but surely building up Games For Windows as a brand. However, what really does it for Microsoft is Fallout 3, Halo 3, Mass Effect and BioShock. If one of those doesn’t sell you a buggy, overheating, now-under-warranty Xbox 360, nothing will. Their upcoming billion-dollar 360 repair costs might dethrone them sooner than later, though.

2: EA
Walking into their E3 booth may have been like returning to Old E3 Oz, but EA’s expanding in all the right directions. One of the first big developers to latch onto the Wii, EA’s set to release a bevy of party and sports games onto the starving console. They’ve also got Rock Band, the spiritual successor to Guitar Hero 2 designed by Harmonix; Army of Two (the next Gears of War-style game); and a Simpsons game worth playing on the way.

3: Irrational
Irrational, the guys behind BioShock, haven’t lost a step since the System Shock days. After an hour-long play-through, I walked out of the dark room mentally tabulating how much a new TV and 360 were going to cost me. When your game out-Fallouts Fallout 3, you have what they call cachet.

4: Bethesda
The Elder Scrolls developer looked almost as strong as Irrational at E3, and only lost the No. 3 spot by a nose. But make no mistake about it: Fallout 3 looks great and does the franchise justice. You can stop worrying, at least for now.

5: Peter Moore
Any day you get to quit your old job, where you were king of an empire, to become king of another empire, and paid $1.5 million to do it is a good day. Moore claims the move was partially motivated by wanting to return to northern California. I’m sure the $550,000 per annum with stock options didn’t hurt, either.

6: Bungie
Even though they’re running into co-op multiplayer problems, Bungie’s hype machine is rolling strong. EGM‘s got a slew of new info, and the FPS everyone but me loves should finally conclude the damn Halo 2 story and get you cursed out by adolescents on Live in no time.

7: Harmonix
Rock Band, my heart pines for thee, even though I suck at drums. Harmonix’s baby was the talk of the town in Santa Monica, and the Guitar Hero evolution takes all the fun from the first two games and multiplies it by four instruments. If you didn’t start clamoring for Band Hero after 15 minutes of GH co-op, you’re not human. For the rest of us, Harmonix has delivered in a big way.

8: Activision
Even though Rock Band edges out Guitar Hero 3 in collaborative cool factor, it’s still freakin’ Guitar Hero 3. With over 70 songs, new gameplay modes and rock star guest appearances, GH 3 isn’t something to write off completely. And that’s just one bullet in Activision’s chamber. They’ve also got Call of Duty 4 in the chute, and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory may be the Battlefront for the 360.

9: Nintendo
Everybody’s all about the Wii, and it’s about time. With a slew of new games from EA, Atari and pretty much everyone else on the way, the console owned by 5 million people no one knows is due for a big game injection. Tack on the fact the DS is still cleaning up, and it may be time to reevaluate your stock purchases. The only thing keeping Nintendo from the top five is Wii Fit, which is best described by this video.

10: Blizzard
As if World of Warcraft weren’t enough, Blizzard’s got a little ditty called StarCraft 2 they’re working on. Even though it looks like more of the same right now, they’ve got some improvements on the way, which should make sure Korea’s national sport version 2.0 should be worth taking a look at.

11: id
Put simply, id tech 5 puts id in a position to both clean up engine-wise and develop their games on the 360, PC, Mac and PS3 simultaneously. Their Enemy Territory franchise is taking off in a big way, and even Carmack’s pet project, Orcs & Elves, is picking up a lot of steam. After that weird Doom 3/Quake 4 lull, id seems back on track.

12: LucasArts
In addition to their heavy focus on Star Wars, LucasArts is again expanding in all (but a few of) the right ways. In addition to LEGO Star Wars, The Force Unleashed and a Battlefront PSP game, LucasArts is ready to toss out a theme park/roller coaster sim called Thrillville: Off the Rails, aimed at the younger and family demographics. Fun on its own, Thrillville is riddled with minigames that make the best use of the Wii remote I’ve ever seen. Expect a sleeper hit there. The only thing holding them back is Fracture, a cool-in-principle shooter, but its terrain deformation gimmick might not be as sticky as they hope.

13: BioWare
Off the radar until recently, BioWare just announced their licensing of some of Perpetual Entertainment’s infrastructure tech for use in an upcoming MMOG. Perpetual is working on Star Trek Online. BioWare created Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. And now they’re working on an MMOG. I leave you to your conclusions.

14: NCsoft Austin
Rebounding from the catastrophic Auto Assault is NCsoft Austin, headed up by Robert and Richard Garriott. Their new business model, which boils down to “I don’t care how you pay me, as long as you pay me,” is beginning to take shape. Tabula Rasa, Richard’s first MMOG since UO is nearing completion, and Guild Wars 2 the sequel to the million-selling Guild Wars is on the way, as well. Combined with their recent announcement of their agreement with Sony to port their new MMOGs to the PS3, the American branch of the company is on its way up.

15: Sony Online Entertainment
SOE’s strategy to snatch up a bunch of little games and convert them to one big profit margin shows a lot of promise. Recently inking distribution deals with Flying Labs, developers of Pirates of the Burning Sea, as well as forming SOE Denver, they’re slowly finding ways around the 400-pound MMOG gorilla, World of Warcraft, and carving out a niche as a very strong No. 2 in the industry. However, they’ve run into some serious PR problems over the past year or so, and MMOG players have the memories of elephants. It may take some time for them to live down a few of their black eyes.

16: Turbine
Rounding out the MMOG bloc is Turbine, creators of Lord of the Rings Online. The fourth try appears to be the charm for the Boston-based company; LOTRO is a hit. They claim it was the second-most successful MMOG at retail ever, which could mean pretty much anything, but it sure sounds impressive. Given Turbine’s impressive track record of supporting their fans long into a game’s cycle, expect LOTRO to stick around for a good while, and probably retain subscribers better than most MMOGs.

17: Gamecock
The flamboyant publisher makes the list due to its impressive debut at E3 – excuse me, at EIEIO. Throwing back to the old days when game design studios looked more like frats than, uhh, frats before the dean stops by for a scheduled inspection, Gamecock’s silly façade obscures a great lineup of games across every major platform, put together by talented indie studios.

18: E3
New E3 gets a nod from me. Aside from the power outage, terrible location of the Barker Hangar and weird travel issues, the show was great. Wonderful location, a focus more on the immediate future and enough of the Old E3 glitz to keep things interesting. If this show is the new norm, consider me a career attendee.

19: Scott Miller
The Co-Founder of 3D Realms took a swipe at the ESRB earlier this week, calling them bullies over threatening to impose penalties on 3D Realms due to incorrect rating appearing on the company’s official site. Miller specifically took issue to receiving legal threats before the ESRB attempted to contact the company in any other way. And good on him; 3D Realms is just another victim of the ESRB’s overcompensation post-Hot Coffee.

20: Sega
Rounding out the top 20 is Sega, who in addition to a pretty rad-looking Sonic and Mario Wii game, are trying to keep the poor PC afloat by publishing Gas Power Games’ Space Siege and Petroglyph’s Universe at War. They’ve also got an Iron Man tie-in due out on consoles, which may feature voiceover from the movie’s stars. Sega’s not on top, but they’re definitely back.

Bottom 5

1: Sony
Jesus, guys. If it’s not floundering in your back yard, it’s canceling Christmas. The media giant is definitely teetering, here, and though its considerable hardware empire probably won’t completely die if the PS3 tanks, it sure won’t recover in the next decade. Situations like this are best when put into song, and this case is no exception.

2: Take-Two
Despite publishing BioShock and possibly bringing turn-based strategy to next-gen consoles, Take-Two finds new an amazing ways to jam their foot into their mouth on a seemingly daily basis. If it’s not T&A in GTA, it’s OJ playing for The Assassins in All-Pro Football. Take-Two isn’t beyond saving, but they also can’t get much lower than they are right now.

3: The ESRB
Similar to Take-Two is the ESRB, only on the other side of the constant black eye coin. If it’s not pissing off an industry luminary, it’s getting into a pissing contest with Bethesda over a user mod. And while they are the stalwart guardian between the industry and the government, should the ESRB be something we come to associate with ugly, prolonged battles over content the silent majority will never see?

4: The PC
Oh, PC, my dear friend. It’s time for us to stop talking. You see, OS X is really great, and Vista is a total dog. On top of that, all your good games are coming out on the 360 anyway, and while I love my 20-inch monitor, my 50-inch TV is so much more expressive! If New E3 taught me anything, its that the consoles really have caught up to you, and they’re cheaper over a five-year span. Maybe you can visit if I decide to run Bootcamp on the Power Mac, but I’m gonna be really busy with all my new friends.

5: Linden Lab
Well, the cat is out of the bag. Second Life isn’t the metaverse, only a step in the right (if fur-covered) direction. Between the flying penises, the anti-corporate “terrorist” groups and the undercurrent of deviant sexual activity (this is separate from the flying penises), the game is neither a cash cow nor home to 2 million people. Props to Linden Lab for some great marketing, and their users are without a doubt a dedicated group of people, but dedication and hype doesn’t make William Gibson come alive. The world found out the hard way.

Until Next Time…

That’s it for this edition of The Escapist‘s Power Rankings. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back soon for revisions and updates!

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