The format’s a bit different this time. We’ve tried to break publishers up by their in-house development teams, and rather than a top 20 and bottom five, we’re going with a straight top 25. A company’s previous rank is abbreviated “PR.”
1: EA Sports (PR: 2, as EA)
One word: Madden. If that’s not enough, there’s EA Sports’ laundry list of rainmaking games, not to mention Peter Moore, the guy who built Xbox Live, is still heading up the division. The only thing that can derail them in the Showdown is the fact everyone hates them. But when you’re the 400-pound gorilla, you don’t have to worry about making lots of friends. In the longer term, EA Sports remains the dominant sports game developer, and despite some inroads from 2K Sports, EA won’t have to worry about being unseated for a while.
Showdown prediction: They can reach the finals, assuming people can get over their Borg-like quality.
2: Nintendo (PR: 9)
The Wii, the DS, Brawl doing the voodoo it does so well, Mario Kart in the fourth turn. If Nintendo ever was down, they’re back up, and they’re one of the industry’s powerhouses, despite the fact they only make games “for kids.” Though the Balance Board still makes no sense to me, everything else Nintendo’s doing seems to resonate with the known world. Once Mario Kart makes its debut, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Nintendo claim the No. 1 spot.
Showdown prediction: Definitely a contender to win the whole tournament.
3: Ubisoft (PR: Unranked)
If there were a company that looked like Cthulhu, it’s Ubisoft. They’ve got tendrils, man, tendrils. Chances are, if you’ve played five games in the past year, one of them had Ubisoft’s John Hancock on it somewhere. That’s ubiquity, if I may be so bold. Ubisoft has quietly built a gaming empire, from the gigantic Tom Clancy franchises to Assassin’s Creed. Their army drinks rivers dry. Toss in Yves Guillemot and his predilection for great sound bites, and you’ve got a perennial contender.
Showdown prediction: They’ve got a good chance to make the semi-finals, but I’m not sure they have a real knockout punch to guarantee a trip the finals.
4: Blizzard (PR: 10)
Breaking the 10-million-subscriber mark in World of Warcraft only underscores Blizzard’s mojo. StarCraft 2 hasn’t run into the usual Blizzard delay doldrums, and the company’s settled nicely into WoW‘s expansion schedule. You can’t discount the MMOG talk coming out of Irvine, either. And let’s not forget the pending merger with Activision. These guys embody the word “class,” and are deserving of a spot in the top five.
Showdown prediction: They can definitely take home top honors, but they’re in tough bracket
5: Harmonix (PR: 7)
I’d put them at No. 1 if Rock Band had “Rock You Like A Hurricane” available for download, even though they’d still be No. 5 in the rankings. Rock Band is nothing short of a beast; last year, in November alone, NPD reported over 3 million copies of the game were sold. It’s not rare to hear Activision and EA come up in the same sentence when it comes to financials, and Activision has Harmonix to thank for that. Nowadays, it’s all about Harmonix and Rock Band. Guitar who?
Showdown prediction: They can definitely make the Great 8, but they gotta get by Nintendo to go to the semis.
6: Sony Computer Entertainment of America (PR: Cellar dweller)
No shame in being wrong. Sony and cockroaches: survivors of the apocalypse and horrendous marketing campaigns. Fresh off a Blu-ray win, Sony and SCEA have reestablished the PS3 as a cheap Blu-ray player that also happens to have some pretty great games on the way, including the new Metal Gear Solid and the follow-up to Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain. Despite the fact Home is a bad Second Life clone, SCEA’s internal restructuring has focused the company in the right direction, though their position this high in the rankings isn’t guaranteed next time.
Showdown prediction. Sure to make the 16 and likely the 8, but they’ll have to get past Bethesda to make the semi-finals.
7: Capcom (PR: Unranked)
Similar to Ubisoft, Capcom is a gaming giant, and they’re in a huge release cycle right now. Devil May Cry 4 just hit shelves, and the Resident Evil franchise has found a welcome home on the next-gen systems, including the Wii. Another addition to fighting genre staple Street Fighter is also in the chute, and the quiet developer is poised to have a very, very good Christmas season.
Showdown prediction: A surefire contender in the South, Capcom won’t run into much competition until the semi-finals, when they’ll likely go up against Ubisoft or BioWare.
8: Bungie (PR: 6)
Bungie slipped from the No. 6 spot after leaving Microsoft (and likely the Halo trilogy) behind to strike out on their own, and have lately run into criticism when the gaming world at large discovered Halo wasn’t exactly innovative. However, getting out from under Microsoft’s wing gives the developer a lot of opportunity to make cross-platform games, and even return to their – gasp – Mac roots. The company’s definitely not going anywhere, and their reputation for polishing their games to a mirror shine will likely carry over to their newfound independence.
Showdown prediction: They’ll likely be up against Valve in the semis. That one could go either way, and may end up a showdown between PC and console fans.
9: LucasArts (PR: 12)
Revenge of the Sith is fading more and more from my memory, and Force Unleashed looks like it may actually live up to all the hype. Wait, you mean a bad guy that can’t go from point A to point Sith without getting on his knees in front of an old guy screaming at him to “submit” and cackling? Oh, and they’re probably going to get cracking on another Star Wars MMOG as soon as the license expires out from under SOE’s Star Wars Galaxies. Now, if only they’d make adventure games again.
Showdown prediction: They’re likely up against Harmonix in the 16. I don’t see them getting much further against that opposition.
10: 2K Sports (PR: Second worst, as Take Two)
When separated from Rockstar’s controversy, 2K Sports emerges as EA Sports’ only contender in the Western sports market. Usually matching (and occasionally outdoing) EA Sports game-for-game every year hasn’t halved the sports market yet, and as long as EA Sports has the Madden franchise on their side, 2K likely won’t command 50 percent of the market. However, while they lose ranking position due to market value, their games’ quality gets them the No. 10 spot.
Showdown prediction: They’re up against Gas Powered Games in the first heat, and stand a good chance of being upset by the Dungeon Siege developers.
11: Bethesda (PR: 4)
Bethesda drops seven not due to any shortcoming – they’ve just been quiet. Sure, they’re quietly working on Fallout 3, but I have the attention span of a goldfish and require frequent updates. I imagine other gamers raised on Nintendo and caffeine suffer from similar problems. However, hot off the smash-hit Oblivion, the announcement of an MMOG in development by their new sister company and their ownership of two of the most-loved franchises in gaming, Bethesda’s due to have a gigantic 2008 and 2009. If only they’d be less humble.
Showdown prediction: They’ll likely run into Blizzard in the 8. I’d give them a 40-60 chance of getting into the semis.
12: SEGA (PR: 20)
I don’t really get Mario and Sonic at the Olympics, but I’m the only one who seems to feel that way, and it’s taking the Wii by storm. Tack on the upcoming Iron Man game that ties into the movie, and SEGA is set to be rolling in cash. They’ve also got a pretty impressive back catalog that’s making its way onto Nintendo’s Virtual Console. And let’s not forget the nostalgia factor.
Showdown prediction: If they can get past Tim Schafer’s Double Fine, they’ll likely make it to the 16 when they run into Bungie.
13: Valve (PR: Unranked)
Valve could easily be a No. 1 seed if they had a bit stronger console presence, but even though they’re PC-centric, they could easily be in the top 10. At this point, they can do no wrong. If it’s not Portal bringing game writing to the forefront, it’s Team Fortress 2 rejuvenating online FPS gameplay. And if it’s none of that, it’s Steam lifting PC gaming out of the depths. Steam is what Games for Windows failed to be. Gone are the days of fighting with Installshield, Starforce and hunting down shortcuts. Welcome to PC Gaming 2.0: all the good parts of owning a console (everything just works and all your friends are in one place) with all the intimacy of sitting two feet away from a 30-inch screen.
Showdown prediction: If there’s a sleeper pick this year, it’s Valve. They stand a good chance of meeting Nintendo in the 8, and they stand a chance at going all the way.
14: Rockstar North (PR: Second worst, as Take Two)
GTA 4‘s on the way, and despite what numerous ratings boards will tell you, everyone and his uncle is planning to wrap his hands around it. And since GTA 3 is probably still moving units at the speed of commerce, it’s not too surprising to see Rockstar show its head after a dreadful 2008. Manhunt 2 is in the past, and EA is currently trying to buy out Rockstar’s parent company, Take Two. Provided Rockstar makes it out of the acquisition unscathed, they should be set to enjoy legal representation only billions and billions of dollars can buy.
Showdown prediction: Provided they get by Firaxis to get into the 16, they run headlong into Blizzard in the 8. Hard to imagine they’ll get much further.
15: id (PR: 11)
From the previous power rankings: “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.” I still stand by this statement; it just hasn’t happened yet. And that costs them four spots.
Showdown prediction: They’re in a tough bracket. I don’t see them getting past Nintendo, assuming they make it to the 16.
16: Infinity Ward (PR: Unranked)
Hoo, boy, what a difference a game makes. Call of Duty 4 has more multiplayer buzz than Halo 3, and for good reason: The guys at IW created an MMOG wrapped inside a great FPS. They’ve also broken out of the World War II shooter genre, which gives everyone a cause to celebrate the work they’re doing.
Showdown prediction: They’ll likely beat GSC Gameworld, but run into BioWare at the 32. Short tourney for them, I’m afraid.
17: BioWare (PR: 13)
Mass Effect may have been Knights of the Old Republic without Jedi, but that didn’t stop half the world from buying a copy. BioWare slips a bit due to the EA acquisition, mostly because you never can tell what’ll happen to a studio after EA sinks in their claws. However, they’re sitting on some great IP and have an MMOG headed up by industry veterans in the works. When your name becomes synonymous with “great Western RPG” (I have a very comprehensive thesaurus), life, and your position in the rankings, is good.
Showdown prediction: BioWare stands an outside chance at winning their bracket, if they can get past Ubisoft in the 16.
18: Epic (PR: Unranked)
Developers don’t seem too concerned about the lawsuit over the Unreal Engine, and Epic is selling licenses as fast as they can sign the contracts. Additionally, Cliffy B is hard at work on Gears of War 2 when not doing neutral-drops down the streets of Raleigh, NC, in his Ferrari. Tack on the latest Unreal game’s success and the re-release of the earlier ones on Steam, and Epic’s in a good spot for the long term, even if they won’t break the top 10 for a while.
Showdown prediction: Epic will likely face off against id in the 32, a favorable match-up for the venerable id.
19: Firaxis (PR: Unranked)
If you haven’t played Civilization, get out. Seriously, hit up Steam and buy Civ IV. Then, after you’ve lost two weeks of your life, come back and finish reading. Sid Meier’s team has a death grip on the turn-based strategy field, and it’s hard to imagine a world in which I hadn’t poured my heart and soul into 50 different version of Joetopia, ruled by Joe the Awesome I. They’re more than deserving of a spot in the rankings.
Showdown prediction: Firaxis has a tough road ahead, likely playing Rockstar North in the 32. GTA 4 vs. Civ IV. Two fours enter, one four leaves.
20: Namco Bandai (PR: Unranked)
Namco Bandai works similarly to Ubisoft but in a smaller, Eastern fashion. The company’s got its name on any number of games, ranging from the Yoda/Vader versions of Soul Calibur IV to Eternal Sonata. They also cover the childrens’ game circuit like white on rice. They’re the best developer you never think of.
Showdown prediction: Assuming they get past Quantic Dream in the first round, they land on Valve’s plate in the 32. Sorry, guys.
21: Sony Online Entertainment (PR: 15)
SOE slips a bit due to the saturation in the MMOG industry, as well as Turbine’s rise to prominence, but the developer/publisher still does an amiable job of avoiding Blizzard’s mighty wake. They’ve carved out a decent niche for themselves, and once ruled the MMOG field by way of EverQuest, WoW‘s spiritual predecessor. Nowadays, their premiere property is EverQuest 2, though they’ve also made it a habit to buy out smaller MMOG developers and offer their games on the Station Pass, which gives gamers access to a number of different games for one fee. They’ve also been placed within SCEA to work on the PlayStation Home.
Showdown prediction: They’re up against Rockstar San Diego in the first round, which will likely get by on name alone. It could go either way.
22: Turbine (PR: 16)
Turbine drops in rank for reasons similar to SOE, but continue to enjoy the success of Lord of the Rings Online and reemergence of Dungeons & Dragons Online to keep them from dropping off the list. They’ve also kept the fires burning for Asheron’s Call, more out of respect than for the bottom line, and that’s worth notice. On the horizon is the recently announced expansion Mines of Moria which comes at a time when LOTRO was beginning to fade from the public eye.
Showdown prediction: Turbine doesn’t run into overwhelming competition until the 16, when they’ll likely face off against Capcom.
23: CCP (PR: Unranked)
CCP’s EVE Online is still growing, and they’ve got a year of White Wolf under their belt. The two companies are getting along famously, and something about a bunch of Vikings and Georgians with a goth streak getting together to make games tickles me in the places I only talk about at parties. And really, CCP bringing on a group of tabletop developers not only expands what the company can offer, it keeps them honest: Most MMOGs are bad pen-and-paper emulators; CCP has the real thing doing it right.
Showdown prediction: CCP will likely advance to the 32, at which point it gets interesting. They’ve got SEGA and then likely Bungie, if they get by.
24: NCsoft (PR: 14, as NCsoft Austin)
NCsoft rounds out the MMOG bloc, but they’re sinking like a stone. Tabula Rasa‘s failure to impress all but finished off NCsoft Austin, which was reeling from Auto Assault‘s previous failure to impress. Also failing to impress was Dungeon Runners. Luckily for them, they’re bringing in some cabbage from ArenaNet’s Guild Wars, and NCsoft’s Lineage 2 is still doing well in Asia.
Showdown prediction: Assuming they get by TimeGate, they run headlong into Bethesda. Ouch.
25: Lionhead (PR: Unranked)
Lionhead rounds out the 25, and coasts in because Peter Molyneux is bound by the law of averages (and diminishing returns) to live up to Fable 2‘s hype. Despite all the post-release animosity directed Lionhead’s way, they’re kings of the god-game field, and I still believe their vision is still held back by technological constraints. Someday, every machine will think like Peter Molyneux, and everything will be wonderful.
Showdown prediction: They’ll likely make it past Red Storm in the first round, but Bungie looms in the 32.
If you’d like to try these rankings out for size, or create your own, just check out The Escapist‘s March Mayhem: Developers’ Showdown, which is running right now!