When you think about your favorite developers, it’s hard for people to think about much more than just the games they made. And while that is what will ultimately define them, their impact and effort goes far beyond that. From seemingly-endless workdays blending together to piles of exhibitor badges that stack almost as high as their frequent flyer miles, those in the game industry go to extreme lengths to create the best product possible for their audience.
These developers took what was thought to be the limits of game development and pushed them forward in ways nobody else had done before. Check out who we picked as a staff to make our list of the top 10 developers of this generation and let us know in the comments section who you would have picked.
This is part one of a six part series leading up to the start of the next generation. Check out the other pieces from this series below:
Part I – Top 10 Developers of the Generation
Part II – Top 25 Games of the Generation
Part III – Top 10 Biggest Flops of the Generation
Part IV – Top 10 Franchises of the Generation
Part V – Top 10 Most Underrated Games of the Generation
Part VI – Top 15 Soundtracks of the Generation
Extra – Top 10 New Video Game Clichés
Extra – Eleven Great Experiences This Generation has to Offer
10. Harmonix Music Systems
Top Games: Rock Band series, Dance Central series
Most known for its entries into the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises, the Boston-based Harmonix did more than just develop the aforementioned genre-leading franchises. After leaving the Guitar Hero series in the hands of Activision, Harmonix moved on to make Rock Band, which would go on to redefine how content could be distributed to console gamers post-launch, and Dance Central, which was the highest-selling Kinect franchise for several years.
While many tried to replicate what Harmonix was doing in the music game genre, nobody was able to succeed. In fact, not even the teams that Activision threw at the Guitar Hero franchise following Harmonix’s departure could match the quality that Harmonix brought to the genre. Perhaps the pinnacle of Harmonix’s achievements this generation was represented with The Beatles: Rock Band, a game that brought the music of the Beatles to gamers in a faithful and artistic manner previously unseen on the medium.
For its artistic vision, community support, and consistently high quality standard, Harmonix kicks off our list of the top developers of this generation at #10.
9. Blizzard Entertainment
Top Games: World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty
Few developers could ever hope to feature the résumé that Blizzard Entertainment did this generation. The headliner here is obviously World of Warcraft, the MMORPG that redefined the genre and will be the gold standard that other MMOs will be compared against for the foreseeable future, but the other two games the big blue developer put out this gen have their share of fanfare as well.
While StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty and Diablo 3 were both met with resistance from fans (one for splitting up regions and one for an always-online requirement), both became highly reviewed titles as well as top sellers. Blizzard also listened to fans who clamored for a console port of its long-awaited dungeon crawler by releasing Diablo 3 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 just over a year after 2012’s PC launch.
For its ability to completely turn the MMORPG genre upside-down, while still releasing critically lauded titles in other genres, Blizzard earns the #9 spot on our list.
8. Valve Corporation
Top Games: Half-Life 2, Portal series, Left 4 Dead series
With Half-Life 2 still being heralded as one of the greatest shooters of all-time, and the Portal franchise taking the industry by storm and acting as a case study for superb design going forward, it’s clear that Valve knows how to foster talent and creativity among its development teams. Add to that roster the popular Left 4 Dead series and you have a very solid lineup from Gabe Newell and company.
The list of games Valve put out this generation has been impressive, but it pales in comparison to the other contribution from the Corporation: Steam. Releasing in 2003 to PC gamers, Steam’s launch can’t quite be considered a part of this generation, but the steps that Valve took to make its digital storefront what it is today sure can. Steam would eventually expand to Mac in 2010, and Linux 2013, but it was by holding the biggest sales in the industry that Valve’s Steam significantly lowered the cost of entry for PC gaming, helping the company become perhaps the most universally loved developer in the industry.
For not only giving us several of the best games of this generation, but also supplying PC gamers with the ultimate argument for why they choose PC over consoles, Valve more than earns its spot at #8 on our list.
7. Irrational Games
Top Games: BioShock, BioShock Infinite
While Irrational Games didn’t deliver the constant stream of popular games that some of the other developers on this list did, the two that it did bring gamers were big ones. 2007’s BioShock showed players just how much of a role an environment can play in a narrative, and continues to be a touchstone in gaming achievement. The unique gameplay elements of BioShock carried over into the subpar BioShock 2 (not developed by Irrational), but with Irrational’s triumphant return to the franchise with BioShock Infinite, the series was restored to greatness.
Part of the reason that BioShock Infinite was so successful was Creative Director Ken Levine helped lead the industry equivalent of the Avengers by bringing in amazing talent from other developers to assemble a strong team. By grabbing the likes of writer Drew Holmes from Volition to become the new lead writer of the title, as well as producer Rod Fergusson from Epic Games to become the vice president of development, Irrational helped ensure that the 2013 release of the BioShock franchise would be one that fans of the series could take to and enjoy as much as the first.
For giving us one of the best games of the generation, then re-assuming control of the franchise with a release five years later that didn’t disappoint, Irrational Games lands at #7 on our list.
6. Infinity Ward
Top Games: Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series
Releasing the “must-have” launch title for Xbox 360 was just the beginning of what this generation held for Infinity Ward. Call of Duty 2 brought shooting fans an experience unlike anything they had seen before, but once Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit shelves in 2007, there was no denying the prowess of Infinity Ward. The game went on to dethrone Halo as the industry’s most popular shooter.
Even as top members of the team at Infinity Ward began leaving the studio, the series continued shattering sales records year after year. While Call of Duty was popular prior to Modern Warfare‘s debut, it would have never reached the level it’s at today if it weren’t for the success of Infinity Ward’s masterpiece. Those who have left Infinity Ward have even gone on to start promising new projects, as founders Vince Zampella and Jason West went on to found Respawn Entertainment in 2010, which will be releasing its first game, Titanfall, next year, and Creative Strategist Robert Bowling left in 2012 to found Robotoki, which will be releasing its debut title, Human Element, in 2015.
For acting as a farm system for extraordinary talent, as well as creating one of the best shooters in gaming history, Infinity Ward grabs the #6 spot on our list.