Sometimes we get so wrapped up in who makes the games, we forget those which bring the games to our local games retailers. These companies take financial risks by either funding, or marketing each and every game we put into our preferred gaming machine. Sure, the times are a changin’ with self-publishing becoming a new and much more common avenue – which one us even acknowledges – but let’s not forget those companies that have allowed the creativity and talent of the game developers to reach our hands, eyes and ears. This week it’s The Top 5: game publishers of all time!
5. Working Designs – This is the company we all have to thank for the premium Collector’s Edition video game boxes we are frequently tempted to buy just for the sake of a bonus soundtrack CD, art book, or “making of” DVD. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg… does anyone (except Ted) remember the Ghaleon Punching Puppet that came with Lunar: Silver Star Story on PlayStation One? Yup, I still have that, and everything else that came with the game and its sequel. But even going further back to Sega CD games published by Working Designs, the quality of their packaging and abundance of included bonuses were always second to none. It also helped that most of the games they published were really good, but even if they weren’t, it always felt like you had something of incredible quality when you were holding onto a Working Designs product. Of all the publishers over the years that have come and gone, I probably miss Working Designs the most.
4. Enix – Prior to the merger with Squaresoft, Enix was releasing tons of great games by a variety of talented developers. There were of course the early Dragon Quest titles, developed by Chunsoft, which had a major impact on the development of JRPGs as a genre, the effects of which can still be felt to this day in modern games. Then there were a bunch of great games by Quintet, including Actraiser, Soul Blazer, Terranigma, and Illusion of Gaia, which are all games I’d love to see modern sequels to. Enix even published Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen by Quest, another significant title of my childhood. While I was growing up, there was only one other company releasing more games that I cared about than Enix.
3. Squaresoft – Yup, it was Squaresoft. To be fair, the majority of the games they published were developed by Squaresoft themselves, but they also had some occasional publishing brilliance, like taking a chance with Breath of Fire. Following Squaresoft’s success with the game, Capcom decided to publish the sequels themselves. Squaresoft also published the original Front Mission by G-Craft, Tobal No. 1 and Tobal 2 by DreamFactory, and Bushido Blade and its sequel by Bergsala Lightweight. But more importantly, Squaresoft’s RPGs are nothing short of historical masterpieces. Games like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger will always be fondly remembered, and inspired countless RPGs that followed.
2. Nippon Ichi – I love Nippon Ichi for the quirky RPGs they develop like Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness and The Guided Fate Paradox. But I also respect them as publishers for the games they localize by other developers. If it weren’t for Nippon Ichi, I wonder if the games developed by Gust Corporation, such as the Atelier Iris and Ar tonelico series’, would have ever been translated into English. They also release games by Idea Factory like Cross Edge and Generation of Chaos. But my favorite thing about them is their willingness to take a chance on the bizarre, like when they published Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This?, by Acquire. Talk about obscure! All I can say is keep’m comin’, Nippon Ichi!
1. Atlus – I’d say Atlus is something like Nippon Ichi plus performance enhancing drugs with a side of Working Designs flair. I can’t think of any company that brings a wider variety of unlikely Japanese games to North American shores than Atlus, and they do so with the highest attention to quality. The list of developers they publish for is staggering, and the games they develop themselves are also fantastic! I love the Shin Megami Tensei universe of games, but we also have Atlus to thank for publishing Disgaea: Hour of Darkness by Nippon Ichi, before they ever got involved in publishing in North America. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nippon Ichi based their decision to begin publishing in North America based on the success Atlus had with Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. In any case, I feel like Atlus picked up the torch that was dropped by Working Designs. Nippon Ichi is running right behind, ready to tag in, but Atlus leads the way, and shows no signs of slowing down.
5. Capcom – Street Fighter may not be on my list of favorite games, but Resident Evil and Bionic Commando are. Let’s face it, Capcom makes some very good games. There’s Monster Hunter, Devil may Cry, Mega Man, Lost Planet, Dead Rising and Dragon’s Dogma. Capcon has a very diverse collection of titles on the market today and that list keeps growing.
4. Square Enix – I was always more of a Square Soft fan because of Final Fantasy then Enix Games. The only thing Enix Games made that I knew of was Dragon Quest and I didn’t try that out until Dragon Quest IX came out. By then, both companies had merged and Square Enix was the new name. The company went through some ups and downs but still managed to publish the Kingdom Hearts franchise, make another Deus Ex, Hitman, Thief 4, and remake Tomb Raider.
3. Take Two Interactive – Take Two Interactive own 2K Games and 2K Games makes some of my favorite franchise games. 2K Games made The Bureau: Xcom Declassified, Xcom: Enemy Unknown, the Bioshock franchise, and the Borderlands franchise as well. Take Two doesn’t just own 2K Games, it also own Rockstar Games, the creators of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Regardless of how I may feel about GTA, Take Two publishes some of the best franchises in the market today.
2. Bethesda – Bethesda, the creators of the Elder Scrolls saga turned Fallout 3 into one my favorite games of all time. I loved the fact that the entire world in Fallout 3 had something new and unique in it. The same thing can also be said of the elder scrolls games. I never really cared for m until Skyrim was released. Once I saw what Skyrim was and what the game was about, I had to buy it.
1. Electronic Arts – I decision to make E.A. number one is for their decision to purchase Bioware. I love everything Bioware has made, except for Dragon Age 2. That doesn’t mean that E.A. doesn’t put out good games, I love the Dead Space franchise, the Mass Effect franchise, and Dragon Age: Origins was excellent. E.A. even managed to lock up the exclusive game rights to Star Wars solidifying their hold to the franchise. Why shouldn’t they be number one?
5. EA – Yes EA, the “worst company in America” (by the way, Google “Halliburton” or “Bank of America” or get a cellphone data plan for some perspective on that ridiculous notion). Eschewing online passes, microtransactions and all the other sins of modern gaming, they still published a lot of really excellent games this generation: Mass Effect 2 and 3, Rock Band, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, the Skate series, Crysis, Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge. Not to mention that they’re publishing what is arguably the most highly anticipated next gen game, Titanfall with Respawn under the EA Partners banner.
4. Take Two Interactive – The part company and publishing giant that brought us generation and genre defining games and franchises like Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne, Bully, L.A. Noire, Borderlands and of course, Grand Theft Auto. And those are just the games and series I enjoy. They’ve also consistently released the best NBA licensed game for years, even causing EA to pull out of the game for almost 3 years and the XCOM Series, which people apparently like.
3. Squaresoft – Before I left Nintendo consoles behind for greener, more current technology focused consoles, I lived and breathed my NES and more importantly my SNES. A huge, HUGE reason for that was Squaresoft. Just like Ari, games like Final Fantasy III (VI to Japan at the time), The Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger gave me hours and hours of enjoyment, challenge and wonderment. For me, Squaresoft defined the RPG on consoles. I can not overstate how important Squaresoft is to my interest and passion for gaming. I will say this, when I read that Final Fantasy VII was only going to be on the new, unreleased Sony console, I jumped ship and never looked back. I’m hoping another Final Fantasy game pulls me in like that again, something that hasn’t happened since Final Fantasy XII which was in 2006.
2. Ubisoft – As you can see, I don’t get caught up in the business practices of the publishers, as long as they release games I enjoy. For me that’s the number one criteria and Ubisoft has released a TON. Far Cry 2 and 3, the Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood (I’m still playing catch up on the series) and have at least two more on the horizon that I couldn’t be more excited about – Watch Dogs and The Division. Say what you will about their attempts to make more money (they’re a business, after all) but I’ll be damned if they don’t publish some truly genre and generation defining games.
1. Sony Computer Entertainment – For me and my interests, Sony publishers the very best and most interesting first party titles. With studios like Naughty Dog, Media Molecule, Guerrilla Games, Sucker Punch, Sony Santa Monica and many others out right owned by Sony as well as Quantic Dream who have pledged their allegiance to them, Sony has such a wide breadth of genres and games for nearly every type of gamer. Sony is willing to take risks with new IPs and more often than not, especially in this past PS3 generation, have managed to make critically acclaimed successes like Uncharted, The Last of Us, LittleBigPlanet, and Heavy Rain. Now if they could just get that marketing up to snuff….
5. Nintendo – Nintendo has made some moves lately, silently courting independent developers which resulting in a very decent showing at this year’s IndieCade. They’ve also investigated some unique pricing schemes for their games, like the 24-hour pass system in Wii Sports Club or the 30-day free trial of Wii Fit U. Some of these changes are driven by necessity as the Wii U is currently floundering, but Nintendo is being innovative in places where it isn’t obvious.
4. WB Games – WB is a relatively recent addition to the publishing field, but they are hitting home runs with the new Mortal Kombat, Injustice, and Scribblenauts. I also have to give a shoutout to these guys for removing GFWL from the Arkham series on PC, and in doing so, upgrading everyone to the GOTY editions of these games, whether they actually owned them or not.
3. 2K Games – Borderlands. Bioshock. We could stop there and this would be a success story. They took a big risk with Spec Ops: The Line, and got behind the game when it seemed like narrative gamble. As a result, the world got to play a very thought-provoking shooter. They helped bring back the XCOM series. They went back to the PC version of Bioshock 2, and with the help of developer Digital Extremes, stripped out GFWL, made heavy adjustments to the multiplayer, and added controller support. Also, they made all the DLC free except for Minerva’s Den, but if you were a previous PC version owner, they threw that one in gratis.
2. Sony – Sony is cultivating talent and studios to make a wide variety of games. From Killzone to Journey, they’re making every size of game available to their customers. Journey won several awards, more than I think anyone expected them to win. There might be a few misfires at the launch of the PlayStation 4, but The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls were arguments Sony put forth that I don’t know anyone could really turn away from. Sony is willing to find the balance between critical acclaim and commercial success, and rather than find a medium between the two, elevate both to new heights.
1. Nobody – That’s right, the number one choice on my list is None Of The Above. With the rise of independent developers, and the acceptance of console manufacturers of self-publishing, the “no publisher” option is the most important option of all. There are numerous games that normally wouldn’t see the light of day available RIGHT now on your PlayStation platform. Nintendo is going to have a very good indie lineup in 2014, and Microsoft allegedly has some indie titles in the future. Most of these titles do not have a big name publisher, and are self-published. Thanks to things like Kickstarter, the fans can pledge money to projects they want to see, and these games come to life. The publisher is an endangered species.
So what do you think of not only our lists, which are sure to be divisive, but which are your favourite publishers, past and present? Let us know in the comments!