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The publishing landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade with a myriad of mergers, closures, re-branding, and re-structuring. Finding a publisher for your game in the best of times is a difficult task. In today’s ever-shifting industry, just knowing who to call is a challenge in itself. In a recent report by Game Developer magazine, the top 20 publishers were featured and analyzed as to their overall revenue, the number of titles released in 2002, the types of games released, and their relationship with developers. Much of the data included in the following list of publishers was gleaned from this survey.
EA, as it’s commonly called, is the world’s largest independent publisher. By independent, we mean that it’s not part of a platform company, like Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. EA published just over 100 titles in the 2002 fiscal year. About 60% of these were developed by the company’s internal development studios. EA focuses heavily on licenses and sequels, with original titles making up only about 16% of their games. Key titles include Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer, SSX Tricky, Def Jam Vendetta, The Sims, Medal of Honor, and Command & Conquer.
Sony focuses on titles for its PlayStation 2 console, for obvious reasons. In the 2002 fiscal year, they released 44 titles, 45% of which were produced by external developers. Sony releases titles in all genres, but action, sports and racing game together make up about 54% of their output. As opposed to EA, Sony invests heavily in original ideas—about 45% of its games in the year surveyed were new intellectual properties. Titles from Sony include SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, The Getaway, ICO, Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, and Twisted Metal: Black.
Nintendo is the oldest game publishing company in the business; the company was founded in 1889 as a publisher of “Hanafuda” playing cards in Japan. From the mid-1980s through the 90s, Nintendo dominated the console business. Now, it is still a major player and one of the most innovative publishers in the business. While the company is reliant on sequels and spin-offs of its key properties, licenses made up only 3.5% of its titles in the 2002 fiscal year. About 46% of Nintendo’s titles in that year were produced by third-party developers, but these mainly consisted of Japanese teams. Key Nintendo titles include the Mario and Donkey Kong series and spin-offs, the Zelda series, Pokémon, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and many more.
Activision has been one of the top publishers in the business since its formation in 1979. The company tends to rely on licensed properties and sequels, with original ideas making up only about 14% of its titles. Like EA, Sony, and Nintendo, Activision focuses mainly on console titles—69% of its releases in the 2002 fiscal year were in that area. Handheld games made up 22% of its titles in that time period, and computer games just 9%. Activision titles include Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the Tony Hawk series, Spider-Man, as well as Quake III: Arena and X-Men.
Vivendi Universal Games continued as one of the biggest publishers in the industry during the 2002 fiscal year despite the financial troubles of its parent company. The company has a strong presence in the edutainment area—43% of its titles in the year surveyed were for children. Because of this, it also tends to release a higher percentage of computer titles—61% of all their releases are for the PC and Macintosh—than any other top publisher. About half of Vivendi’s titles are produced by external developers, and original ideas only make up 11% of their releases. Titles from Vivendi include the WarCraft series, The Incredible Hulk, Crash Bandicoot: the Wrath of Cortex, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, the Barbie titles, and the Fisher-Price: Rescue Heroes titles.
Take-Two is considered one of the top publishers mainly because of the amazing success of its internally produced Grand Theft Auto series. But in the 2002 fiscal year over 80% of its 25 titles were produced out of house. Take-Two titles tend to be in the action and sports genres. Aggressive and original, 41% of the company’s titles are new concepts—with 50% being sequels and only 10% licensed properties. In addition to the Grand Theft Auto titles, Take-Two has released Max Payne, Myth III: the Wolf Age, Oni, Railroad Tycoon II, and Big Bass Fishing.
Atari started as a console maker in the 1970s. It became a publisher and was sold several times over the years. The most recent owner, Infogrames, recently changed the company name to “Atari” to capitalize on the tremendous brand recognition. Infogrames had built itself up into one of the biggest publishers by buying a number of other companies, including Hasbro Interactive, which held the rights to the Atari name. About 74% of the new Atari’s games in fiscal year 2002 were produced by external developers, with 22% based on original ideas rather than sequels or licenses. The company leans somewhat heavily toward developing for the PC—about 53% of its releases in the year surveyed were computer titles. They’re known for such titles as Neverwinter Nights, Unreal Tournament, as well as the highly publicized Enter the Matrix game.
Konami is an extremely prolific publisher with an emphasis on producing titles internally. Of the 64 titles they published in the year surveyed; only 7% were produced by external developers. Konami also focuses heavily on sequels—78% of the titles released in the 2002 fiscal year were sequels. Konami focuses heavily on consoles and handhelds, but they also make arcade games, toys, and card games. Konami titles include the Silent Hill series, Metal Gear Solid, the Dance Dance Revolution arcade games, and the Yu-Gi-Oh! card and digital games.
Microsoft publishes titles for both its Xbox platform and the PC, with the console titles making up about 55% of their releases. Like Sony, Microsoft titles tend to focus on original concepts, rather than sequels or licenses, with 58% of the titles released in the 2002 fiscal year based on original ideas. About 64% of Microsoft’s titles are produced by external developers. Microsoft scored several important hits in its early releases for the Xbox, including the highly successful Halo. But they are also well-known for their PC titles like the Age of Empires series and the ever-popular Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Sega is an ex-console maker turned publisher. With the demise of its Dreamcast platform, it has turned exclusively to publishing, but is highly reliant on sequels and licenses. Sega also continues to make amazing arcade games, but as we mentioned, that market is suffering. Recently, some of Sega’s internal development teams have started creating games for other publishers, including Nintendo. Titles from Sega include Virtua Fighter 4, Phantasy Star Online, Shinobi, NFL 2K3, and House of the Dead III.
Rounding out the list of top 20 publishers are:
As Tristan Donovan, author of the Game Developer report points out, “awareness of a publisher’s general attitude toward external development, its treatment of other developers, and what genres it concentrates on can be highly valuable when dealing with a publisher.” We encourage you to research publishers before approaching them. Knowledge of their products, their business focus, and trends they seem to be a part of can help you present you own game in the context of their goals and plans.
Exercise 15.2: The Right Publisher
Do some research of your own and find a publisher you think would be right for your original game idea. Don’t just choose the biggest or the most well-known publisher—find a company that is a match for your game in terms of focus, market, and other games they’ve published.
Tristan Donovan, “Game Developer Reports: Top 20 Publishers,” Game Developer, September 2003.
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