Iwata’s hand in Nintendo’s renaissance is significant. The DS and Wii have been phenomenal hits, but the initial surprise on their unveiling was all part of his careful plan to disrupt the norms of the games industry. It was a lesson he learnt during his days as a coder for Nintendo subsidiary HAL, where he and his colleagues would deliberately aim to make that which Miyamoto would not in order to keep their games fresh. This approach works: the devices he launched as president have reached out to new audiences and spurred an industry-wide thumbs up of the casual set, encouraging developers to make more physically demanding and lower cost experiences. His next target is getting more development talent supporting Nintendo: the imminent unveiling of download service WiiWare should help bridge the gaps between the casuals and the hardcore developers. Satoru Iwata
As head of Warner Brothers Games (full title: senior vice president, development and production, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment) Samantha Ryan may well have the best and also the hardest senior management job in game development. As part for Warner, she’s amidst the media firm’s billion-dollar assault on the games industry – but she’s also the one who has to legitimise it in the eyes of spectators. She’s already promised a smarter use of owned IP and selective growth of new IP. While some help might come from the recently-acquired TT Games/Traveller’s Takes and its LEGO licence, all eyes are on Ryan, the WB Games production team she has recently established, and Seattle-based WB-owned studio Monolith which she also oversees, to deliver. Upcoming shooter Project Origin, developed by Monolith, should be the first step. Samantha Ryan
As head of Warner Brothers Games (full title: senior vice president, development and production, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment) Samantha Ryan may well have the best and also the hardest senior management job in game development. As part for Warner, she’s amidst the media firm’s billion-dollar assault on the games industry – but she’s also the one who has to legitimise it in the eyes of spectators.
Greer founded and is CEO of Kongregate.com, an online portal for Flash games that is driven by community features and encourages developers to upload their own creations. The site has helped give joint focus to both the user-generated games content and Flash development scenes, turning people like Paul Preece (developer of favourite Desktop Tower Defense) into stars amongst those in the know and also targeting a mass of games players. Lessons learnt in 17 years making online games for big industry names – Greer worked on Ultima 7 & 8 (Origin), NetStorm: Islands at War (Activision), was in charge of web games at Shockwave.com in 2000 and moved to Electronic Arts in 2001 as technical director of pogo – have helped build a destination on the web that really does reward developers with profits from innovative short session games that players love to play.
Back when the first person dreamt up the idea of a gaming degree, the rapid snapping up of Swift and her fellow student team mates must have been exactly what they’d envisioned. That Portal, the game she would then go on to commandeer, would be widely regarded as the freshest, funniest and overall best game of 2007 – a year unprecedented for gaming experiences – would have exceeded even their imaginations. Swift is proof that gaming academia can be relevant and an asset to the industry, and a one-fingered salute to those studios reticent to hire graduates. The way Swift managed Portal into become a smart melding of both an excellent gameplay mechanic and great writing (suppied by scribe Erik Wolpaw) and advocating a shorter playtime, make her work much admired and undoubtedly closely watched. And it’s only her first ‘proper’ game.
Creating Final Fantasy – one of the most popular franchises of all time – might be enough reason for his inclusion in this list, but it’s what he did after that interests us the most. Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker is the pinnacle of the oft-championed Hollywood model, steering the creation of multiple large-scale triple-A titles each year by maintaining the core creative team in-house and outsourcing the development to a single studio. Releasing several games a year keeps Sakaguchi at the forefront of the Japanese gaming media – something Microsoft clearly recognised when it employed Sakaguchi as the spearhead of their Japanese offensive.
There are plenty of brother-based game companies, but few of them can have experienced the remarkable rise of Avni, Faruk and Cevat Yerli. Although Crytek was founded in 1999 it debut title Far Cry wasn’t released until 2004. These were the hard, learning years. Since then the combination of highly regarded Crysis, released via EA, plus the Frankfurt relocation and growth of Crytek’s German HQ, establishment of Kiev and Budapest-based sister studios and the commercial launch of middleware CryENGINE 2 demonstrates the financial nous of ex-engineer Avni, in terms of providing a solid commercial foundation for the company’s future.
The progress of Valve’s digital distribution platform Steam in the past year has been overwhelming, with almost every major publisher using the independent developer’s service to sell games online. Holtman’s hand in this is not to be underestimed – he works with outside teams chasing Steam distribution. He also helps those looking to licence Valve’s Source engine. The former lawyer has helped turn Steam into an attractive business complement, and a continued perfect fit for any business, whether they are are a huge multinational publisher or a small independent developer. That’s hugely impressive.
With an academic background in evolutionary and adaptive systems, Torsten Reil’s sure-footed development of NaturalMotion, the company of which he was a co-founder, now CEO, and its underlying technology, marks one of the success stories of UK middleware. Its first product Endorphin was used by dozens of film special effect studios, as well as game developers, to provide realistic-looking animation. But it’s Euphoria, a runtime animation component that’s been used in GTA IV and new Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, that highlights the company’s potential. Development of its own game, Backbreaker, shows wider ambi
When you’ve been in control of a company for 16 years and delivered 16 years of revenue growth, you could be forgiven for being self-satisfied. Add in moves such as the $100 million Guitar Hero acquisition – something expected to generate over $360 million this year – and most execs would be smug. But Activision’s position in second place behind EA encouraged Bobby Kotick to pull off the industry’s most watched and ambitious deal, the merger between Activision and Blizzard. It’s a measure of his standing as a financially astute operator that he remains at the helm of combined $18.9 billion behemoth, despite Activision’s minority stake.
Sixteen years is a long time to continually run a games company. But perhaps what’s most impressive about Michael Morhaime’s focus on high quality games that are only ever released when they are deemed ready, is the fact Blizzard has been a fully-owned studio since 1994. Its ‘By gamers, for gamers’ approach has been fully vindicated, however. And as well as multi-million selling successes such as World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, the merger of Vivendi and Activision has redefined Blizzard as the world’s most valuable single development unit, and Morhaime himself as one of the most powerful figures in the industry.
The commercialisation of academic smarts has historically proved remarkably difficult, especially into the games industry. So, considering his background as a researcher in astrophysics at Cambridge University, Chris Doran perhaps seemed an unlikely figure to kickstart one of the most exciting UK middleware companies. But two years on, he’s developed ideas into products, raised over £2 million in funding, bought in industry veterans including ex-Sony boss Chris Derring, and is now ready to launch real-time lighting solution Enlighten at GDC. And that’s only the start. The company has plenty of other areas to investigate. Watch this space.
It’s almost impossible to separate the two-headed management team of BioWare but if forced, Ray Muzyka takes it by a nose. As well as his development role, he deals with the finance and operations side of the business, which provides a textbook example of how to take a small start-up to global success. Of course, the focus has always been the quality of the games, but under Muzyka’s guidance, the BioWare name itself became a powerful brand too, resulting in the Pandemic and Electronic Arts deals. And, as if to underline his smarts, he’s gained an MBA and won the Celebrity Poker Tournament at DICE.
To anyone who’s played genre (and some would say era) defining games such as Doom and Quake, Carmack’s influence on gaming hardly needs introduction, having been one of the few people on the very front lines of the technological revolutions. While id’s tech leadership may have recently been challenged by Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, id are fighting back with Tech 5, driven by Carmack’s visions of future technology – an almost self fulfilling prophecy, given how he helps to shape the technology itself. But it's his love of low-specced machines that is of most interest, most recently leading to the opening of id’s new mobile studio overseen by his wife, Katherine Anna Kang.