If you follow me you know how much I love lists. To be honest they help me focus my attention on a subject and help me make my point (I tend to use conversation as performance art!) Even with sometimes missing things that I would have liked to include on the list, I enjoy the way that lists get my point across. I would rather have an incomplete list than a rambling mess any day.
A few blogs ago I talked about my top 7 skill-based games, (it was more like 9) so I decided to go after my top 5 favorite developers. I thought of this before, and we have discussed many of these developers many times on the show and through all sorts of places online, but let's see if I can really make myself (using such strict criteria as "only 5") get my love for these developers across this screen to you.
1) Kingsisle Entertainment: Where did Kingsisle come from? All of a sudden there is this small "kids game" that takes over the scene, and soon gathers 5 million players under it's belt. Despite the game being a "freemium" game, to get to the end you would need to pay a small subscription. It would be safe to say that the majority of the Wizard 101 players pay something, so it would be very safe to say that this little team that could has done it.
It was a joy to visit the grounds of Kingsisle studios for a tour. While I tried hard to get a peak at their new MMO under development, I had no luck. Whatever Kingsisle has under development, you can bet that it will be grand. Their philosophy of easy-to-run and fun-to-play gaming is surely going to spell victory for years to come.
2) Sony Online Entertainment: Ah, SOE. You have been inspiring nerd rage for 10 plus years now, and it has been entertaining. The ironic thing is that if you take the opinions of some players as truth, you would think that SOE does not have around 10 MMO's in it's pocket, and more coming out all the time. It's easy to say that I am a fanboy for two developers, SOE and Nexon. And like Nexon, SOE makes me giddy. Their Station Access feels like a toy box with it's pay-one-price access to all it's games.
While the company has made their share of mistakes, I have always been from the school of thought that says that if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying anything new. MMO's are basically a new genre of entertainment, and SOE has been there most of that time. The entire time they have tried different types of games and new ways of paying for those games, and it works more often than not. And their community commitment is matched by none. If ever someone asks if there are any developers that might be willing to take part in an interview or an appearance on a podcast, I tell them to contact SOE. They simply work with their community. When you look at a company like Blizzard and compare them to SOE, you will see how sad community relations can be in other companies.
3) CCP: CCP and Aventurine are one of my favorites for about the same reason. They both tend to listen to their community quietly while they work their butts off delivering that content that the community wanted. While they always try new things, CCP really seems to be a company that wants to make an EVE Online that their players want to play, instead of a game that might attract some separate group. This has worked out for them, this slow and steady approach to developing, by making not only a solid game but a solid development cycle that can be relied on. As much as I would like to pretend that my enjoyment of a game is not effected by how long a game might be around for, it is very reassuring to know that a developer will continue working on that game for as long as we would like them to.
4) Aventurine: Jokingly referred to as "Nectarine" by me, this team has brought Darkfall out of rumors of vaporware to being a really intriguing game for all types of players. They are slowly making headway in the fight to convince PvE players that their game is more than a PvP riot by releasing amazing free patches that contain tweaks, fixes and added content. They also seem to be OK with being such a niche company, developing such a niche game. It's kind of nice, to see a company actually say "We are big enough, and we are OK with our rate of expansion."
Of course, they would probably want 3 million subs just like anyone. But until then, their feet seem firmly planted on the ground and their ears planted in the direction of their community. While I wish they were more open with interviews and other communications, the proof is in the pudding. At least we know that their sometimes silence is caused by the fact that they are busy working their butts off.
5) Nexon: Leala looked at me after watching Nexon's presentation at GDC Austin and said: "They were the only developers to use the word fun." And she was right. We heard a lot about theories and numbers at the gaming conference, but Nexon was the first that seemed to be actually having fun with the event. And that fun spills over into their games, fun for all by keeping the system specs for their games low and the game-play noob friendly. Mabinogi has become one of my staple favorites and continues to add on skills to learn and places to explore and continues to be one of the deepest games out there.
Nexon is also inspirational in their use of cash shop items. They know how fun it can be to buy fluffy pink items for a few dollars, but they allow you to play their games successfully without them. They have talked about how to figure out where to set your prices, and it's fascinating to hear them speak about their target audiences and how they spend that money. Nexon is hip, young, smart and bright like an Anime cartoon, without being annoying.
There are so many more small development studios out now, coming from out of nowhere to prove something. Some are doing very impressive things, like Fallen Earth creators Icarus studios. And the new developers for Ryzom seem to have their stuff together, but in many of these examples it simply has not been long enough to see what might happen or I do not play their games much (like Cryptic or Turbine.)
Needless to say, we all have our favorite studios. And for many different reasons, too. But these are mine. These studios manufacture more than games to me, they create art that we can exist in, play in, explore and create art in for ourselves.
I hope to see more out of all them for a long, long time.