The UK games industry has always been a bastion of innovation and quality, though has seen a decline in recent years thanks to the tax breaks of competing markets. Despite this, there are still dozens of brilliant studios in the land of hope and glory, and trimming them down to even twenty was a tough task. A consecutive failure to stick to the ‘top ten’ format, this list has such an abundance of talent that even Relentless, Playfish, Slightly Mad Studios, SCE studios, Team 17, Blitz, Frontier and Jagex have failed to make the cut. This list shows that Great Britain still has something to offer this mental world of video games.
Rebellion is the largest independent development studio in Europe and is almost 20 years old. Most famous for the critically acclaimed 1994 Aliens vs. Predator, they are also the studio responsible for this year’s AVP game too. Rebellion has handled dozens of renowned intellectual properties, including Harry Potter, Tiger Woods, Simpsons, Call of Duty, Star Wars Battlefront, Shellshock, Dead to Rights, James Bond, Miami Vice, Midnight Club, Medal of Honour, Tom Clancy and Mission Impossible. They have also branched out into comic books and have developed across almost every platform since the mid 1990s.
19. Zoë Mode
Following the rebranding of Kuju Brighton to Zoë Mode, this company has published a number of quirky titles, such as the experimental You’re in he Movies, Singstar and EyeToy: Play games. More recently, Zoë Mode has created Chime, a game that we rate very highly here at Kombo. Chime was also the first title to be released under the ‘One Big Game’ charity banner, with all the proceeds going to children’s charities around the world.
18. Ruffian Games
The youngest studio on this list, Ruffian Games was founded last year in order to produce a sequel to the awesome Crackdown, much to the displeasure of the creators of the original, Realtime Worlds. Moreover, Ruffian Games is a matter of meters away from the Realtime Worlds office in Dundee and also employed the exodus of staff that left RTW so that the work on Crackdown could be continued. Though they are yet to release anything yet, you can rest assured that if Crackdown 2 is anything like its predecessor, then it will be one of the challengers for game of the year 2010.
17. Sumo Digital
Sumo have worked on many notable franchises, like Outrun, FIFA and Sonic. They are also the primary developers of the Virtua Tennis series, games that regularly score high and sell well. Both Sega All Stars tennis and racing games were created by Sumo and they recently landed a contract with the BBC to make an episodic game based on the wildly successful Doctor Who TV show.
16. Traveller’s Tales
Traveller’s Tales were a run-of-the-mill Disney-affiliated studio throughout the 1990s and the early half of the 2000s, producing mediocre titles like Crash Twinsanity, Spyro: A Hero’s Tail, Narnia and The Weakest Link. Then, in 2005 they managed to beautifully merge together two of Western culture’s most beloved franchises in the wonderful Lego Star Wars. Since then they have developed countless other Lego games, including Lego Rock Band and this year’s upcoming Lego Harry Potter.
Almost as old as this editorialist, Eurocom have been making games since the latter half of the 1980s. They first came to public attention in 1991 with the titles they developed for the NES, but have released a steady output of games ever since then. Like many other studios on this list, they have been responsible for handling some significant IPs, from Mortal Kombat and Duke Nukem to Dead Space and James Bond.
14. Evolution Studios
Evolution studios exclusively worked on World Rally Championship games from their inception in 1999 until 2007, when their new owners Sony published the all-new Motorstorm series. Highly praised for its cutting-edge graphics at the time, Motorstorm has proved very popular, meriting a spin-off and a sequel, also developed by Evolution.
13. The Creative Assembly
Currently recovering from the scathing reviews of Stormrise, this Sega-owned studio nestle in the sleepy town of Horsham in the Southern English countryside. The development house took a number of years after inception until they finally hit the big time with their PC strategy title Shogun: Total War. They have since gone on to develop classics such as last year’s brilliant Empire: Total War and some non-RTS games like Spartan: Total Warrior and Viking: Battle for Asgard.
12. Black Rock Studios
Developing their skills on the decent ATV and MotoGP series, Black Rock has become a talented racing specialist. The success of their first original IP Pure and the backing of new owner Disney has given the seaside studio the creative space to produce another exciting new racer, with the promising Split/Second due for release soon.
11. Rocksteady Studios
Rocksteady were barely on the gaming radar after their initial release, Urban Chaos: Riot Response, yet now they have major publishers jostling over ownership of the relatively young outfit. Time Warner and Square Enix undoubtedly increased their interest last year, when the fantastic Batman: Arkham Asylum was revealed, which is surely the best superhero game ever. So despite only two releases to its name, Rocksteady rounds off the first ten developers on this list purely on the quality of its most recent offering.
10. Realtime Worlds
In keeping with the precedent set by number 11, Realtime Worlds are another studio with only a single title of significance yet still score highly. Realtime Worlds’ personal gem was 2007’s thrilling Crackdown, a true GTA-beater. The franchise has however, been moved to fellow Dundee developer Ruffian Games (the UK’s 18th best!) by IP owners Microsoft, as Realtime Worlds continue to develop their upcoming innovate PC shooter, All Points Bulletin.
9. Sports Interactive
Sports Interactive, or ‘SI’ as they are often known, have had a fairly eventful past few years though those outside Europe are not expected to know who they are. With sponsorship of football teams in the UK and a number of legal and ownership disputes, SI is never out of the football gaming limelight. Their only game is the boringly named Football Manager, which is updated annually and to the uninitiated looks like a glorified spreadsheet. Names and looks do deceive however, as this game is a hundred times more addictive than even Peggle and has been cited in over 35 divorce cases over the last 4 years in the UK alone. Staff have such an encyclopaedic knowledge and unparalleled insight into football that some employees have even been scouted for real-life professional teams. They truly have earned number 9 on this list.
8. Bizarre Creations
Metropolis Street Racer for the Sega Dreamcast was the game that first propelled Bizarre into the gaming spotlight; the spiritual sequel Project Gotham Racing was the game that helped Microsoft steal Sony’s reputation for producing quality racing games. Bizarre also have other strings to their bow, such as the critically acclaimed Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and the experimental shooter The Club. Next up for Bizarre is the highly-anticipated new IP currently available to demo, Blur.
7. Criterion Games
Yet another accomplished UK racing studio, Criterion has masterminded the epic Burnout series from its spectacular 2001 debut to the most recent offering, Burnout Paradise. Taking time out after the fourth iteration of the title, Criterion went on to develop Black, a game that arguably pushed the last generation of consoles to their technical capacity. Off the back of this awesome success they returned to their beloved franchise and have even been trusted with EA’s prestigious licence for the next instalment of Need For Speed.
6. Crytek UK
Free Radical Design was a studio formed in the wake of the controversial purchase of Rare by Microsoft, with many of the employees jumping the ship to form a new company. The key staff that worked on the legendary GoldenEye, such as the notorious Dr. Doak, created Free Radical to create what is one of the best-loved and pioneering FPS games, TimeSplitters. Its sequels, along with their thriller Second Sight went on to be some of the highest scoring games of the last generation. After the crushingly disappointing Haze and facing bankruptcy, German-based Crytek bought the company and have renamed it as Crytek UK. The newly-named studio have been working upon Crysis 2’s multiplayer as well as new TimeSplitters and Star Wars: Battlefront games.
Guildford & Warwickshire, England
Beginning the countdown of the top five, Codemasters have an illustrious history of video game development and are yet ANOTHER acclaimed racing studio; the Micro Machines, Colin McRea, GRID, TOCA, Formula One and DiRT games are all Codemasters’ creations. A multi-talented and broadly skilled company, they have also made well-known sports games, FPSs, music games, horror titles and RTSs over the last two decades.
4. Media Molecule
This young company were bought out last month by Sony, a decision that left Sony’s competitors green with envy. Media Molecule’s 2008 release LittleBigPlanet was met with universal praise, prompting a well-deserved Game of the Year edition to be released in 2009. The user-generated approach to platforming was revolutionary and has been a major contributor to the recent rise in the PS3’s fortunes.
One of the most cherished game companies of all time, this one-time Nintendo developer has been responsible for some of gaming’s proudest achievements. GoldenEye, Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong Country and of course Battletoads are all Rare creations, and their later work on Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Xbox Avatars, Viva Pinata, Perfect Dark Zero, BK: Nuts and Bolts and Kameo has been successful too. While not quite what they were, Rare continue to be a driving force in modern game development.
2. Rockstar North
A studio held in the highest regard worldwide, Rockstar North are most likely the only reason its owners Take-Two are still in business. The monumental Grand Theft Auto series was the brainchild of this development house and they have overseen every single iteration of the game since then. Although they have produced over a dozen wildly successful GTA games, they have also found the time to make the ultra-violent Manhunt series, which despite the negative mass media furore surrounding them, have gone on to perform very well both commercially and critically. Their next game Agent was announced recently and you can be sure that it will cause quite a stir when it hits the shelves later this year.
Say what you like about its studio head, Peter Molyneux, but Lionhead is one of the most innovative and awe-inspiring developers in the world. Their games are chastised as unfinished; they are lampooned with claims of broken promises – yet the steady output of stellar games is undisputable. With a rich history of innovation, perhaps earliest evident in the God-sim Black & White, Lionhead have always delivered something a little different from its competitors.
The Movies gave players the tools to create their own machinima within an RTS game and the much-heralded Fable games gave players the chance to explore and customise in a beautifully realized virtual world like never before. Aside from Fable III, Lionhead have been working on the super-hyped Milo and Kate which is designed as one of the flagship pieces of software for Microsoft’s mysterious Project Natal. Expect more big things from Lionhead: broken promises and unfinished segments but ultimately fantastically ambitious and innovative masterpieces.