List

Top 50 Developer 2012

Top 50 Developer 2012

Welcome to the third year of PocketGamer.biz's 50 best developers, brought to you in association with Flurry.

Condensed down from a master list of over 250 candidates, generated from our dealings with the industry, and input from trusted contacts and the wider community, it's been an epic task to compile.

The reason is the massive success that's being experienced throughout the industry. At one end, start ups are bursting onto the scene, gaining millions of downloads with new, innovative experiences.

At the other, the big publishers are generating hundreds of millions of dollars and still seeing double digit growth, not to mention the phenomenon of games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, which transcend the games sector.

Such vibrancy is reflected with 23 new entries in this year's list; an incredible number and one that includes three-man teams and some of the best known names from console development.

Yet, at the sharp end, there are only two companies in the top 10 who didn't feature in the top 10 in 2011, demonstrating the first mover advantage that's proving to be so important in terms of building a longterm business.

Click here to view the list »
  • 50 Full Fat

    Full Fat logo

    NEW ENTRY

    One of those studios that's been working away solidly behind the scenes for - in this case - over 15 years and 75 releases, UK outfit Full Fat has gained profile recently thanks to its original IP mobile titles. Most of its releases are in its paid Flick casual sports sim range, which get players to fire all manner of balls with their fingers.

    Now developing simultaneously on iOS and Android, most recently it's been on an American football charge, working with the NFL for two games. Its soccer and golf games also come highly regarded.


  • 49 Andreas Illiger

    Andreas Illiger logo

    NEW ENTRY

    One man, one game.

    Tiny Wings was perhaps the signature game of 2011 in that its simplicity and virality harked back to an early time on the App Store many thought had been lost forever. And its success is undeniable. It hasn't left the top 20 game charts since its February release, taking the #1 top grossing spot in the US and UK among 38 countries.

    Still, its developer - a young German - has remained a private figure, not giving interviews or significantly updating the game. It will certainly be interesting to see whether he comes up with something new in 2012.


  • 48 Neon Play

    Neon Play logo

    DOWN 12

    UK start up Neon Play kicked off 2011 with 4 million iOS downloads; 12 months later it had accumulated a further 26 million across iOS and Android. And CEO Oli Christie was named UK entrepreneur of the year by National Chamber of Commerce.

    One reason for this success is it's releasing a lot of very casual free-to-play titles - 32 to-date - particularly based around its Paper Glider franchise. It's active in the sports genre too with football, soccer, tennis and golf games.

    Recent release Traffic Panic 3D, and its plans for social games in 2012, demonstrates rising production standards and ambition.


  • 47 RedLynx

    RedLynx logo

    NEW ENTRY

    The big news from RedLynx in 2011 was its acquisition by Ubisoft for an undisclosed sum in November.

    The reason for this is the Finnish developer's expertise with digital downloads; on mobile, PC and console.

    Indeed, in 1000 Heroz, it released one of the most conceptually ambitious titles of the year with a new platform level being unlocked every day for people to compete on, with respect to fastest times.

    Its signature mobile game, however, was DrawRace 2, which was published by Chillingo to great acclaim and plenty of fan activity with over 14 million game sessions. Although it wasn't a huge commercial success. With Ubisoft's backing, that looks certain to change in 2012.


  • 46 PlayFirst

    PlayFirst logo

    NEW ENTRY

    One of the band of casual PC publishers now making its way on mobile, US outfit PlayFirst saw an 86 percent increase in active mobile gamers during 2011.

    Thanks to the success of its Dash franchises - notably Diner Dash, which has been updated over 30 times - the company boasts over 25 million installs and 5 million monthly active users.

    And 2012 will see another SpongeBob Diner Dash game, although the company's not just about time management, with four games released in its adventure series Dream Chronicles. It's still to release on platforms other than iOS, however.


  • 45 Cave

    Cave logo

    NO CHANGE

    Well known in the west for its various bullet hell shoot-'em ups on iOS, Japanese publisher Cave is a much more rounded company if you consider its entire game library.

    Domestically, it's now very active on social mobile platforms such as GREE and Mobage; indeed, in August it took a $2.3 million investment from GREE to support its platform.

    Hit social titles in Japan include Shirotsuku (Build A Castle!), which has three million users on Mobage, and - working with EA - a version of SimCity for GREE. 2012 should see it focus more on Android too.


  • 44 SkyVu Entertainment

    NEW ENTRY

    US developer SkyVu continues to build out its 3D shooter Battle Bears franchise, adding new games, themes and modes, most notably its real-time four-on-four multiplayer Royale game.

    Mixing up the paid model with free-to-play, the series has now been downloaded over 14 million times.

    Certainly not on an Angry Birds scale, nevertheless with a core fanbase, and merchandising such as comic and plushes, not to mention a push into animated content and social games, it's a great demonstration of the power of mobile to kickstart a media property, even a niche one.


  • 43 Mojang

    Mojang logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Minecraft wasn't an obvious game to bring to mobile. Still, released with just the sandbox mode of the indie smash in place, Minecraft - Pocket Edition has proved to be very successful.

    Launching exclusively on Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play, and then on Android and iOS, it's sold over 700,000 units; not bad at a price of $6.99. The free demo version has been downloaded several million times too.

    The Survival mode - complete with day/night cycle and monsters - has now arrived via an update, although Mojang points out that the mobile game is its own version, and won't copy the PC experience in terms of future direction.


  • 42 Miniclip

    Miniclip logo

    UP 1

    Following its solid start on iOS, Flash gaming portal Miniclip pushed on in 2011 with over 15 titles available on iOS and a couple on Android.

    Originally based on a 99c paid version, backed with separate Lite version business model, it's experimented with free-to-play games using IAP to unlock new content.

    The result is its iOS games have been downloaded over 50 million times. Notable key releases are Monster Island, Gravity Guy and Apache Overkill, which were ported by its inhouse Portugal-based team. It's now looking to move onto Windows Phone.


  • 41 Digital Chocolate

    Digital Chocolate logo

    DOWN 15

    Highlighting its status as one of the few companies that's hit a 100 million installs each on web, Facebook and mobile platform, Digital Chocolate has been increasing its mobile focus in recent months.

    The reason is the growing importance of a joined up social cross-platform strategy, which has seen Facebook hits such as Zombie Lane and Millionaire City arrive on iOS and Android. It's released games on Windows Phone too.

    Digital Chocolate's 2012 activity will also be boosted by its acquisition of Cake Mania studio Sandlot and the raising of $12 million of investment in February 2011.


  • 40 Armor Games

    Armor Games logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Well known for its popular free Flash gaming portal, Armor Games certainly has a large portfolio of titles it could bring to iOS. It's been considered in its choices, however, working closely with developers to make sure the transition between platforms, and especially control methods, are as smooth as possible.

    Demonstrating this, during 2011 the Armor published Siege Hero and Kingdom Rush were amongst the highest reviewed releases of the year, although their 99c/$2.99 price point didn't encourage widespread distribution or commercial success.

    Looking to the future, Armor is committed to iOS and, eschewing Android or Windows Phone, is looking to the longterm potential of HTML5.


  • 39

     logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Social mobile outfit Z2Live has taken its time to get up to speed when it comes to freemium gaming on iOS.

    Founded in 2009 in Seattle, picking up staff from Microsoft, Vivendi Mobile and Amplified Games along the way, it took until the release of Trade Nations in November 2010 to gain its first success.

    It's since released Battle Nations and MetalStorm: Wingman, both of which play to the company's hardcore focus and have been more successful in terms of hitting the top grossing positions on global charts. It's looking to repeat this with another air combat game slated for a May release, also bulking up on staff during February by acquiring nine-man Big Sandwich Games.


  • 38 Red Robot Labs

    Red Robot Labs logo

    NEW ENTRY

    The first location-based games developer to appear on the PocketGamer.biz top 50, Red Robot Labs is a US start up with execs from CrowdStar, EA and Playdom, which has raised $10.5 million, launching its Mafia Wars-style game Life is Crime on Android in September.

    Downloaded over a million times, it's now also available for iPhone. The cross-platform experience is heavily focused around player-vs-player activity, targeting a competitive hardcore market.

    Building up scale in 2012, Red Robot has two new games in development, one of which is being developed at UK-based Supermono Studios, which it acquired in December.


  • 37 CrowdStar

    CrowdStar logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Such is the relentless activity in the social mobile space, there are always new companies looking to make their mark and take their slice of the action. One such is CrowdStar.

    A Facebook publisher of casual games for girls, it's now aggressively moving onto iOS and Android, bringing titles such as Social Girl to the mobile audience.

    Backed with an impressive $23 million in VC funding, and the support of OpenFeint and Sibblingz investor Peter Relan as CEO, it's also starting to branch out with games for guys. Wasteland Empires was released on Facebook last year.


  • 36 Get Set Games

    Get Set Games logo

    DOWN 9 PLACES

    It's a mark of the support and polish that Get Set Games have continued to lavish on Mega Jumpsince its May 2010 release that many now consider it to be the archetypal mobile endless jumping game.Of course, it's very different to Doodle Jump, having adopted a free-to-play model and all that goes with it.

    Downloaded over 19 million times on iOS and Android, the Canadian studio has been quick to use new business models such as incentivised actions, also being one of the first company to try the Kiip reward system. 2012 will see the release of companion game in the form of endless runner Mega Run.


  • 35 Game Insight

    Game Insight logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Slightly confusing, given that it's known on Android Market as Cooper Media, Game Insight is a Moscow-based casual mobile publisher, consisting of 13 studios and over 250 staff.

    Originally releasing on social networks and iOS, it's now focused mainly on Android, seeing great success in 2011 with free-to-play games in genres such as town building and hidden object.

    Titles such as Crime Story and My Country have each received over 1 million downloads, while Paradise Island is now over 5 million downloads. It's also looking to release its games via HTML5 in 2012, and has announced it's opening a San Francisco office to maximise its western publishing operations.


  • 34 Limbic Software

    Limbic Software logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Given that boutique studio Limbic Software has only released three games in two years, its presence in our top 50 demonstrates its development prowess. Still, while Nuts! and Tower Madness are well regarded, it was Zombie Gunshipthat created the company's reputation.

    Placing you in control of aiming high powered weaponry from a circling AC-130 gunship in the hopeless task of defending those on the ground from the zombie apocalypse, it mixes sheer gameplay addiction with a very smooth in-app purchase process. It hit the #1 position in the top grossing charts in 19 countries, including the US.


  • 33 G5 Entertainment

    G5 Entertainment logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Swedish-headquartered and Russian-based G5 Entertainment has been one of the quiet success stories of the mobile industry in 2011.Fulfilling its promise to deliver a new release every week, the once casual PC publisher has added to its iOS focus, launching on Android Market during the summer. Virtual City Playground is its most popular title, with the company's cumulative download total boosted to over 33 million, and growing at around four million every month.

    Its games, which are sourced equally internally and from third party developers, often in eastern Europe, focus on the time management and hidden object genres.


  • 32 TinyCo

    TinyCo logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Like similar companies, TinyCo burst onto the mobile social scene in 2011 with a blaze of publicity and a big cheque.Backed with $18 million from Andreessen Horowitz, it's since been building out various versions of its Tiny social games, gaining more than 20 million downloads in the process.

    But it's also focused on the wider picture, setting up a $5 million developer fund to plug third party talent into its user base. It's been active on Android too, highlighting its goal to simultaneously release iOS and Android games using to its Griffin game engine. And it's signed up with DeNA to release its games on Mobage.


  • 31 11 bit studios

    11 bit studios logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Arguably the graphical game of the year on iOS - it won an Apple Design Award - Polish developer 11 bit Studios (and publisher Chillingo) spent plenty of time making sure reverse tower defence game Anomaly - Warzone Earth was as polished as it possibly could be.

    That certainly paid off in terms of review scores with the title being the highest reviewed iPhone game on the Quality Index. Commercially it didn't match these heights, though; perhaps the decision to split the release into iPhone and iPad SKUs diluted its presence. The game was released on Android, for Kindle Fire, and on consoles too. We can't wait to see what the studios gets up to next.


  • 30 Kairosoft

    Kairosoft logo

    UP 19 PLACES

    Bursting onto the western mobile scene with Game Dev Story, Japanese publisher Kairosoft experienced an impressive 2011, releasing six titles across iOS and Android.All of them are paid, often priced at $3.99, and all follow the similar theme of cute, isometric graphics and simulation resource/time management gameplay. They're very Japanese in style.

    And for this reason, they remain something of niche. So while Game Dev Story gained plaudits for its setting, the more obscure and parochial games - notably Oh! Edo Towns - are only recommended for true fans. Nevertheless, each Kairosoft release is anticipated; after all it's one of the few companies whose name has become a genre in its own right.


  • 29 Sega

    Sega logo

    NEW ENTRY

    While other Japanese publishers such as Konami and Capcom have large and lucrative mobile divisions, Sega has always seemed to take a more console-approach to the platform.This has seen plenty of versions of key games ported such as Sonic and Super Monkey Ball, not to mention arcade remakes of Golden Axe and Streets of Rage etc.

    It's only recently opened up in terms of dedicated development for mobile games. One surprise has been its support for hardcore freemium MMOGs with titles like Samurai Bloodshow, Fallen Realms, and Kingdom Conquest, which has done over 2 million downloads on iOS. On a more classic take, the Sumo Digital developed Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing scored highly in terms of critical acclaim.


  • 28 Funzio

    Funzio logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Initially launching on Facebook, 2011 was the year US outfit Funzio raised $20 million in VC funding and started to focus on iOS.It currently has two hardcore games live - Crime City and Modern War - and both are constantly high in the US top grossing charts.

    But surprisingly, considering its founders previously worked at Storm8 and Zynga, it's not yet branched out on Android, although Crime City is available in Google+. Still, with that amount of cash and a growing team, including ex-EA biz dev guy Jamil Moledina, it's clear the company will be accelerating its growth in 2012.


  • 27 HandyGames

    HandyGames logo

    UP 11 PLACES

    One of the veterans of European game development, German publisher HandyGames took its time adapting to the smartphone business. It's now demonstrating its experience, however, especially in terms of making the most of new distribution opportunities.Aggressively adopting the free model - backed with in-game advertising and some IAP - it's been particularly successful on Android, including Amazon's Appstore, GetJar and Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play.

    During November 2011, it announced it has served up 300 million ads via AdMob, with its Guns N Glory franchise leading the charge with multi-millions of downloads.


  • 26 Madfinger Games

    Madfinger Games logo

    NEW ENTRY

    There aren't many developers who can live up to comparisons to Epic Games, but when it comes to very high end mobile gaming Czech developer Madfinger's third person shooter Shadowgun certainly stood toe-to-toe with Infinity Blade.To a degree, the comparisons are a bit forced, of course, due to its use of rival engine Unity, plus heavy support from Nvidia as the game was a poster child for its Tegra 3 architecture.

    Nevertheless, the graphical quality combined with a smooth touchscreen controls, highlighted the company's action expertise, previously seen in its earlier Samurai franchise. Next up is a multiplayer mode for Shadowgun, plus the promise of three new titles in 2012.


  • 25 DeNA

    DeNA logo

    DOWN 19 PLACES

    18 months following its headline $403 million acquisition of US publisher and platform holder ngmoco, Japanese outfit DeNA is still furiously building its presence outside of Japan. That's the reason ngmoco hasn't released any new titles recently, although it still supports its We Rulefranchise.Instead, it's been working on DeNA's Mobage infrastructure and development tools (ngCore), as well as new from-the-ground-up titles. Certainly the company is still hiring and acquiring, across China, Korea and Vietnam to Chile and Europe.

    The output of its Swedish studio - founded by ex-EA DICE staff - is particularly anticipated, as is new RPG Skyfall.


  • 24 Crescent Moon Games

    Crescent Moon Games logo

    UP 4 PLACES

    Starting out as an indie developer with Ravenswordback in 2009, Crescent Moon has built up a solid reputation as a publisher of niche action and RPG games, often developed using the Unity engine.Working closely with a select number of up-and-coming developers (typically App Store debutees), its games are always high quality, well presented and - interestingly given the prevailing trend - paid titles.

    Its philosophy is that while others jump on the nickel-and-dime bandwagon, many core gamers are still happy to pay for a complete game experience. Also significant is that the company solely operates on iOS.


  • 23 Big Fish Games

    Big Fish Games logo

    NEW ENTRY

    One of the largest online casual games publishers, Big Fish has been aggressively increasing its mobile business, being particularly active on iPad.

    The reasons are obvious. The large screen work better for its core hidden object games than phones, while the device's older, more female and more affluent demographic is the audience it's been selling games to for a decade.

    But as well as opening up the floodgates in terms of releases in 2011 - including on Android - the company also innovates. It standardised the 'free download with IAP to unlock the complete game' model. Its streaming game service on iOS was less successful, however, being pulled by Apple.

  • 22 Deep Silver Fishlabs

    Deep Silver Fishlabs logo

    DOWN 4 PLACES

    On one level, 2011 was a quiet year for German developer Fishlabs. It didn't release any new titles in its signature Galaxy on Firefranchise, instead expanding its team in terms of technical and support personnel, while preparing for ambitious future versions.Yet, on the other hand, 2011 was busy. The developer released two games for VW, including the very high end Sports Car Challenge for its Chinese division, and a sequel (of sorts) for the amazingly successful Barclaycard's Waterslide Extreme.

    Oh, and it also released Snowboard Hero and won the Best Studio in the German Game Developer Awards. Not bad for a quiet year.


  • 21 Pocket Gems

    Pocket Gems logo

    UP 3 PLACES

    One of the wave of well-funded (at least $5 million raised to-date) pure social mobile gaming publishers, Pocket Gems' reputation has been build on the back of its Tapfranchises.Targetting the typical casual free-to-play player, its biggest launch during 2011 was Tap Pet Hotel, which was the top grossing game in 85 countries. However, 2010's Tap Zoo was the top grossing app across the year in the US, according to Apple.

    Overall, its total downloads are now over 60 million, although it's been relatively slow onto Android, with only three titles on Google's platform compared to 12 on iOS. We expect this to change in 2012.


  • 20 Chillingo

    Chillingo logo

    NEW ENTRY

    It's taken some time, but since Chillingo's October 2010 acquisition by EA, the outfit has gradually filled out its operations, becoming more of a publisher and less of a distributor.This can clearly been seen as the quality level of its releases has steadily improved. Prime examples include Anomaly - Warzone Earth, the highest ranked game of 2011 on the Quality Index, and Contre Jour, which was Apple Europe's iPhone game of the Year. Publishing RedLynx's DrawRace 2 was another signal of the company's status within the ecosystem.

    Still, it's yet to get properly stuck into Android games or free-to-play, although we expect both - and lots of Windows Phone titles - to come apace in 2012.


  • 19 NaturalMotion Games

    NaturalMotion Games logo

    UP 20 PLACES

    It's still developing the procedural animation software used in console games such as GTA IV, and which gave it its name, but UK middleware company NaturalMotion is now heavily focused on the free-to-play mobile market.Having built up its reputation with realistic sports games, notably around American Football and ice hockey, it's maintaining its competitive advantages in terms of high end 3D graphics, and that's even in the case of My Horse, which is a release aimed at a younger, female audience.

    And the approach is working with the title - currently only available for iOS - having been downloaded over eight million times and seeing over 500,000 daily active users.


  • 18 Spacetime Studios

    Spacetime Studios logo

    UP 15 PLACES

    Formed from the ashes of a canned massively multiplayer online PC game, Texas-based Spacetime dusted itself down, took its expertise and applied it to the next big thing - mobile.Since the launch of its MMOG Pocket Legends for iOS in 2010, it's continued to build out its cross-platform engine, adding Android support. Now all of its games, including Star Legends and the just announced Dark Legends, seamlessly work across mobile and browsers, providing an open play space for the company to exploit.

    In terms of iOS and Android apps, it claims over seven million downloads and more than a million play sessions weekly on Pocket Legends and Star Legends.


  • 17 Glu Mobile

    Glu Mobile logo

    DOWN 4 PLACES

    The longest running feature phone-to-smartphone transition continues at Glu Mobile, which tweaked its business model - again - in 2011. Instead of looking to third party developers, it decided to splash out, buying two studios (Blammo and Griptonite), doubling its internal capacity in the process.Even without these additional teams, it's been releasing a lot of freemium games, with Rogue Racing, Frontline Commando and The Nightworld among recent titles. The quality bar remains high, although there's now more competition in the market in terms of this audience.

    This means older games such as Gun Bros. and Contract Killer remain core sources of revenue, although Glu's found some success with its first successful female-focused game Stardom the debut from Blammo.


  • 16 Com2uS

    Com2uS logo

    DOWN 2 PLACES

    2011 proved to be a transitional year for Korean publisher Com2uS. Previously a very successful domestic feature phone gaming business, it's been retooling itself for an international smartphone future.

    The good news is that with annual sales up 17 percent to $31 million, smartphones sales up 159 percent and overseas sales up to 49 percent, it's heading in the right direction.However, it's not had a big hit since 2010's Slice It!. So while games such as Homerun Battle 2 and Tower Defense proved to be solid performers, it will have to ramp up the innovation, especially in the buoyant casual free-to-play market, if it expects the sales curve to continue upwards.


  • 15 Storm8

    Storm8 logo

    UP 27 PLACES

    Generally reckoned to be the largest of new social mobile start ups, Storm8 generated plenty of headlines in 2011, announcing its first $1 million revenue day.

    The company's trick was being early to the free-to-play model; also gaining flexibility by splitting its releases into the male-oriented Storm8 titles such as World War and female-focused TeamLava games - its Story games.

    Both sides of the operation have been massively successful, with the company boasting multiple titles that have sat in top 100 top grossing chart for over a year. Still, with fierce competition in the social sector, it will have to remain nimble to keep its competitive advantage in 2012. And rumours of a lucrative sale to a deep pocketed media company are likely to continue.

  • 14 Konami

    Konami logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Given the vast majority of its activity happens on the GREE and Mobage platforms in Japan, in the west, it's difficult to get a comprehensive overview of Konami's mobile business. Suffice to say, however, that with annual sales up on a triple digital basis in FY11 to around $400 million, the company's sitting in a sweetspot when it comes to generating revenue.

    Yet it's been slower than fellow Japanese publishers such as Capcom and Namco Bandai to build out a western-focused business. Still, alongside paid games based on its console licences, it has demonstrated the ability to experiment, putting out a free-to-play version of Pro Evolution Soccer. And, presumably as GREE and Mobage go global, so will Konami.


  • 13 Capcom Mobile

    Capcom Mobile logo

    DOWN 5 PLACES

    Thanks to signature title Smurfs' Village, it's no surprise that Capcom Mobile (which includes the activity of its Beeline division) continues to see amazing commercial growth. Sales were up 68 percent for the first nine months of 2011 - projected to be around $80 million for the full year.The company hasn't yet demonstrated it can repeat that success, however. Follow up free-to-play titles such as Snoopy's Street Fair and Dream Park, not to mention the controversial Capcom Arcade, didn't catch the public's imagination.

    Still, with Shrek's Fairytale Kingdom inbound, not to mention licences such as Resident Evil and Street Fighter available, and its activity on the GREE and Mobage platforms in Japan and expanding, there's no doubt Capcom is now a big hitter in the global mobile world.


  • 12 Zynga

    Zynga logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Creating the big news of the year with its December IPO, 2011 was also the year Facebook gaming behemoth Zynga started taking mobile gaming seriously. It might seem a strange thing to say considering the number of mobile developers it's acquired over the past 18 months, but previously there wasn't much evidence of a coherent strategy.Now, however, with its key Zynga With Friends (previously Newtoy) studio now pumping out successful games, plus 13 million daily mobile active users and more than $1 billion in cash, it's clear 2012 is the time that players, commentators and investors will expect to see the company making the most of the platform's opportunities.


  • 11 Gamevil

    Gamevil logo

    UP 1 PLACES

    Now, the largest game publisher in Korea, Gamevil has demonstrated its global focus, being quick to focus on the international smartphone market. Thanks to core releases in the baseball and RPGs genres, it's built a strong reputation and cashflow.Most notable in this respect has been its $10 million development fund, which has seen it publish iOS hit Cartoon Wars on Android.

    More recently, it's also started releasing a number of free-to-play games, including Arel Wars and Last War. None of these have found the mass market success of Air Penguin, however, which has done 13 million paid and free-to-play downloads.


  • 10 Disney Mobile Studios

    Disney Mobile Studios logo

    NEW ENTRY

    Despite its status as one of the world's iconic media brands, Disney hadn't previously demonstrated much awareness of the mobile games industry, other than typical licensing operations for tie-in releases such as Toy Story, Cars and Tron. Even the $35 million acquisition of Tap Tap Revengedeveloper Tapulous in July 2010 didn't seem to have much impact.Still, although the majority of the Tapulous development team have since left, 2011 was the year that synergies between Disney's character-led business and the experience of the three Tapulous execs now running the unit really took off.

    Released in September for iOS, liquid puzzler Where's My Water? - which introduced us to the character of Swampy the showering crocodile - has remained in the top 10 top grossing charts ever since. Indeed, as 99c game (with IAP), it's a demonstrated that the freemium model isn't the only route to take. Since released for Android, Disney revealed over six million versions of the game (paid and free) where downloaded using the Christmas week.

    The importance of mobile to Disney's wider business has also been underlined by the success of Club Penguin companion game Puffle Launch. Expect plenty more from the House of the Mouse on both fronts in 2012.


  • 9 ZeptoLab

    ZeptoLab logo

    UP 6 PLACES

    It's easy to see ZeptoLab as something of a mini-Rovio; based in northern Europe, its 99c game published by Chillingo, a one-hit wonder. And to some degree, it's clear that the Russian developer, set up by the Voinov brothers, is following the route trailblazed by the Finnish studio in terms of expanding one successful brand with expansions, ports, updates, comics and other merchandising.A much smaller and hence more focused company, it has its own way of doing things. For one thing, it has another game, Parachute Ninja, which pre-dates Cut the Rope. Perhaps related, it appears to be much more enthusiastic about releasing new IP; something that's expected to see the light of day in 2012.

    Yet, with Cut the Rope now having been downloaded over 85 million times (25 percent paid, 75 percent free), and soon making its debut on Windows Phone and Symbian - not to mention its arrival on browsers like Chrome - it's clear the company's continued stratospheric rise as a mobile and gaming heavyweight largely depends on how far and fast it can push the game's sweet-eating hero Om Nom.


  • 8 Chair Entertainment

    Chair Entertainment logo

    DOWN 4 PLACES

    It might seem churlish that Epic Games-owned Chair Entertainment slips four places in this year's ranking, considering the success of Infinity Blade II; a game that could be described as being close to the perfect sequel. But that would be forgetting the comparative speed of development in the mobile games market, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of the top 10.There's no question that Chair has upped its game, with Infinity Blade II building on the original's foundation in terms of mixing hardcore gameplay and cutting edge graphics, with a casual approach in terms of accessibility, control and usability. The success of the approach can be judged by the announcement that the franchise has grossed $30 million to-date.

    Still, taking into account the broader elements of technology and business that our list is also built on, an attitude that could be described as 'console-like', sees the developer overtaken by other companies, comparatively at least.

    For example, given the support of its underlining Unreal engine for Android, it's surprisingly that Infinity Blade remains an iOS-only franchise. And while there is a free-to-play version available in Japan on DeNA's Mobage platform, there remains plenty of opportunities to better merge its console and mobile qualities if Epic and Chair so desired.


  • 7 Gameloft

    Gameloft logo

    DOWN 6 PLACES

    Perhaps, as a public company, the only metrics that matter to Gameloft are quarterly financials. On that basis, it's in fine form, with its FY11 sales up 17 percent to around $213 million.Yet, behind these numbers, Gameloft finds itself in something of a schizophrenic situation. Its growth has been built on the back of technically strong development process, both in terms of the range of devices supported, as well as its location in low cost countries. This has worked very well in terms of the feature phone market, which still consists of 59 percent of sales, and the first generation of premium paid games on smartphones.

    The rise of the free-to-play model has upset its equilibrium, however. There's been a strong backlash from its core audience, which have seen solid franchises such as Dungeon Hunter and Gangstar reworked in a confusing manner. Nor has the company got to grips with the very lucrative casual mobile market characterised by Zynga's Ville games.

    Meanwhile, arch rival EA Mobile has spent big to acquire expertise and brands, and a new wave of social publishers and indie success stories are soaking up opportunities. In this context, 2012 will demonstrate to what extent Gameloft has the determination to reinvent itself.


  • 6 NimbleBit

    NimbleBit logo

    UP 16 PLACES

    Despite its boutique status - the company consists of twins Ian and David Marsh - NimbleBit is no overnight success story. With games such as Scoops and Sky Burger, it's been at the forefront of iOS gaming since 2008, always releasing polished and attractive titles at a rate of knots; and, as importantly, learning from the fast changing business models.Indeed, it was back in September 2010 that it decide to move into free gaming, demonstrating its chops with the excellent free-to-play game Pocket Frogs. One of the earliest releases in the sector to use sociability in a positive manner, it was a quiet but strong success; something underlined as Japanese platform holder DeNA quickly snapped up the Android version for its Mobage network.

    But it was Tiny Tower, a game highlights the pair's attention to detail and presentational flair, that captured the plaudits. With 10 million downloads, one million daily active users and an Apple Game of the Year award, it demonstrates the attraction of a less aggressive form of the freemium model. It is ironic then that it's since been generated controversy with several companies, including Zynga, accused of cloning its mechanics and/or style.


  • 5 Backflip Studios

    Backflip Studios logo

    UP 4 PLACES

    The rise and rise of US developer Backflip continues apace. Starting out with simple and typically free iOS titles such as Paper Toss, it's steadily accumulated a large network of active players. In this way, feeding more games into the mix and cross promoting them to existing players has enabled Backflip to build up a billion-strong monthly ad impression-based business that mixes pure advertising with house ads to drive further game downloads and in-app purchases.It also demonstrated its ambition to up the graphical and gameplay quality of its games with the release of Army of Darkness: Defense, a paid game with IAP, which was based on the Sam Raimi film.

    However, it was the release of its first from-the-ground-up free-to-play iOS game DragonVale in late 2011 that really propelled the studio's reputation sky high. A nurturing, farming, competing and sharing game that has players hatching, collecting, training, customising and breeding cute dragons, it's been the #1 top grossing game in 60 countries, as well as bumping Backflip to over 150 million lifetime downloads.

    Already a success story, the company now has the potential to become a key player in the fast expanding freemium market.


  • 4 PopCap Games

    PopCap Games logo

    UP 1 PLACE

    Depending on your point of view, 2011 was either the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning for PopCap. Both it and purchaser EA expect it's the latter, with the combined operation looking extremely robust when it comes to mobile games.Detailed figures were never revealed, but it was thought that PopCap's mobile sales in 2010 were up 50 percent year-on-year to over $30 million, thanks mainly to its bedrock Java business and fast growth on iOS. The company has since quickly built out a wider mobile reach, releasing multiple titles such as key IP Plants vs Zombies on Android - including an exclusive period on Amazon's Appstore, and support for Kindle Fire - plus a version of Bejeweled with IAP for Windows Phone, and games on Japanese platform such as GREE.

    It also demonstrated a burst of commercial and gameplay creativity, splitting its Bejeweled 2 + Blitz iOS game into separate paid and free-to-play releases (its first on mobile). Its experimental 4th & Battery label proved less successful, however, with its "smaller, stranger, edgier games" failing to find an audience.

    Still, with a strong focus on not rushing new games until they are ready, while heavily supporting existing IP, we expect more exciting things in 2012.


  • 3 EA Mobile

    EA Mobile logo

    UP 7 PLACES

    What a year for EA and its mobile division. Widely reckoned to be underperforming in our 2011 list, the largest mobile publisher in the west, with annual sales of $230 million in 2011, really bounced back.Most eye-opening was its aggressive acquisition strategy, which saw it spending at least $750 million to buy PopCap. Considering around a third of PopCap's revenue comes from mobile, this will strengthen EA Mobile's business going forward. Other additions during the year included developers Firemint and Bight Games. iOS publisher Chillingo was acquired in October 2010.

    The result is that EA Mobile has considerable firepower in terms of its mobile brands and internal expertise in key areas. It's also working hard on its third party publishing, partnering with Thunder Game Works for Trenches II, although Battlefield 3 is currently lost in development hell.

    Other strings to its bow going forward include its Origin social platform, experimentations with free-to-play games such as Theme ParkTetris. Add into the mix strong recurring brands such as Madden and FIFA - with the iOS version of FIFA 12 selling 879,000 units in its launch week - and 2012 should be a bumper year.


  • 2 Halfbrick

    Halfbrick logo

    UP 5 PLACES

    Australian developer Halfbrick is one of those companies that is all about the games. It isn't showy in terms of its business models (although it's using most of them), nor does it hype its own considerable success. Instead, it works quietly, with a laser focus on ensuring each release as good as it can be.It's an attitude underlined in one of 2011's most polished games - Jetpack Joyride.

    Originally unveiled as Machinegun Jetpack, subsequent development saw the gameplay extended, but such was Halfbrick's confidence, it was happy to rename the game, explaining its reasoning with a series of developer video diaries. The business model was also confident, with a 99c price (since free) backed with in-app purchases. It's been the #1 top grossing game in 29 countries.

    Of course, Halfbrick's still best known for Fruit Ninja, which is has been released on four platforms (it's Halfbrick's only game on Windows Phone), not to mention an excellent Kinect version, and movie tie-in release with Puss in Boots. Total downloads are well over 100 million units, and you can buy plush toys too.

    Yet, unlike other successful studios, you know Halfbrick sees itself a game developer, not an entertainment brand. That's its real strength.


  • 1 Rovio

    Rovio logo

    UP 1 PLACE

    Given that in its current incarnation, Rovio has only released three games - one in 2009, 2010 and 2011 - and each is essentially the same, it might seem ridiculous to award it the #1 position in the PocketGamer.biz top 50 developer list.Certainly, there are plenty of strong views about the company in terms of what it should do next, its business model, future longevity and general attitude, but stripped down to bare numbers, you can't argue with 700+ million downloads, 10 billion ad impressions per month, $100 million annual revenue in FY11, and a company valuation that doesn't seem ridiculous at $2+ billion - not matter what you think about the Mighty Eagle's maths.

    So the point isn't that Angry Birds lacks innovation, but that a combination of first mover advantage in a market expanding as fast as anything in human history, simple and compelling gameplay, a brilliant signature tune, great partnerships, constant updates, and however you want to define it - luck - turned an almost bust team into one of the best known entertainment brands on the planet.

    No other (western) company will rise so high, so fast, making Rovio our industry's exemplar, and one we should all be proud of.


editor-at-large

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at PG.biz which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.

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