The PocketGamer.biz top 50 developers of 2012: 30 to 21
From Kairosoft to Pocket Gems
Considering the many thousands of publishers and developers who are daily making new mobile games and supporting live titles, the task of picking out the relatively small number of 50 as being 'top' may seem to be a Sisyphean exercise.
Yet, that process provides a wealth of useful information, while the rigor of directly comparing companies - one against another - forces us to think about what we mean by the term 'top developers'.
In terms of our process at PocketGamer.biz, we used metrics such as creativity, critical acclaim, sales performance, innovation especially in terms of business model, and that certain je ne sais quoi that only the best studios exude.
The full list - produced in conjunction with leading mobile application analytics and advertising platform Flurry - will be revealed daily through our Top 50 Developer of 2012 section.
Up 19 (from 2011)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Rule franchise.
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
Starting out as an indie developer with Ravensword back 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
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.
On one level, 2011 was a quiet year for German developer Fishlabs. It didn't release any new titles in its signature Galaxy on Fire franchise, 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
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 Tap franchises.
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.
You can see the full Top 50 Developers of 2012 list as it's revealed here.
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