Games have always been behind other creative mediums - such as film, music, and literature - when it comes to making consumption choices based on the team behind a product, as opposed to its franchise tag or brand. That being said, the "hardcore", enthusiast crowd has always had a deep appreciation and sense of loyalty toward the select group of studios that continually produce quality. Thankfully, that trend is slowly beginning to penetrate mainstream gaming.
With that in mind, we decided to compile a list of the top development studios at the present moment - studios that generate a great deal of anticipation behind their endeavors, and are an influential force in the industry. This list is specifically directed towards individual teams, not publishers (i.e. Nintendo) or multiple teams that produce games under a common label (i.e. Ubisoft Montreal).
Below is Gaming Union's top ten present development studios, in alphabetical order.
BioWare has long been an iconic name in the world of Western role-playing games, with classics such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights to their credit. The team, based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has produced two top tier franchises (Mass Effect and Dragon Age) this console generation, churning out high quality games in rapid succession - 2009's Dragon Age: Origins, 2010's Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2 planned for 2011, and Mass Effect 3 under development. Their signature dialogue system continues to be the envy of countless RPG developers.
Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft team)
The Blizzard label is easily one of the most iconic in gaming, alone producing a large number of the most popular PC franchises. The company is seemingly always in the spotlight, but it's the StarCraft team that deserves recognition in 2010. The release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has single handedly revitalized the realtime strategy genre for the mainstream audience. People who haven't played a PC game since the original StarCraft in 1998 eagerly awaited their chance to jump back into the action. Roughly 1.5 million copies sold in 48 hours speaks for itself.
Bungie's beloved first-person shooter franchise, Halo, helped transform the genre on consoles, becoming one of the highest selling series of recent years. There's been a great deal of attention surrounding Bungie recently thanks to the impending release of Halo: Reach this September and the company's plans to go multiplatform with a new IP published by Activision. The ten year publishing agreement signed earlier this year has been one of the biggest stories of 2010, keeping Bungie in the headlines for the foreseeable future.
Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE)
Swedish studio Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment, more commonly known as DICE, is responsible for the highly influential Battlefield series of shooters, among other things. The team has been hard at work over the past few years, releasing numerous retail titles and working on several side projects in a relatively short period of time. Since last year DICE has released Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield 1943 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, with their Medal of Honor online component due later this year and Battlefield 3 expected sometime in 2011. They continue to be the gold standard in online multiplayer.
Harmonix Music Systems
Anyone remotely familiar with music rhythm games knows of Harmonix. The team created both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, single handedly revitalizing the genre in the West, while continuing to evolve it. Rock Band 3 takes the experience to a new level with the introduction of real instrument play and the ability to teach players musicianship. If that isn't enough, Harmonix is also receiving praise for their innovative title Dance Central, which makes use of Microsoft's Kinect motion device to provide an engaging dance game that tracks your entire body. Harmonix continue to be on the cutting edge.
Insomniac are another one of the teams on this list capable of producing high quality products at an alarmingly quick and consistent rate. Rated one of the best small companies to work for in the United States, Insomniac has released either a Resistance or Rachet & Clank installment every year since 2006, maintaining quality throughout that time. The company has become an especially hot commodity since announcing a new, multiplatform IP with Electronic Arts, as well as the PS3 exclusive titles Resistance 3 and Rachet & Clank: All 4 One. Insomniac is also highly regarded in the development community for their generous sharing of technology with other studios.
Naughty Dog has always been a fantastic studio, responsible for the very successful Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, and Uncharted franchises. While consistently producing great games, it wasn't until the universally critically acclaimed Uncharted 2: Among Theives that Naughty Dog were regarded as a leading force in the development community. Generally viewed as 2009's "Game of the Year," Uncharted 2 has created extremely high anticipation for Naughty Dog's next project. The company has pushed interactive storytelling and realistic animations to new levels with their development process.
Another team on the cutting edge of interactive storytelling is Quantic Dream, albeit in a different way. The French studio has made a name for itself with the release of 2005's Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain earlier this year. Quantic Dream's unique control scheme and use of numerous branching plot paths have truly made their games stand out, sometimes described as "interactive movies." Having developed their technology, speculation is rampant as to what Quantic's next project will focus on.
Rockstar San Diego
When people think of Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto and Rockstar North almost always come to mind. However, with the wildly successful release of Red Dead Redemption earlier this year, Rockstar's San Diego team, previously responsible for the Midnight Club series, have claimed the spotlight. Red Dead Redemption captured the imaginations of the over five million people who bought it, immediately becoming engrossed in its Wild West setting and compelling narrative. Anticipation for the next Red Dead installment likely rivals that of Grand Theft Auto V at this point, which is no small feat.
Valve is a deceptively small studio for its gigantic reputation, numerous franchises in production and popular digital distribution platform, which is why it was included on this list. Valve has been one of the flagship PC development studios since the late 90s, continuing to entice gamers with the (relatively) new Left 4 Dead series, and the upcoming Portal 2 and (hopefully) Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Always closely associated with quality, Valve has been able to work on multiple projects simultaneously and maintain Steam, while seemingly retaining a small, single project studio atmosphere. Valve continues to be a powerful presence throughout the industry.
Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Mario Galaxy team)
Ubisoft Montreal (Assassin's Creed team)