Was 2008 a bad year for gaming studios?

By Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

The Develop 100, an annual list of the "most bankable" video games studios, is an interesting curiosity in the video gaming industry. Based for years strictly on UK sales, the list provided a snapshot of which studios, rather than which publishers, were driving the most popular video games.

But the results always skewed a bit Brit, which is one of the reasons why, because of the popularity of FIFA 07, EA Canada topped the list in 2007 and was No. 2 on last year's list.

This year the list has undergone something of a transformation, however, as it now bases its ranking on UK, US and Japanese sales and has thrown in some subjective measures to reward critical acclaim and forward-thinking companies trying new ideas.

The good news for Canada's video gaming industry is that it has 10 studios in the top 100 studios in the world. The bad news is that nearly every studio moved down in the ranking. It's hard to say what the year-to-year differences mean, of course, because it could be due to a poor sales year or due to the change in ranking system, or a combination of the two.

Here's a comparison of how Canadian studios ranked in 2008 and 2009:

Studio 2008 Ranking 2009 Ranking
EA Canada24
Ubisoft Montreal36
EA Black Box620
Radical Entertainment40Not ranked
Next Level Games41Not ranked
HB Studios4956
EA Bioware5977
Silicon KnightsNot ranked85
EA Montreal7586
BeenoxNot ranked92
Rockstar Vancouver99Not ranked

Notable among the findings is that all four Electronic Arts Studios in Canada dropped in the annual ranking, which isn't surprising in a year when the company announced it would be laying off 1,000 employees worldwide and moving Black Box's studio to the main EA Canada campus in Burnaby. Black Box had the biggest drop, from No. 6 to No. 20.

One of the few Canadian studios to see a notable rise was Vancouver-based Relic - owned by U.S. developer THQ - which bounced up to No. 66 from 89 on the strength of the online version of Company of Heroes.

The other caveat to this list is that it is based on sales from the past year, meaning studios can rise and fall quickly based on one big hit. A case in point is World of Warcraft maker Blizzard Entertainment, which in the 2008 barely made it into the top 50 but took the top ranking this year on the strength of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

So consider these rankings a snapshot of the year that was, and not much of an indicator for this year. In 2009, for example, Radical Entertainment is expected to release Prototype, while EA Bioware has two titles expected to make waves: its own Dragon's Age: Origins and, in conjunction with Lucas Arts, Star Wars: The Old Republic.