Top Gaming Figures of 2009

The 15 faces of the last 12 months

It takes billions (probably) of people to keep the wheels of the games industry turning. At this reflective time of year we like to sit back, relaxing mug of mulled wine in hand, and remind ourselves how enormously grateful we are to all the hard-working artists, designers, producers, suits and publishers that keep our fingers on pads and our bodies indoors for so much of the year. Then we do the logical thing and compile a list of fifteen of our favourite movers and shakers in the industry. Like you do.

15. Robert Altman

Altman is the CEO of ZeniMax, a position he took after being banned from the banking industry by the US Federal Reserve. This is actually true. This year the company made headlines by acquiring the legendary talents of id Software, announcing a couple of weeks ago that they'd even taken the publishing rights for (the amazing looking) Rage from EA. ZeniMax's current focus is to expand as a publisher, and other than enjoying continued success with the Fallout franchise they're also dealing with the promising multiplayer shooter Brink. And, of course, they own id. id!

14. Kudo Tsunoda

Kudo gives us hope. And fear, to be honest. Microsoft's dramatic reveal of their upcoming (probable Skynet component) Project Natal at E3 2009 was a jaw-dropping moment for us - although that was partially due to the fact we realised we might finally have to start playing Xbox games with the lights on. Kudo is the real-life face of this new technology; the yang to Peter Molyeneux's slightly disturbing virtual child yin. Natal has become one of the most anticipated bits of kit after only a few brief presentations, and by placing Kudo (who seemed to have dropped off the radar since moving from EA) at the helm, Microsoft has made him a very important figure: at least we'll know who to throw vegetables at if Natal ends up ruining everything. Which means it's doubly important for Kudo to ensure the fancy tool is utilised in ways beyond dire collections of mini-game shovelware.

13. Tim Schafer

Brutal Legend didn't set the world on fire, but September saw the acclaimed designer celebrate his twentieth year in the games industry. Twenty years. Schafer, in case you didn't know, is the man who blessed the world with Grim Fandango. Famous for being one of the few designers that can combine videogames with humour, his ability to create unique worlds has forced him into frequent confrontation with publishers - this year saw him engaged in a high-profile spat with Activision (who dropped the title, allowing EA to step in) over the rights to Brutal Legend, which he thankfully seems to have won. There's only one Tim Schafer, and we're glad he's still making games.

12. George Broussard

Though he'll be remembered primarily for his twelve year development cycle on the canned Duke Nukem Forever, George Broussard was the king of videogames for a small period in the nineties after the release of Duke Nukem 3D and before Quake II. Other than being a meticulous perfectionist, his design philosophies revolve around aping Hollywood with self-referential humour, bright colours and detailed worlds that function as virtual playgrounds. It might be our inherent 90s nostalgia talking, but we think more developers could learn a trick or two from Broussard to help alleviate our contemporary problem of tedious, dour-faced protagonists. This year was probably not Broussard's finest, though, as it was revealed his opus would never be realised: mounting financial difficulties led the studio to collapse on May 6th 2009. This stick of gum's for you, George.

11. Yoichi Wada

Final Fantasy XIII sold almost two million copies in Japan in its first four days of release. That's a staggering number of units, proving that - in Japan at least - Final Fantasy has definitely still got the magic touch. Whether it can replicate that level of success in Europe and the USA is yet to be seen, although we're willing to wager that the business suits at Square Enix won't be disappointed with its performance. As CEO, Yoichi Wada is currently steering the company through a generation where Japanese developers are finding it difficult to compete in the worldwide market - their acquisition of Eidos earlier in the year was an important step to having the venerated developer branch out into the Western market. Other than saving a flagging European publisher, this could prove to be of huge importance in establishing Square Enix over the next couple of years.

10. Dr Ray Muzyka

Now one of the most beloved studios in the world, BioWare have been steadily raising their profile since starting up in the late nineties. Dr Muzyka has been steering the company for over a decade, and with high-profile titles in the pipeline alongside the floundering state of the Japanese RPG, it's clear that 2009 has proved to be an especially good year for BioWare. They're currently adding the polishing touches to their first MMO, which would grant the studio immense swathes of riches if it becomes a commercial success. This year's Dragon Age: Origins was a return to their RPGs of old and, looking forward, the anticipation for Mass Effect 2 is making us dizzy. In the land of the role playing game, Dr Ray Muzyka is king.

9. Hideo Kojima

Hideo Kojima will be making Metal Gear games until the robot shell which will eventually host his brain dies. Fact. Another fact: the venerated developer is single-handedly responsible for giving popular gaming news aggregator N4G the bulk of its content. 2009 saw the legend announce both Metal Gear Rising and Peace Walker, the former of which was gleefully revealed as a cross-platform title at Microsoft's E3 conference and hasn't been seen since. Peace Walker, on the other hand, frequently pops up looking like the most promising title for Sony's oft-maligned PSP - although, seriously, who wouldn't actually rather it to be a console game?

8. David Cage

Quantic Dream's upcoming Heavy Rain is a title shrouded in an allure so strong most studios would kill a bag of puppies to attain a little bit of it. CEO David Cage is partially responsible for this, frequently popping his head round the corner to drop a few hyped-up insights into their development process. His vision of the videogame's form as a narrative adventure is fairly unique, and even though the ending to Fahrenheit was complete bobbins we're excited to see how Heavy Rain ends up. But Cage's voice has homogenised with our mental association of the game that we demand he provides a commentary track, also.

7. Randy Pitchford

Head of Gearbox, Randy Pitchford is never, ever afraid to speak his mind. This year he's had a very public pop at Valve regarding their attitude towards the PS3, and another dig when he expressed his belief of how it's not a good idea for them to hold all the keys to the PC gaming market with Steam. He's also been very forthcoming with his opinion that business rivals Crytek and id might be risking failure with their tech-heavy focus in a climate where Sony and Microsoft are looking to extend the life cycles of their current hardware. His words are refreshing regardless of truth, with his statements coming from the heart instead of behind - as is all too often in our industry - the meticulous veneer of carefully constructed press releases. For that, Randy, we salute you.

6. Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb

Regular podcasts, news about Xbox Live, frequent Twitter updates and occasional comments with an inherent pro-Microsoft bias - it's got to be Microsoft's Larry 'Major Nelson' Hryb. We know he's genuine because he's got a Gamerscore of almost 40k, even if that is a bit weak compared to the likes of our very own Jennifer Allen (who will have undoubtedly broken the 100k barrier by the time anyone reads this). Hryb's biggest charm, however, is that nobody would ever dream of attacking his credibility as an enthusiastic gamer. His friendly demure is just one of the reasons Xbox Live manages to trump the competition year after year, which makes him pretty important in our books.

5. Robert Bowling

Whenever there was a fricassee of community tension regarding Modern Warfare 2, Robert Bowling was there to set things right. He was also on hand to continually whet the appetites of his plethora of adoring followers, routinely provide sneak peeks at MW2's cheeky new features and dish out meaty quotes for overworked journalists on slow news days. Functioning as the chief professional mouthpiece for the biggest commercial videogame of all time probably helped him in his quest to frequently grab column inches, but the man's inimitable talents at manipulating popular social networking tools are second only to Microsoft's Major Nelson. He'd have got bonus points if he could have told us how come the blatantly overpowered (but now patched) 1887's weren't spotted during beta testing.

4. Gabe Newell

Steam has become the de facto destination for PC gamers: the only boxed PC games I've purchased this year are ones that incorporate themselves into the world's favourite games distribution platform. In 2003, when the service was in beta, there was plenty of scepticism (of which I was one) as to the longevity of the system. But I clearly couldn't have been more wrong, and at time of writing my Steam catalogue contains 115 titles. While Valve never release sales figures, Steam's importance to PC gaming is undeniable. But Gabe has also spent 2009 overseeing the launch of the magnificent Left 4 Dead 2, which continually sucks up considerable chunks of free time. We love you Gabe, and if you release Episode 3 in 2010 we can promise that you'll be number one on our list next year (ermm - Ed).

3. John Riccitiello

John Riccitello has, by and large, managed to craft himself, and the new-look EA, into what is seen as the antithesis of the old EA empire. 2008's gamble on new franchises might not have been the rip-roaring success that he (and us) might have hoped, but that hasn't stopped the company from continuing to invest in software - though most of their big titles poised for this year have slipped into early 2010. The company's finances also seem to be slipping, with the posting of a billion dollar loss in May and, more recently, the canning of 1500 staff. Riccitello himself is no stranger to publicity, and frequently makes headlines by unabashedly chiming his two cents worth of opinions on rival studios, upcoming hardware and general industry trends.

2. Michael Pachter Come rain or shine, celebrated industry analyst Michael Pachter will make sure that there's something for punters to read on even the slowest of news weeks. He often speaks with candour, which forced him into a public apology earlier in the year for accusing Sony of "ripping off" the consumer with the PSP Go. The man is a veritable gaming Nostradamus, and his (so-so, admittedly) predictions give him enough credence with gamers that he was even celebrated earlier in the year with the ultimate achievement of the Web 2.0 generation: a Twitter hash tag. Our personal favourite was user @darabidduckie's gem exclaiming that "you cannot stick Pachter in Halo 3. Attempting to do so will cause your own plasma grenade to bounce back and stick to you." True, that.

1. Bobby Kotick

Bobby 'Darth' Kotick seats himself, presumably, on a money throne. In an ivory tower. He doesn't play Activision Blizzard's games because he's too busy earning enough money to open a theme park on Jupiter. One of his more controversial statements this year was when he expressed his intent to take the fun out of videogame design, leading consumers to worry about a gulf between Activision's CEO and his primary consumers. Kotick's goal is to monetise as much of gaming as possible, largely by releasing big sequels instead of gambling on the creation of new properties, so the commercial troubles of DJ Hero and Tony Hawk: RIDE (both new iterations in established franchises) probably won't help change his mind. Like him or loathe him, as the CEO of the world's most lucrative publisher he's undeniably an important force in the industry. And let's not forget that, in plenty of instances, his maxim has been nothing but a complete success. We also bet he is a hoot at parties.

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