Letís face it, without developers; the 360 would just be nothing more that a sweet paperweight that you could watch DVDs on if you were so inclined. But being the technical powerhouse that it is as a system and having the library of games it does, I figured today I should shine the light on the developers that make the top 1% of games possible. This list includes full developers, not independent title creators or even XBLA creators as those will come into focus further down the line. For now, sit back and remember who to thank the next time you forget how much fun youíve been having for the past several hours.
10 Ė 2k Studios (Boston, Australia and Marin)
Formerly known as Irrational Games, their initial claim to fame in the latter half of the twentieth century would ultimately lay the groundwork for what many have called a masterpiece to the Xbox 360. System Shock 2 was touted as a PC title that with limitless choices and strong narrative, it could literally pull the player in and never let go. However amazing it was, it hadnít been played by many gamers who owned a 360 and may have remained in obscurity if not for the perennial 2k hit, Bioshock. Not to insinuate that 2k owes all of their success to the underwater art deco masterwork as System Shock 2 and Tribes: Vengeance are both great titles in their own right. However, the next time you are charging down a Big Daddy remember that every piece an artist paints affects how their current canvas will look. With Bioshock 2 being released in Q1 of 2010, we can all hope the finishing touches with make it standout as much as its predecessor.
9 Ė Bioware
After they made Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic on the original Xbox, itís easy to see why Microsoft decided to keep Bioware around. Frankly, when it comes to role-playing titles thatíll immerse the player, you call Bioware. It doesnít matter what universe you need created, Bioware will build a universe and make it compelling and large enough to get so lost in that you may never be found again. And can you really blame them with titles like Baldurís Gate under belt? Mass Effect is the type of RPG thatíll swallow a gamer whole. Iím serious. Iíve had stories related to me of people picking up a 360 solely to play Mass Effect because it is a damn huge game and itís only available on Xbox. Add in the mix of not only being sci-fi oriented but fun to boot and it doesnít take that much of a stretch of imagination before you begin drooling at the mouth when presented with what Mass Effect 2 could be. Not that you couldnít already waste a few more hours exploring the Mass Effect universe, of course. Oh, and let's not forget Dragon Age: Origins.
8 Ė Rockstar
Okay, so GTA IV wasnít an exclusive, but the downloadable content available only to 360 owners sounds pretty special to me. As the original Xbox inched closer to the end of its lifecycle, owners were rewarded with a compilation of Grand Theft Auto titles that Playstation 2 owners had already seen comprised of GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas. However, Microsoft had a pretty good idea how to get GTA IV settled on the shelves of gamers owning an Xbox 360 and exclusive downloadable content was just the way to do it. $50 million dollars later and Rockstar set to shelling out two episodes of episodic content. The Lost and Damned followed by The Ballad of Gay Tony are both fresh takes on what players may have already seen in Liberty City and the expansion factor offers GTA IV further retail value over its Playstation 3 counterpart. While Rockstar is also responsible for the Midnight Club and Red Dead Revolver titles, it is the exclusivity of the content offered to 360 owners as a result of the business relationship with Microsoft that makes this developer stand out.
7 Ė Ubisoft
Responsible for a few little known titles, Ubisoft has somehow eked its own slice out in the video game industry. Seriously though, without Ubisoft we wouldnít have Assassinís Creed, Beyond Good & Evil and all of those Tom Clancy games wouldnít exist either. Thatís right, Ubisoft has given us Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, End War, Hawx and of course Ghost Recon. Add Brotherís in Arms, Far Cry and of course Prince of Persia and youíve got a developer that has created a good chunk of library for both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360. While we all continue to wait as patiently as we can without getting punchy for Beyond Good & Evil 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction, theyíve released Assassinís Creed II into the holiday lineup to keep gamers entertained. I would almost say that Ubisoft has way too much on their plate like a fat kid at the buffet, but they keep enough of a rotation on existing titles and new intellectual properties, like RUSE, where everything comes out smelling fresher than a new bar of soap.
6 Ė Valve
While most of the software was available on PC at the same time, if not prior, Valve has still made contributions to the 360 that make it an exceedingly valuable developer. Portal, Team Fortress 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 as well as its episodic content are all outstanding on their own; however Valve did something ingenious with them. By packaging five titles all in one convenient bundle Valve didnít decrease the relative value of all the games; they succeeded in exponentially increasing the significance of the overall package. The orange box, in my opinion, is still one of the best values you can get on the Xbox 360 since youíre getting five games for about $12 dollars each. Succeeded by Left 4 Dead and it's sequel as premier multiplayer titles, it has kept an extremely powerful community on Xbox Live. As Valve is succinctly biased to developing for the PC and 360, widely regarding the PS3 as a troublesome system and coupled with the eventual releases of Portal 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 3 Ė things are shaped pretty nicely for 360 owners as far as Valve is concerned.
5 Ė Lionhead
While Peter Molyneux has consistently promised gamers the world and delivered somewhat lesser results, it canít be argued that the man and the studio behind him dream big and aim high. Fable, originally known simply as Project: Ego, was supposed to be everything that Fable II became. It seems that with additional iterations in the Fable series the completed product drifts closer and closer to what Molyneux originally promised in his high concept for Fable. The games are fun in addition to strong game mechanics and narrative, but Iím yet to feel as though Iím living the complete life of a hero. In the meantime, Lionhead continues to provide genuinely good support for the 360 with the recently announced Fable III and as Natal comes closer to release will be releasing titles to take advantage of that new interactivity.
4 Ė Bethesda
Fallout 3 is a truly epic role-playing title and along with Oblivion, Bethesda has kept gamers glued to their televisions for lengths of time I donít even want to imagine. While Oblivion captured the fantasy crowd with an immense amount of gameplay along, a completion time that could spiral into fifty or more hours merely served to keep those who wanted to play doing just that. Taking the same formula, mixing in the game mechanics and sci-fi elements that made the Fallout universe stand out among other games on the shelf along with promising a completion time around 100 hours had many players, including myself, hooked for months. The scary thing is, when it seemed like I could stop at any given time, the rewarding Ďdingí emanating from my pip-boy kept me playing and frothing at the mouth for more in some twisted Pavlovian response. Throw in the Operation: Anchorage, Broken Steel, The Pitt, Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta downloadable content and it becomes a monstrous beast of a game.
3 Ė Infinity Ward
Consider all of the World War II titles where you play that lone hero swarmed by horde after horde of enemies. Infinity Ward cut through all that garbage to be one of the first titles to make you actually feel like you were just another soldier in the grand scheme of the madness that are the battlefields amidst a war. Call of Duty as well as Call of Duty 2 are perhaps some of the finest games I have ever played since I gave the original Medal of Honor a shot back on the original Playstation. But what fascinates me is that even though I picked up COD2 when I picked up my first 360 a few years ago, I still catch myself playing it every so often. That is when Iím not playing Modern Warfare 2, of course. While there are better games out there, Infinity Ward has distilled what makes fast paced action titles fun, all while placing us in the shoes of a soldier fighting towards a genuine greater good Ė even if it feels like a summer blockbuster film sometimes. Call of Duty 4 makes Xbox Live Gold feel almost necessary, an easy $50 dollars a year to play a game online that can easily cause you to remember when you said you would go to bed just in time to see the sun cresting over the horizon. After all, it's not like the glitches are game breaking, right?
2 Ė Epic
Cliff Bleszinski is a pretty cool guy. One time he made this game with a really cool cover mechanic that, while he didnít expressly create, certainly refined to perfection. Gears of War, Gears of War 2 and its eventual sequels Gears of War 3, 4 and 5 are hallmark exclusive titles for the Xbox 360. It is one of those franchises that is so good, I wonder if Microsoft will ever let it die. As the original came out, the story campaign gave way to a multiplayer component that has since become one of the most played on Xbox Live. Horde mode, which allows players to form teams against computer controlled waves of opponents, has further spurred the online popularity of Gears as teams of humans continue to work together in an attempt to best the AI of the Locusts. Numerous titles consistently utilize the Unreal Engine and for good reason Ė games end up looking damn sexy when done properly in Unreal. While Epic has also released Unreal Tournament III, it canít exactly be regarded as successful as Gears, but it does stand well as an arena shooter. Utterly, it can be argued that Gears, with its visceral brutality and addictive multiplayer, is definitely a system seller and ultimately maintains the important that Epic has in regards to Microsoft.
1 Ė Bungie
Without Bungie and Halo on the original Xbox the sad fact of the matter is that there probably wouldnít have been a Halo 2 or Xbox 360 to play Halo 3 on either. By snatching up Bungie and the killer-app that Halo was at the time, Microsoft may very well have ensured its survival in the game industry through its first steps into the wildness. Knowing they had to offer something that wasnít Dead or Alive 4 or Munchís Odyssey, Halo fit the bill and has continued to do so for the past several years. Halo 2 stepped in filling the multiplayer void that Mechassault couldnít fill when Xbox Live was still in its fledgling days only to be followed up by Halo 3, which is still one of the upper tier Live titles being played today. Additionally, the sheer amount of lore that still hasnít been touched on in the Halo universe, success of Halo 3: ODST and the release of Halo: Reach in roughly a years time, anyone could easily be led to believe that Microsoft has definitely gotten itís moneys worth when it comes to Bungie. This doesnít even account for the vast amount of content that Halo is still releasing in droves. On top of that, Halo has gotten itís own destination on Xbox Live with Halo Waypoint for all your Halo related needs. Conclusively, I would venture to say that without Bungie, the original Xbox would have effectively cut its lifespan in half, if not less and there may very well have never been an Xbox 360. Bungie stands, to this day, as the keystone that made it all possible to lift the Xbox, as a viable gaming platform, off the ground.