Video game publishers are often seen as the Big Bad Wolves of the industry.
That can be the case: Some publishers have been known to rush game releases, pumping out less-than-finished games, and over-charging for downloadable content (DLC) among other questionable practices.
This has been kindling fueling the Kickstarter fire, with indie developers circumventing the publishers by asking the crowd to fund their projects directly.
But plenty of high quality games are still released through the traditional publisher model.
Here are the three top video game publishers of the year:
Rockstar only needed one game to make this list: Grand Theft Auto V, the fastest-selling video game of all time and easily one of the best games of the year. The title raked in $1B in sales in just three days.
Rockstar is part of the Take-Two Interactive family, which also includes publisher 2K Games. 2K had a really strong year in 2012, releasing games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Borderlands 2, and Spec Ops: The Line. This year, 2K released the excellent BioShock Infinite.
Even so, Rockstar stole the show in 2013, and proved that when a developer puts enough time and resources into a game, and cleverly builds the hype to bursting, even the craziest sales numbers are possible. But with just one—albeit impressive—release, Rockstar will have to take home the Bronze.
Silver Medal: Nintendo
Nintendo may be struggling to boost sales of the Wii U, but they published (and developed, in some cases) a number of top-notch games this year. Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS remain two of the top-scoring video games of the holiday season.
But Nintendo also released the wildly eccentric action title The Wonderful 101, the addictive handheld game Animal Crossing, and the popular Pokemon X and Y games. The HD remake of Wind Waker was stunning. And that only scratches the surface of all the Nintendo games released in 2013 for their various systems. Nintendo’s level of polish and quality persisted across the majority of their releases this year, on both the Wii U and 3DS.
Still, without really pushing into much new territory, we’ll give Nintendo the Silver.
On some level, Ubisoft gets the Gold Medal because of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, one of the best games of the year, cybernetic hands down, and a breath of creative fresh air in the video game market.
But Ubisoft also developed and published the charming Rayman Legends; the Western shooter Call of Juarez: Gunslinger; the really fun stealth military shooter Splinter Cell: Blacklist; and the surprisingly terrific Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Of these, both Blood Dragon and Black Flag have made my own personal list of contenders for Game of the Year.
All told, a really impressive year for Ubisoft both in terms of quality releases and unshackled creativity. If anything, Ubisoft has shown a willingness to evolve as a company, going so far as to delay two big games—South Park: The Stick of Truth and Watch Dogs—into 2014 to make sure they met quality standards. I’d like to see more of this in the industry, and so Ubisoft walks with the Gold.
And you, dear reader—what do you think? Am I off my mark on any of these? Did I miss a diamond in the rough that ought to be here, or deserves at the very least an honorable mention?
Shout it out in the comments.