Electronic Arts  /  Electronic Arts
Despite gangbuster revenues from blockbuster series like "Madden," EA lost its top publisher crown to Nintendo in this year's Game Developer magazine list.
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 10/19/2007 9:36:27 PM ET 2007-10-20T01:36:27

This year, Mario trumps “Madden.”

Maybe not in overall revenues, but according to the top 20 publisher’s list, put out annually by Game Developer Magazine, Nintendo leveled up on Electronic Arts this year.

How? It wasn’t pure financials, although Nintendo was competitive in that respect. And it wasn’t due to number of releases: Nintendo shipped just 32 games last year. EA shipped 116.

But this year, for the first time, the list-compiling people at Game Developer decided to add in another factor — reputation. They asked game industry professionals to rate publishers and leave comments about them. Based on those results, Nintendo got the brass ring.

“Nintendo is a really well-regarded company in the industry right now,” says the magazine’s publisher, Simon Carless. “Electronic Arts has some reputation problems.”

Nintendo’s George Harrison says the company is “pleased to be recognized” but in the same breath said “consumer recognition is the thing that’s most important to us, and drives our business strategies.”

And EA? They’re not buying it. They point out that the difference between the rankings of the two top companies is less than 3 percent — hardly an upset. And they say that adding a squishy thing like reputation into the methodology undermines the validity of the survey.

“Our claim as being the number one publisher in the world remains undisputed,” says EA spokesperson Holly Rockwood. “This claim is based on revenue and purely from a business perspective — it is what we are measured by on the street. ”

But Carless says there’s more than one way to go about ranking top publishers. Revenues are important, sure. But companies that ship games on multiple platforms — “Madden 08,” for instance — have a built in advantage. He says adding reputation to the mix evened things out a bit — and made things more interesting.

“The list is based on opinion, which is one of the things that makes it entertaining,” he says.  “Any top list is necessarily subjective. But alongside the subjectiveness, there is lots of salient data.”

The magazine used five different criteria to compile its rankings: Reputation, revenues, number of releases, average review score ratings and detailed responses from developers who’d worked directly with the companies. The magazine tracked data from September 2006 to August of this year, and put out the call for anonymous comments on their Web portal, gamasutra.com, at the end of this summer.

Because the comments are anonymous, there’s no way to know for sure that a grouse about Konami’s salary package, for example, actually came from someone who works at Konami. Or that EA’s negative reputation responses weren’t just from someone with an axe to grind. But Carless says that he’s confident that they received honest responses.

“We tracked IP addresses to make sure that all the responses weren’t from the same person,” he says.

That did happen in one case: NCSoft. The staff at the magazine noticed that a lot of the positive responses about the PC publisher were coming from the company’s Korean headquarters.  So, they docked the company down to an “average” reputation rating.

For the record, NCSoft denies that the voting was an organized effort.

"If people want to participate individually, they're welcome to do so," said company spokesperson Mike Crouch.

Here are some other interesting developments in this year’s top publishers list:

So, does this annual ranking impact what you, the consumer, see on the retail shelves? Not directly. But companies with good reputations attract smart people. Ideally, that leads to better games.

What do you think of the top 20 list? How does it match up with the publishers that you like the best? Weigh in on our discussion board.

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