Metacritic's 2nd Annual Game Publisher Rankings

  • Comments: ↓ 5 user comments
  • Publish Date: February 9, 2012

Comparing the 2011 releases of game publishers

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As we did last year at this time, we've crunched our data to determine the best and worst game publishers of the year, based on games released during 2011. (If you're looking simply for a list of the year's best and worst games, you can find that here; in this report, we're looking at the companies responsible for releasing those games.)

Ranking of major publishers

Rather than try to compare smaller publishers to giant ones, we have once again divided all publishers into two separately ranked groups, based on the number of games they released during the last calendar year. Our first group consists of major publishers, who each issued 15 or more unique titles (with Metascores) during 2011. We have ranked these publishers in order from best overall game quality to worst, using a formula based on four factors:

  1. Average Metascore for all Scored Releases - 2011
  2. % of products with good reviews (Metascore of at least 75)
  3. % of products with bad reviews (49 or lower; in this case, a lower % is better)
  4. Number of "great" titles (Metascore of 90 or higher)

Note that the Metascore average (the first factor) counts slightly more than the other factors. (Detailed scoring information appears in a table below the rankings.) In addition, note that iOS games are not included in the figures below.

Here is how the major publishers stacked up based on their 2011 releases:

1. Microsoft
Previous year's rank: 4

Microsoft Studios
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 25
Total Products 25
Average Metascore
77.2
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Forza Motorsport 4 (360) 91
Best Original Title *
Iron Brigade (360) 82
Worst Overall Release
Hole in the Wall (360) 47
Metacritic Users' Favorite **
Dance Central 2 (360) 8.4

The only major game publisher to finish 2011 with a "green" average Metascore (i.e., 75 or higher), Microsoft tops our rankings this year thanks to a large number of acclaimed titles. In fact, 18 of the company's 25 scored titles (or 72%) last year received positive reviews from critics, by far the highest success rate in 2011 for any publisher we tracked. Most of those games—chiefly Xbox 360 titles, with a few for the PC—also received positive marks from Metacritic users, who are known for their willingness to disagree with critic scores. Unlike the publishers just below it in this year's rankings, though, Microsoft only had two games scoring 90 or higher: the latest installments in the Forza Motorsport and Gears of War series. And most of the company's lowest-scoring 2011 titles were Kinect games, suggesting a definite area for improvement in the future.

* Not part of or related to an existing game or series
** Out of games with at least 25 user reviews.
Scored products are the number of products released last year with at least four reviews from professional critics (which is the minimum needed to have a Metascore calculated). The difference in unique titles and total products results from multi-platform releases; for example, if Batman: Arkham City comes out on the PS3, 360, and PC, that counts as 3 total products but just one unique title. Average Metascore is the average of all individual Metascores for all scored products in 2011, while the Metascore distribution chart shows what percentage of those Metascores were green (Metascore of 75-100), yellow (50-74) or red (0-49).

2. Nintendo
Previous year's rank: 2

Nintendo
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 31
Total Products 31
Average Metascore
74.4
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) 94
Best Original Title
Pushmo [aka Pullblox] (3DS) 90
Worst Overall Release
3D Classics: Urban Champion (3DS) 37
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Pushmo [aka Pullblox] (3DS) 8.8

Once again, Nintendo has placed second in our annual publisher rankings, though its 2011 average Metascore is actually down a bit from the previous year's 76.1. It's also a bit of a cheat that the company's best-reviewed game is a remake of an older title, though if you are going to remake any game, you may as well go with one that is considered to be the best videogame ever made. Nintendo mined the Zelda franchise for a second 2011 critical hit in Wii title The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword 93, while yet another old friend impressed critics with Super Mario 3D Land 90. More impressive, however, is that Nintendo was the only major publisher last year to score a 90 or higher (at least at press time; reviews are still trickling in) with a completely new concept: the puzzler Pushmo, developed by Nintendo subsidiary Intelligent Systems.

3. Sony
Previous year's rank: 7

Sony
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 32
Total Products 35
Average Metascore
72.8
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) 92
Best Original Title
Rochard (PS3) 79
Worst Overall Release
PlayStation Move Ape Escape (PS3) 43
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) 8.4

Sony bettered its 2010 average Metascore by nearly two points last year, one of several reasons the publisher jumped up to 3rd place in our overall rankings. Another reason was the release of four highly acclaimed games receiving scores of 90 or higher, including a third Uncharted title, as well as a LittleBigPlanet sequel, the latest incarnation of MLB: The Show, and the graphically enhanced twin reissue The ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. Three of Sony's four worst games last year were designed for the Move controller, suggesting that the publisher, like Microsoft, needs to work on the quality control of its motion-controlled games.

4. Electronic Arts
Previous year's rank: 5

Electronic Arts
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 44
Total Products 99
Average Metascore
73.4
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Mass Effect 2 (PS3) 94
Best Original Title
DeathSpank (PS3) 79
Worst Overall Release
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters (PC) 43
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Alice: Madness Returns (PC) 8.7

Yes, observant readers will notice that EA's highest-scoring title was identical in 2011 and 2010, thanks to a belated PS3 port of Mass Effect 2, which arrived on the 360 a year earlier. (Next year's rankings could very well include another Mass Effect title at the top, but at least the number at the end will change.) The company once again released more products than any other game publisher, though its total number of releases was down a bit last year, while its Metascore edged a bit higher in return. Three of those titles, including FIFA Soccer 12 and Dead Space 2, hit the 90 mark, at least on some platforms, while EA also released what could eventually be a monster hit (if subscribers stick around) in Bioware's MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic 85, one of the most costly games ever developed. It wasn't all good news, though; critical disappointments included Need for Speed: The Run (the worst installment in the franchise since 2008's Undercover) and a terrible game based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Note that EA's numbers above do not include games published by PopCap, a company that was acquired by EA in the middle of 2011.

5. Square Enix
(incl. Eidos Interactive and Taito)
Previous year's rank: 8

Square Enix
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 15
Total Products 23
Average Metascore
70.0
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC) 90
Best Original Title
Moon Diver (360) 61
Worst Overall Release
Mindjack (360) 43
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP) 8.5

Though its average Metascore dropped a bit in 2011, Square Enix also climbed in our rankings compared to the year before, and the company released a game (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) better than any it offered in 2010. Square Enix once again played it safe last year by sticking mainly to existing franchises, which might be a sound strategy; a trio of original titles released last year bombed with critics.

6. Ubisoft
Previous year's rank: 12

Ubisoft
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 42
Total Products 69
Average Metascore
68.1
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Rayman Origins (Wii) 92
Best Original Title
Outland (360) 84
Worst Overall Release
Self-Defense Training Camp (360) 21
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Rayman Origins (360) 8.8

Though it released the worst-reviewed game out of all of the major publishers last year ("Avoid this game like a darkened alley," writes Official Xbox Magazine about Kinect title Self-Defense Training Camp), Ubisoft managed to jump from from near the bottom of last year's rankings to the middle of the pack this year, improving its average Metascore by over 3 points in the process. While the latest Assassin's Creed title (Revelations) was a bit of a letdown compared to the high praise received by other recent chapters in the franchise, the company was able to revive its Rayman platformer property with the critically acclaimed Rayman Origins on multiple platforms. Still, 14% of Ubisoft's products received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics, the third worst mark of all the major publishers last year.

7. Sega
Previous year's rank: 9

Sega
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 22
Total Products 42
Average Metascore
67.9
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Total War: Shogun 2 (PC) 90
Best Original Title
Renegade Ops (360) 81
Worst Overall Release
Thor: God of Thunder (360) 38
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Sonic Generations (360) 8.2

The venerable game company showed a modest improvement in quality in 2011 compared to the year before, most notably in dropping its percentage of games with negative reviews from 14% in 2010 to just 5% last year. While the company released one of its best Total War games to date and was able to find some new life in its Sonic franchise (both Generations and CD received generally high marks on most platforms), the bulk of Sega's titles landed in the dreaded yellow Metascore range of mediocrity.

8. THQ
Previous year's rank: 11

THQ
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 26
Total Products 60
Average Metascore
66.7
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Saints Row: The Third (PC) 84
Best Original Title
Stacking (360) 84
Worst Overall Release
Kung Fu Panda 2: The Video Game (PS3) 31
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Saints Row: The Third (PC) 8.0

Like Sega, THQ was able to move up in the rankings and reduce its number of negatively reviewed products, though THQ's Metascore average actually dropped by a fraction of a point last year compared to 2010. The publisher once again lacked a major critical hit, though high-scoring title Saints Row: The Third did receive slightly better reviews than its predecessors in the series.

9. Namco Bandai
(incl. D3 Publisher)
Previous year's rank: 10

Namco Bandai
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 24
Total Products 32
Average Metascore
64.0
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Dark Souls (360) 89
Best Original Title
Gods Eater Burst (PSP) 71
Worst Overall Release
Pac-Man Party 3D (3DS) 45
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Dark Souls (PS3) 8.5

Call it an outright sequel or a mere spiritual successor, but Dark Souls was just as good as its predecessor Demon's Souls 89 ... and just as hard. But the former marked one of the few highlights for Namco in a year in which it managed to release just four positively reviewed titles. Last year, we described the company's lineup as "aggressively mediocre," and it was all that and less in 2011: a full 72% of Namco's products had Metascores in the yellow range, and the publisher's average Metascore dropped a few points compared to the prior year.

10. Konami
(incl. Hudson Soft/Hudson Entertainment)
Previous year's rank: 13

Konami
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 20
Total Products 31
Average Metascore
64.5
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (360) 89
Best Original Title
Lost in Shadow (Wii) 68
Worst Overall Release
Battle: Los Angeles (PC) 38
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (PS3) 9.2

Last year, Konami finished dead last in our publisher rankings, so consider this an improvement, even if its best game was nothing more than a fancy (albeit HD-converted) repackaging of older titles. The company's mean Metascore in 2011 actually inched upward from 2010's 62.2, while its percentage of games with lousy reviews fell from 25% to 19% last year; if the trend continues, Konami might actually be churning out quality games in a few years.

11. Activision Blizzard
Previous year's rank: 6

Activision Blizzard
Scored Releases - 2011
Unique Titles 16
Total Products 35
Average Metascore
61.1
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360) 88
Best Original Title
NASCAR 2011: The Game (PS3) 62
Worst Overall Release
Transformers: Dark of the Moon-Stealth Force Edition (3DS) 30
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (360) 6.5

Ouch. After finishing (barely) in the top half of our major publisher quality rankings last year, Activision Blizzard tumbled all the way to last place this year, and the company's Metascore plummeted with it, from 69.3 all the way down to a shockingly low 61.1. One in every four games released by Activision in 2011 was terrible, giving the company the highest percentage of negatively reviewed games of any major publisher. One of the problems was the Blizzard part of the equation: while that unit reliably turns out acclaimed titles, it failed to release a single game in 2011. (One consolation: 2012 looks much better, with the delayed Diablo III possibly joining a World of Warcraft expansion and a StarCraft II expansion.) Activision didn't do much to hold up its end of the bargain, either; its highest-scoring title, Modern Warfare 3, failed to wow critics like MW2 did in 2009 (though it was the year's top-selling game), and only one of its non-Call of Duty products—Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure—received positive reviews last year, suggesting that it might be time to develop another franchise or two. (Even many of the Call of Duty releases got hammered by Metacritic users, though their ratings don't affect Metascores.) Finally, Activision wasn't helped by releasing so many products for the Wii (6 total) and the DS (5) last year; those accounted for many of their poor-to-middling reviews in 2011.

Recap: rankings at a glance

Here are the above rankings again in a more compact form, with the points displayed, for anyone wishing to see just how close a race it was:

Major Publisher Rankings, 2011 Releases
    Metascore Good Games Bad Games Great Games  
  Publisher Avg. Pts. % Pts. % Pts. # Pts. Total Pts.
1 Microsoft 77.2 115.8 72% 72.0 4% 96.0 2 20 303.8
2 Nintendo 74.4 111.6 48% 48.4 3% 96.8 4 40 296.8
3 Sony 72.8 109.3 46% 45.7 3% 97.1 4 40 292.1
4 Electronic Arts 73.4 110.1 55% 54.5 6% 93.9 3 30 288.6
5 Square Enix 70.0 105.0 48% 47.8 13% 87.0 1 10 249.8
6 Ubisoft 68.1 102.1 48% 47.8 14% 85.5 1 10 245.5
7 Sega 67.9 101.8 38% 38.1 5% 95.2 1 10 245.1
8 THQ 66.7 100.0 27% 26.7 8% 91.7 0 0 218.4
9 Namco Bandai 64.0 96.0 19% 18.8 9% 90.6 0 0 205.3
10 Konami 64.6 96.9 25% 25.0 19% 81.3 0 0 203.1
11 Activision Blizzard 61.1 91.6 31% 31.4 26% 74.3 0 0 197.3

Points for average Metascore are awarded at 1.5 x the average (with a maximum of 150 points possible). Points for good % and bad % are awarded based on a maximum of 100 each. Points for "great" games are awarded as bonus points (10 per unique title).

Ranking of mid-size publishers

Each of the mid-size publishers listed below released between 7-14 unique titles in 2011. (Publishers who released fewer than seven games last year are not included in this report.) They are ranked according to the same methodology we used to rank the larger publishers above, earning points for average Metascore, % of releases that are good and bad, and the total number of great games.

Two of the publishers listed below were actually ranked among the major publishers a year ago, but were "demoted" into the mid-size group this year because they released fewer titles in 2011. Our overall mid-size leader Capcom was the #3 major publisher in last year's rankings, and they boosted their average Metascore by nearly two points this time thanks to a few well-received fighting games. But Take-Two Interactive suffered a drop in both quantity and quality over the past year. After finishing 2010 as our #1 overall major publisher (with an impressive average Metascore of 77.1), that company saw its average sink by over 5 points for its 2011 titles, with the critically panned Duke Nukem Forever and a disappointing Major League Baseball installment just a few of the reasons for the decline.

Mid-Size Publisher Rankings, 2011 Releases
  Publisher Unique
Titles
Total
Products
Average Metascore # Great Metascore
Distribution
Points
1 Capcom 13 24 76.4 0 GoodSo-So 272.9
2 Bethesda Softworks 8 23 72.9 1 GoodSo-So 258.5
3 Warner Bros. Interactive 11 28 72.2 1 GoodSo-SoBad 257.5
4 Take-Two Interactive 10 20 71.6 1 GoodSo-SoBad 252.3
5 Aksys Games 8 9 69.0 0 GoodSo-So 247.9
6 Atlus Co. 12 19 67.9 0 GoodSo-SoBad 233.5
7 Telltale Games 12 14 68.4 0 GoodSo-So 231.2
8 Focus Home Interactive 8 9 66.1 0 GoodSo-So 221.4
9 NIS America 9 9 67.6 0 GoodSo-SoBad 212.5
10 Kalypso Media 12 15 62.7 0 GoodSo-SoBad 200.8
11 Paradox Interactive 12 12 63.6 0 GoodSo-SoBad 195.4
12 Viva Media 7 7 60.2 0 GoodSo-SoBad 176.0
13 Tecmo Koei 7 8 58.4 0 GoodSo-SoBad 175.0
14 Atari 9 18 55.8 0 GoodSo-SoBad 144.8

Platform-by-platform averages

Finally, here are the top publishers for each console and for the PC. In these tables, publishers are simply ranked by their average Metascores for each platform; the green, yellow, and red dots indicate individual products (with green, yellow, or red Metascores). Publishers with five or more releases for the platform were eligible for inclusion.

360Highest Avg. Metascores Among Xbox 360 Publishers, 2011 Releases
  Publisher Xbox 360 Titles Average Metascore
1 Microsoft greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowred 77.6
2 Capcom greengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 76.0
3 Electronic Arts greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowred 75.0
4 Warner Bros. Interactive greengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 74.5
5 Bethesda Softworks greengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 73.8
PS3Highest Avg. Metascores Among PlayStation 3 Publishers, 2011 Releases
  Publisher PS3 Titles Average Metascore
1 Electronic Arts greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowred 75.9
2 Capcom greengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 75.8
3 Take-Two Interactive greengreengreenyellowyellowyellow 75.3
4 Warner Bros. Inter. greengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 73.5
5 Ubisoft greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowred 73.5
PCHighest Avg. Metascores Among PC Game Publishers, 2011 Releases
  Publisher PC Titles Average Metascore
1 Warner Bros. Interactive greengreengreenyellowyellow 79.5
2 Sega greengreengreengreenyellow 78.5
3 THQ greengreengreenyellowyellowyellow 75.6
4 Ubisoft greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowred 74.6
5 Electronic Arts greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowredred 74.1
WiiHighest Avg. Metascores Among Wii Publishers, 2011 Releases
  Publisher Wii Titles Average Metascore
1 Nintendo greengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 71.2
2 THQ greengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowred 64.6
3 Electronic Arts greenyellowyellowyellowred 63.6
4 Sega yellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 62.1
5 Activision Blizzard greenyellowyellowredredred 54.1
3DSHighest Avg. Metascores Among 3DS Publishers, 2011 Releases
  Publisher 3DS Titles Average Metascore
1 Nintendo greengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowred 72.4
2 Electronic Arts yellowyellowyellowyellowred 60.8
3 Namco Bandai greenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowred 59.8
4 Sega yellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 59.4
5 Konami yellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 59.3

All scores in this report are from February 7, 2012, and U.S. release dates and publishers are used for all games except those never released in the U.S. iOS games are excluded.

Comments (5)

  • OMGLover69  

    Shouldn't this entire article be thrown out for the simple reason that more gaming publications like IGN, Gamespot, and Eurogamer mainly give scores for the 360 version of multiplatform games? You can look at every multiplatform game and see a disparity in the amount of reviews for each platform, for example Kingdom's of Amalur has 40 reviews for the 360 and only 13 reviews for the PS3 version.

    It would have been much better to score each platform based on the titles that were 1st party published.

  • LynchOrwell  

    @OMGLover69 The platform-by-platform averages are a breakdown of the best performing publishers on a particular platform. If they only based it on 1st party titles then each platform would show a ranking of the top 1 publisher on the platform, which makes no sense. Other than that there was no score given to each platform, only to each publisher, so I'm not sure what you are getting at.

  • OMGLover69  

    @LynchOrwell

    You're really not making any sense yourself. What I'm saying is that Metacritic is including 3rd party games in their ranking and that skews the score in favor of the 360 version of multiplatform games.. Read the subtext at the bottom of each publisher ranking...

  • LynchOrwell  

    @OMGLover69

    How does including 3rd party games skew the score in favor of 360 versions of multiplatform games? The article isn't about which version of a multiplatform game scored higher anyway, it's merely for the soul purpose of showing how individual publishers performed.

  • nathan737  

    This list is heavily skewed in favor of Microsoft. Microsoft released many crappy exclusive Kinect games like Kinect Disneyland and Once Upon a Monster. Any game that is for 5 year olds should not get a good Metascore. The article even shows that Microsoft released more bad games than Sony.

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