Metacritic's 3rd Annual Game Publisher Rankings

  • Publish Date: February 5, 2013
  • Comments: ↓ 15 user comments

Comparing the 2012 releases of game publishers


As we do each year at this time, we have sifted through a year's worth of Metascore data to determine the best and worst game publishers of the year, based on the quality of their 2012 releases. Sales and user reviews do not factor into these rankings; only critic reviews (as captured by each game's Metascore) are used to evaluate performance.

Note that if you are merely looking for a list of 2012's highest- and lowest-scoring games, you can find that here. And you can find our two previous game publisher rankings here: 2011 releases / 2010 releases.

Ranking of major publishers

As we have done in the past, this year we split publishers into two separately ranked groups, based on the number of games they released during the last calendar year. Our first group consists of the largest publishers, who each issued 15 or more unique titles (with Metascores) during 2012. 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 games released in 2012
  2. % of scored products with good reviews (Metascore of at least 75)
  3. % of scored 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 the quality of their 2012 releases:

1. Electronic Arts
(incl. PopCap)
Previous year's rank: 4

Electronic Arts
Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 37
Total Products 74
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Mass Effect 3 (360) 93
Best Original Title *
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PC) 81
Worst Overall Release
Medal of Honor: Warfighter (360) 53
Metacritic Users' Favorite **
(tie) Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Vita) 8.2
(tie) The Secret World (PC) 8.2

Improving its average Metascore and ranking for the second straight year, EA has captured this year's #1 position, thanks in part to being the only major publisher scoring 75 or higher for its 2012 releases. The decades-old gaming company released two 90+ titles last year (Mass Effect 3 for the 360 and PS3 as well as the 360 version of FIFA Soccer 13) while earning positive reviews for 58% of its releases, best among all large publishers. The company's other mostly well-received products last year included the latest entries in the Need for Speed and SSX franchises and the big-budget Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (though the latter's free-spending developer, 38 Studios, quickly went out of business). But while EA technically didn't release a single poorly-reviewed game (i.e., a game scoring 49 or lower), it did release some disappointing ones, most notably Medal of Honor: Warfighter, which looks likely to be the last title in the Medal of Honor shooter franchise, at least for the time being.

* 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); iOS games are not included. 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 2012, 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. Microsoft
Previous year's rank: 1

Microsoft Studios
Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 42
Total Products 44
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Mark of the Ninja (PC) 91
Best Original Title
Mark of the Ninja (PC) 91
Worst Overall Release
Bloodforge (360) 42
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Forza Horizon (360) 8.3

Last year's top-ranked publisher didn't fall far in our standings, though Microsoft's average Metascore declined by over four points in 2012 compared to its 2011 releases. And while 72% of Microsoft's 2011 products received positive reviews, that success rate dropped significantly to 55% last year, with a multitude of Kinect-exclusive releases (even those with the name Star Wars in the title) continuing to pull down the publisher's overall numbers. On the plus side, Microsoft was one of the few publishers in 2012 to receive a 90 or higher for a brand-new IP, as it did for the stealth action game Mark of the Ninja (developed by Klei Entertainment and released on both the 360 and PC).

3. Sony
Previous year's rank: 3

Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 45
Total Products 49
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Journey (PS3) 92
Best Original Title
Journey (PS3) 92
Worst Overall Release
Start the Party! Save the World (PS3) 50
Metacritic Users' Favorite
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita (Vita) 8.9

Sony's numbers are fairly close to where they were the year before, and while the publisher's percentage of games receiving positive reviews dropped slightly from 2011 to 2012, the company made up for it by (barely) avoiding any red-scored games last year. Thatgamecompany's stylish and unique Journey was the major highlight among the titles published by Sony last year, though the Vita debut of Sony's LittleBigPlanet franchise and fellow handheld titles Sound Shapes and Gravity Rush also managed to impress many critics. Those highlights aside, Sony actually scored a bit higher for its PS3 releases (a 72.8 average) than it did for its its Vita releases (72.1).

4. Nintendo
Previous year's rank: 2

Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 37
Total Products 37
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) 92
Best Original Title
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) 92
Worst Overall Release
Spirit Hunters Inc: Shadow (DS) 43
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS) 8.6

Because we use North American release dates throughout this report, Nintendo gets credit for Xenoblade Chronicles as a 2012 release, even though the JRPG (and most of its reviews) dates back to 2010 and 2011, when it came out in Japan and Europe, respectively. Even without that title, though, Nintendo would remain the 4th-ranked publisher, a drop from the lofty #2 position where the company appeared in each of the previous two years. Before you start blaming the fading Wii and the disappointing Wii U for Nintendo's drop, however, note that the publisher actually scored about four points less for its handheld titles (3DS and DS) last year than it did for its console games. Overall, Nintendo's average score fell by over three points in 2012, even as its percentage of games receiving positive reviews rose from 48% to a laudable 51%.

5. Capcom
Previous year's rank: n/a

Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 16
Total Products 28
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Okami HD (PS3) 90
Best Original Title
Dragon's Dogma (PS3) 78
Worst Overall Release
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (360) 38
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Okami HD (PS3) 9.2

Capcom placed third in our original game publisher rankings two years ago before dropping out of the major publisher category the following year due to a decline in the number of titles released. But with 16 unique titles on the market in 2012, Capcom is once again a "major," though its average Metascore last year is a full six points lower than it was in 2011, and the company released its second-lowest-scoring game on record (Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, "trailing" only 2003's Chaos Legion 37). The publisher's only real 2012 highlights are a high-definition remaster of the PS2 classic Okami, and Street Fighter X Tekken, the latest collaboration between Capcom and Namco. Most of Capcom's various Resident Evil releases in 2012 failed to earn positive reviews, and Western critics didn't seem to like Capcom's new Japanese action title Asura's Wrath as much as their Japanese counterparts.

6. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Previous year's rank: n/a

Warner Bros. Interactive
Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 17
Total Products 35
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition (360) 88
Best Original Title
Lollipop Chainsaw (360) 70
Worst Overall Release
Game Party Champions (Wii U) 23
Metacritic Users' Favorite
LEGO The Lord of the Rings (PS3) 8.6

Listed in our "mid-size" publisher rankings in previous years, Warner Bros. moved up to the majors this year as a result of a much more ambitious release calendar in 2012. But more doesn't necessarily mean better, and the company's average Metascore declined from the previous year's 72.2. Many of the publisher's better 2012 releases were licensed LEGO titles (as were some of its worst 2012 releases), while Warner's sole new IP—the over-the-top actioner Lollipop Chainsaw—received a decidedly mixed reception from critics and gamers.

7. Ubisoft
Previous year's rank: 6

Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 25
Total Products 46
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Far Cry 3 (360) 90
Best Original Title
Rocksmith (PC) 78
Worst Overall Release
ESPN Sports Connection (Wii U) 31
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Far Cry 3 (360) 8.7

While Ubisoft's average score for 2012 was virtually identical to 2011's number, its percentage of releases with positive reviews fell from 48% to 39%. And five different Ubisoft titles received extremely negative reviews last year, including an Expendables 2 tie-in and two crummy Wii U launch titles. The company did score some notable successes in 2012, however, including the late-year release Far Cry 3, the buzzy Assassin's Creed III, and new Vita and PC versions of 2011 hit Rayman Origins.

8. Konami
Previous year's rank: 10

Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 16
Total Products 28
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Skullgirls (PS3) 82
Best Original Title
Skullgirls (PS3) 82
Worst Overall Release
NeverDead (PS3) 50
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (Vita) 8.3

Konami released fewer titles in 2012 than it did in either of the previous two years, and the result was an average Metascore over four points higher than it was in 2011. Still, fewer than one in three products was positively reviewed, and while the publisher's Pro Evolution Soccer franchise rebounded a bit compared to slightly lower-scoring recent versions, Konami's overall score was brought down by numerous mediocre releases, chief among them being a few Silent Hill titles, newcomer NeverDead, and X-Blades successor Blades of Time.

9. Sega
Previous year's rank: 7

Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 29
Total Products 44
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Football Manager 2013 (PC) 86
Best Original Title
Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure (3DS) 76
Worst Overall Release
Sonic the Fighters (360) 47
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PS3/360) 8.6

Sega's average Metascore is actually the highest it's been in years, though the publisher has dropped back into 9th place in our overall rankings, the result of a fairly dismal success rate of 30% (leaving 70% of the company's 2012 releases with mixed-to-negative reviews). Sega released seven more titles last year than in 2011, but aside from a few PC titles, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, the result was mainly a sea of yellow scores, and no truly great new games.

10. Activision Blizzard
Previous year's rank: 11

Activision Blizzard
Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 19
Total Products 45
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Diablo III (PC) 88
Best Original Title
Worst Overall Release
007 Legends (PC) 25
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (360) 8.4

Diablo III was a critical and commercial hit for the gaming giant, and the company continued to mine its World of Warcraft and Call of Duty franchises for financial rewards (and decent, if not stellar, reviews). So why is Activision Blizzard near the bottom of our rankings for a second straight year? The answer is simple: once again, the publisher released far too many terrible games. Five separate titles (accounting for 10 products in total) received scores in the dreadful 25-45 range, including movie/TV tie-ins (Family Guy, Battleship, Ice Age) and even a widely derided Vita installment in the CoD franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. There was a bit of good news, though: Activision's average score actually increased by over three points compared to the previous year. Still, Activision was the sole major publisher that failed to introduce a single new IP in 2012, choosing instead to milk its existing franchises and licenses. It's hard to imagine the company moving up in our yearly rankings if it remains reluctant to take a chance on a new concept.

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

Namco Bandai
Scored Releases - 2012
Unique Titles 32
Total Products 45
Average Metascore
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss (360) 89
Best Original Title
Pid (360) 72
Worst Overall Release
Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Arcade (Wii U) 11
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss (360) 8.2

Namco Bandai has been moving steadily down our publisher rankings since we started compiling them two years ago, its average score dropping by about two points each year. This year, it has no further to go, finishing dead last thanks to the deadly combination of having the lowest percentage of games with positive reviews (just 20%) and the highest percentage of products with poor reviews (22%, tying Activision). Namco, through its D3 Publisher subsidiary, also managed to release the lowest-scoring 2012 game for any major publisher: the oddly titled Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Arcade, deemed "borderline unplayable" by Game Revolution. (D3, by the way, was the source of many of Namco's problems with critics, averaging just 53.7 across its dozen products.) Two Dark Souls titles, a pair of Tales games, SoulCalibur V, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was about all that the publisher had to offer in the way of decent 2012 releases, though that roster actually represents an improvement over 2011, when Namco released just four positively-reviewed titles.

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, 2012 Releases
    Metascore Good Games Bad Games Great Games  
  Publisher Avg. Pts. % Pts. % Pts. # Pts. Total Pts.
1 Electronic Arts 75.2 112.8 58% 58.1 0% 100.0 2 20 290.9
2 Microsoft 73.0 109.5 55% 54.5 7% 93.2 2 20 277.2
3 Sony 72.3 108.4 43% 42.9 0% 100.0 1 10 261.3
4 Nintendo 71.2 106.9 51% 51.4 8% 91.9 1 10 260.1
5 Capcom 70.4 105.6 39% 39.3 7% 92.9 1 10 247.8
6 Warner Bros. Interactive 70.6 105.9 37% 37.1 3% 97.1 0 0 240.1
7 Ubisoft 68.2 102.3 39% 39.1 15% 84.8 1 10 236.2
8 Konami 69.0 103.5 32% 32.1 0% 100.0 0 0 235.7
9 Sega 69.9 104.8 30% 29.5 2% 97.7 0 0 232.1
10 Activision Blizzard 64.4 96.7 38% 37.8 22% 77.8 0 0 212.2
11 Namco Bandai 62.5 93.8 20% 20.0 22% 77.8 0 0 191.6

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 2012. (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 earn positive or negative reviews, and the total number of great games.

Two of the publishers listed below were ranked instead among the major publishers a year ago, but fell into the mid-size group this year because they released fewer titles in 2012. One of the two is Square Enix, last year's #5 major publisher, which released just a dozen unique titles in 2012. That less-is-more strategy seemed to pay off with critics, as 75% of the company's releases earned positive reviews, while its average Metascore increased by nearly five points.

The other demoted publisher is THQ, which released just 16 scored products (across a mere eight unique titles) in 2012 after issuing 60 (26 uniques) in 2011. THQ, as you no doubt have heard, saw its stock price plummet was forced to declare bankruptcy at the end of a 2012, and has since seen its assets auctioned off. As you can see below, however, even as it was fading, THQ still out-performed several other publishers from a quality standpoint, while its average Metascore actually increased by a sizeable seven full points compared to the prior year. Much of the score increase, however, can be attributed to one game: Darksiders II, one of the few THQ franchises not purchased at auction.

Among the non-troubled mid-size publishers, Take-Two Interactive and Telltale Games each posted stellar years from a quality standpoint, with the highest average Metascores we've seen since we started calculating these rankings two years ago. The latter rode its episodic The Walking Dead game series to eventual game of the year honors (including from this very website), while Take-Two consistently scored well with critics throughout the year (only one title, Major League Baseball 2K12, failed to receive positive reviews), resulting in a nearly 12-point increase in its average score even in the rare year when its Rockstar Games subsidiary didn't have a 90+ release. At the other end of the spectrum, 505 Games posted the lowest average Metascore we've seen in the past three years, failing to release a single good game in 10 attempts in 2012.

Mid-Size Publisher Rankings, 2012 Releases
  Publisher Unique
Average Metascore # Great Metascore
1 Take-Two Interactive 10 28 83.1 3 GoodSo-So 347.6
2 Telltale Games 7 19 83.9 1 GoodSo-So 330.6
3 Square Enix 12 20 75.2 0 GoodSo-So 287.8
4 Bethesda Softworks 7 12 74.3 1 GoodSo-So 263.0
5 THQ 8 16 73.7 0 GoodSo-SoBad 260.6
6 Atlus Co. 9 13 69.8 1 GoodSo-So 245.4
7 Xseed Games 8 8 66.8 0 GoodSo-So 225.2
8 Paradox Interactive 10 11 62.1 0 GoodSo-SoBad 202.3
9 Focus Home Interactive 9 12 60.5 0 GoodSo-SoBad 182.4
10 505 Games 8 10 53.3 0 So-SoBad 140.0

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, 2012 Releases
  Publisher Xbox 360 Titles Average Metascore
1 Telltale Games greengreengreengreengreengreen 85.6
2 Take-Two Interactive greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellow 82.4
3 Electronic Arts greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 75.7
4 Square Enix greengreengreengreengreenyellowyellow 74.6
5 Bethesda Softworks greengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellow 74.2
PS3Highest Avg. Metascores Among PlayStation 3 Publishers, 2012 Releases
  Publisher PS3 Titles Average Metascore
1 Telltale Games greengreengreengreengreengreen 86.2
2 Take-Two Interactive greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellow 83.3
3 Square Enix greengreengreengreenyellow 78.0
4 Electronic Arts greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 77.7
5 Warner Bros. Interactive greengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 72.9
PCHighest Avg. Metascores Among PC Game Publishers, 2012 Releases
  Publisher PC Titles Average Metascore
1 Take-Two Interactive greengreengreengreengreengreengreengreengreen 83.5
2 Telltale Games greengreengreengreengreengreenyellow 80.6
3 Warner Bros. Interactive greengreengreenyellowyellow 75.8
4 Microsoft greengreengreengreenyellowyellow 75.7
5 Electronic Arts greengreengreengreengreengreenyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellowyellow 72.9

All scores in this report are from January 31, 2013, 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 (15)

  • M9ki  

    Capcom is doing great i'm so happy for them i loved dragon's dogma.

  • Mudpooch  

    Its so sad to see that tell tale is at the top of so many of the lists since it is nothing else but extremely!!! undeserved.

  • downphoenix  

    The metascores speak for themselves. All you people hate EA for whatever reason, but they ARE the top tier major publisher in 2012 as far as game quality. They released a lot of good games, and while they did let a couple stinkers loose like Medal of Honor, they are far outweighed by their good releases. If you dont like EA, you're welcome not to buy their games. As a gamer, I play whatever's good. If its what EA puts out, so be it.

  • Captiosus  

    EA is #1 only out of sheer brute force (number of total owned IPs) and shady marketing practices (embargo leveraging, hired shills, and "reviewer" payoffs). Between Origin, the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, and now SimCity, they're also #1 on my personal "do not buy" list.

  • FleshWorld  

    This ranking system isn't looking into the hearts of these publishers there's a strict set of rules, and by those rules, EA is on top this year. They weren't last year. Amusing that people take things so personally.

  • oliver1h  

    EA is one of the worst companies right now. They introduce and support tendencies that ruin the world of gaming. In my opinion of curse.....

  • Kadeemluvmusic  

    The reason why Nintendo is #4 on that list is that the WII U sucks. Sales weren't that good and I hope it's gonna be a big failure. Remember the Virtual Boy, Gamer Boy's counterpart? That quickly discontinued one year later.

  • KezarHighwind  

    @samuraigaiden WRONG Nintendo DID publish Xenoblade Chronicles. XSEED games did publish another Operation Rainfall game, The Last Story. And I agree, why does people say metacritic hates Nintendo? I mean, face it dudes, Nintendo didn't release any game on their Wii U launching, and the 3Ds has been practically dead. So, DAMN nobody in the world hates Nintendo, but accept when they commit mistakes (and they do) But I'm pretty sure in the same list (this one) of this year 2013, Nintendo will be number 1, starting with the Wind Waker Remake.

  • Deepestblue  

    Well, and the consumer says EA is the worst company of the US. (e.g.

  • samuraigaiden  

    Nintendo didn't publish Xenoblade in the US, XSEED did. They should be lower (and XSEED should be way higher).

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