Metacritic's 7th Annual Game Publisher Rankings

  • Publish Date: February 13, 2017
  • Comments: ↓ 4 user comments

Comparing the 2016 releases of game publishers


Which game publishers released the best games last year? For the seventh straight year, we have sifted through 12 months of data to determine the best and worst game publishers of the year, based solely on the quality of their 2016 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.

Ranking of major publishers

We divided 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 companies, who each published 12 or more unique titles (with Metascores) during 2016. (The cutoff was formerly 14 or more unique titles, but we reduced it this year due to an industry-wide decline in the number of games published by most companies.) The remaining "mid-size" publishers, detailed further down the page, each released between 6-11 unique titles last year. Publishers with 5 or fewer unique titles are excluded.

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 2016
  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, min. 7 reviews)

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 2016 releases:

1. Electronic Arts
Previous year's rank: 7

Electronic Arts
Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 13
Total Products 28
Average Metascore
79.7 ▲ 7.8
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Titanfall 2 (PS4) 89
Best New IP *
Unravel (PC) 81
Worst Overall Release
Need for Speed (PC) 68
Metacritic Users' Favorite **
4 products (incl. Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, and Unravel) tied with ... 8.4

Yes, the publisher that gamers love to hate had a pretty great 2016, leading all companies with an average Metascore of just shy of 80. The 35-year-old EA saw an impressive 79% of its releases receive positive reviews from critics, also tops among all publishers. That's an impressive turnaround from the previous year, when just one-third of the company's releases had green Metascores. EA Sports-branded games averaged nearly 81 (with every release receiving positive reviews), while the publisher's non-sports games averaged just over 79. None of EA's games hit the 90 mark, but several came close, including a Titanfall sequel and its WWI-era Battlefield entry Battlefield 1, which also had the best launch of any game in the series to date.

* 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 LEGO Call of Duty: Arkham City—A Telltale Games Series comes out on the PS4, XB1, 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 2016, 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. Square Enix
Previous year's rank: n/a

Square Enix
Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 29
Total Products 49
Average Metascore
77.1 ▼ 0.2
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration (PS4) 88
Best New IP
The Turing Test (XB1) 80
Worst Overall Release
Rise of the Tomb Raider: Cold Darkness Awakened (PC) 56
Metacritic Users' Favorite
(tie) Hitman (PS4) 8.5
(tie) World of Final Fantasy (Vita) 8.5

Square Enix was our #5 mid-size publisher in last year's rankings, but jumped up to the majors this year by greatly increasing its quantity of titles released (by 17). Impressively, it did so without sacrificing quality; in fact, Square Enix actually had a higher percentage of products receiving positive reviews than it did a year ago. And the publisher's newish indie games initiative, Square Enix Collective, got off to a strong start by releasing a pair of positively reviewed titles in Portal-inspired puzzler The Turing Test and point-and-click adventure Goetia.

3. Nintendo
Previous year's rank: 6

Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 30
Total Products 31
Average Metascore
76.5 ▲ 4.8
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Fire Emblem Fates: Special Edition (3DS) 88
Best New IP
Pocket Card Jockey (3DS) 83
Worst Overall Release
Pokemon Rumble World (3DS) 58
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past (3DS) 8.9

Despite the fact that its Wii U console spent the year fading into irrelevance, Nintendo had more unique titles than any other publisher and managed to improve the overall quality of its releases—mainly by sticking to its handheld device. Nintendo's 3DS games averaged two points higher than its Wii U releases (which numbered just 7 on the year, led by remake The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD). The coming year, of course, should be more interesting, with Nintendo launching its new Switch console next month.

4. Sony
Previous year's rank: 3

Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 23
Total Products 23
Average Metascore
70.9 ▼ 3.6
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PS4) 93
Best New IP
Alienation (PS4) 79
Worst Overall Release
Hustle Kings VR (PS4) 52
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Ratchet & Clank (PS4) 8.6

Unlike Nintendo, Sony has abandoned its handheld hardware, opting not to publish any games for the Vita in 2016. All 23 of its scored releases were PS4 titles, led by our overall 2016 game of the year, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Despite that game's impressive score, Sony saw its Metascore average drop by over three points over the past year, while its percentage of games receiving positive reviews fell from 54% to 43%. One reason for the decline appears to be a variety of unimpressive software for the PlayStation's new VR headset, with VR titles accounting for nine of Sony's 14 lowest-scoring releases in 2016.

5. XSEED Games (Marvelous USA)
Previous year's rank: n/a

Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 12
Total Products 19
Average Metascore
71.5 ▲ 0.1
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PS3) 90
Best New IP
Worst Overall Release
Exile's End (Wii U) 58
Metacritic Users' Favorite
(tie) Senran Kagura: Estival Versus (PS4) 8.1
(tie) Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PS4) 8.1

Jumping up to the major group this year, XSEED saw its Metascore average remain about the same despite a drop in its percentage of releases that received positive reviews from critics (which fell from 54% a year ago to just 37% this year).

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

Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 14
Total Products 22
Average Metascore
71.0 ▼ 5.9
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Monster Hunter Generations (3DS) 85
Best New IP
Worst Overall Release
Umbrella Corps (PC) 36
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (3DS) 8.9

After several years in our mid-size publishers group, the 37-year-old Japanese company returned to the majors this year by increasing the number of titles released. But 2016 was not a great year for Capcom, which saw its Metascore average fall by nearly six points. The reason? Quite a few lackluster Resident Evil (re)releases. All eight of its lowest-scoring games last year were part of the Resident Evil franchise; subtract all RE products, and Capcom's average score rises to a very good 78. (That problem seems like it has been corrected heading into 2017, as Capcom's new Resident Evil game is receiving strong marks from critics.) But Capcom also shied away from major releases last year (one reason, perhaps, that sales declined), and failed to release any new properties.

7. Activision Blizzard
Previous year's rank: 4

Activision Blizzard
Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 16
Total Products 29
Average Metascore
71.0 ▼ 1.0
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Overwatch (PC) 91
Best New IP
Overwatch (PC) 91
Worst Overall Release
Ghostbusters (PS4) 30
Metacritic Users' Favorite
World of Warcraft: Legion (PC) 7.3

Despite the introduction of its hit new multiplayer shooter Overwatch, Activision Blizzard experienced an unimpressive 2016, with only 45% of its products winning critic approval (compared to 54% the prior year). But get rid of the lousy movie tie-ins Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan and Activision's average jumps up to nearly 79. The average for Blizzard-branded releases, by the way, is just under 85 (for the second straight year).

8. Bandai Namco Entertainment
Previous year's rank: 8

Namco Bandai
Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 21
Total Products 36
Average Metascore
70.8 ▲ 1.3
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Dark Souls III (PC) 89
Best New IP
Necropolis (XB1) 65
Worst Overall Release
Lost Reavers (Wii U) 46
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Dark Souls III (PS4) 8.7

Despite modest improvements in average Metascore and in the percentage of products receiving positive reviews from critics (which rose from 31% to 39%), the venerable Japanese company once again finds itself near the bottom of our list. There's no one culprit to point to; merely a large number of mediocre releases and a lack of any notable new properties.

9. Telltale Games
Previous year's rank: 2

Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 19
Total Products 49
Average Metascore
71.1 ▼ 3.5
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Batman: The Telltale Series - Ep 2: Children of Arkham (XB1) 83
Best New IP
Worst Overall Release
7 Days to Die (XB1) 35
Metacritic Users' Favorite
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series - A New Frontier Episode 2: Ties That Bind Part Two (PC) 7.4

Perhaps the novelty of episodic adventures based on your favorite pop culture franchises has worn off, as Telltale saw its average Metascore decline for the second straight year. (It was nearly 80 just two years ago.) Take out two third party titles (developed by an outside company) and Telltale's average increases a bit, to 72.5. But it's not a good sign that critics approved of just 31% of the company's 2016 releases (compared to 55% the previous year).

10. Ubisoft
Previous year's rank: 9

Scored Releases - 2016
Unique Titles 21
Total Products 45
Average Metascore
69.0 ▼ 0.9
Metascore Distribution
Best Overall Release
Watch Dogs 2 (PS4) 82
Best New IP
Werewolves Within (PS4) 75
Worst Overall Release
The Crew: Calling All Units (PS4) 49
Metacritic Users' Favorite
Assassin's Creed Chronicles (Vita) 8.1

Ubisoft finished dead last for the second consecutive year, thanks in large part to finishing 2016 with the lowest average Metascore of any major publisher. Only 29% of Ubisoft's releases scored positive reviews from critics—lowest among all major publishers, sure, but actually an improvement over the prior year, when Ubisoft's success rate was just 18%.

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, 2016 Releases
    Metascore Good Games Bad Games Great Games  
  Publisher Avg. Pts. % Pts. % Pts. # Pts. Total Pts.
1 Electronic Arts 79.7 119.6 79% 78.6 0% 100.0 0 0.0 298.2
2 Square Enix 77.1 115.7 69% 69.4 0% 100.0 0 0.0 285.0
3 Nintendo 76.5 114.8 58% 58.1 0% 100.0 0 0.0 272.8
4 Sony 70.9 106.3 43% 43.5 0% 100.0 1 5.0 254.8
5 XSEED Games (Marvelous USA) 71.5 107.3 37% 36.8 0% 100.0 1 5.0 249.1
6 Capcom 71.0 106.5 50% 50.0 9% 90.9 0 0.0 247.4
7 Activision Blizzard 71.0 106.5 45% 44.8 14% 86.2 1 5.0 242.5
8 Bandai Namco Entertainment 70.8 106.3 39% 38.9 3% 97.2 0 0.0 242.4
9 Telltale Games 71.1 106.7 31% 30.6 4% 95.9 0 0.0 233.2
10 Ubisoft 69.0 103.5 29% 28.9 2% 97.8 0 0.0 230.1

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 (5.0 points per unique title). To qualify as "great," a game must have a Metascore of at least 90 and have at least 7 critic reviews.

Ranking of mid-size publishers

Each of the "mid-size" publishers listed below released between 6-11 unique titles in 2016. They are ranked according to the exact 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.

Mid-Size Publisher Rankings, 2016 Releases
  Publisher Total
Unique Titles Avg. Metascore vs.
1 Paradox Interactive 7 7 77.7 ▲0.8 GoodSo-So 288.0

Paradox shot up from #7 a year ago to the top slot in our mid-size rankings this year. The PC publisher's 2016 slate was led by Hearts of Iron IV and Tyranny, though it had only mixed critical success with a pair of expansions to its recent hit Cities: Skylines.

2 Sega 12 11 76.1 ▼1.0 GoodSo-So 280.8

Our #1 major publisher a year ago dropped into the mid-size group this year by releasing three fewer unique titles. Sega's best 2016 release was Total War: WARHAMMER (PC).

3 Microsoft Game Studios 17 10 77.6 ▼1.0 GoodSo-So 280.2

Racer Forza Horizon 3 was Microsoft's best Xbox One release, while Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition also scored big for both Xbox One and PC. But the company's new IP (including Cobalt, ReCore, and Quantum Break) met with mixed reviews at best.

4 Take-Two Interactive 21 10 77.2 ▼0.5 GoodSo-So 273.2

Without any new Rockstar releases in 2016, it fell to 2K Games releases Civilization VI and XCOM 2 to lead the way for Take-Two. But 2K's attempt to launch a new franchise, Battleborn, fell flat with reviewers and gamers.

5 Warner Bros. Interactive 21 9 76.1 ▲0.5 GoodSo-So 271.3

WBIE's 2016 slate was topped by PC release Dying Light: The Following - Enhanced Edition, but the company's otherwise strong average score was weighed down by a number of so-so LEGO-branded releases.

6 Bethesda Softworks 25 11 73.7 ▼3.7 GoodSo-So 266.6

Our #1 mid-size publisher a year ago, Bethesda dropped a bit this year despite the presence of the well-received Dishonored 2. The blame can be placed on poor scores for a rather large number of Fallout 4 expansions.

7 Team17 14 7 72.6 ▲6.9 GoodSo-So 266.0

The British game company improved the quality of its releases quite a bit in the past year, thanks to well-reviewed titles like Overcooked.

8 Degica 7 7 69.4 n/a GoodSo-So 261.2

Japanese PC game publisher Degica didn't release enough titles to be ranked last year. Its 2016 slate was topped by OneShot.

9 Devolver Digital 13 10 74.0 ▲0.5 GoodSo-So 257.2

Sony and PC publisher Devolver was the #5 ranked major publisher in our previous rankings, but released five fewer unique titles in 2016 than the year before. The company actually performed slightly better over the past year, led by Vita release Downwell.

10 Daedalic Entertainment 9 7 72.8 ▲2.8 GoodSo-So 253.6
11 Curve Digital Entertainment 15 7 71.2 ▼3.1 GoodSo-So 253.4
12 tinyBuild Games 14 10 70.9 n/a GoodSo-So 249.2
13 NIS America 11 9 70.6 ▲9.8 GoodSo-So 242.3
14 Aksys Games 14 11 69.5 ▼1.5 GoodSo-SoBad 240.0
15 505 Games 19 10 69.4 n/a GoodSo-So 235.7
16 Gambitious Digital Ent. 8 6 71.4 n/a GoodSo-So 232.1
17 Focus Home Interactive 12 8 67.3 ▼1.1 GoodSo-So 225.9
18 Artifex Mundi 7 7 70.1 n/a GoodSo-So 219.4
19 Koei Tecmo 12 9 67.5 ▼2.0 GoodSo-SoBad 217.8
20 10tons Entertainment 10 7 66.6 n/a So-So 199.9
21 Idea Factory International 8 8 63.9 ▼4.5 So-So 195.9
22 Deep Silver 15 6 61.3 ▼6.5 GoodSo-SoBad 185.3

Twin disappointments Mighty No. 9 and Homefront: The Revolution weighed down the German publisher's stats for 2016.

23 Digerati Distribution 10 6 61.4 n/a GoodSo-SoBad 172.0

A distributor of indie games, Digerati managed to release just one positively reviewed product (Letter Quest: Grimm's Journey Remastered) in 2016.

All scores in this report are from February 7, 2017, and U.S. release dates and publishers are used for all games except those never released in the U.S. iOS games are excluded.

View our previous Game Publisher Rankings:
2016 (for games released in 2015) / 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / 2011

More of our Best of 2016 coverage:
Best Games of 2016 | Worst Games of 2016

Comments (4)

  • LamontRaymond  

    @SilexEco - which is why they call it a "Publisher Ranking" - Sony is a publisher..... Next stop, rocket science.

  • SilexEco  

    Electronic Arts??????
    Sony???? Sony has been never created any game, only their second/third-parties.

    Go home Metacritic, you’re drunk.

  • Twarone  

    As usual, quite an interesting list. A couple of suggestions to make things bit more fair (that actually wouldn't shake up the rankings much at all but might in the future):
    1) You are giving bad ratings way too much weight, the fact is people just don't buy rally bad games that much, and since good games tend to outnumber bad by a fair margin giving them the same weight is excessive. Bad games should only get somewhere in the range of 25 to 40 points.
    2) As the game critic community matures you have seen the number of "great" games drop (this seems to happen in all industries). With this in mind I would suggest giving a larger bonus to the great games and possibly even a smaller bonus to very good games (85+).


  • TheRealBryan  

    Damn EA winning was quite a shock.

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