The gaming industry is constantly moving forward, but when one looks back, the realization of how much has been lost becomes startlingly apparent. Many of the greatest game development studios of the past few decades are, sadly, no longer around. Some of the most beloved game franchises, many that are still around today, were the creations of these bygone studios. Some of these development studios just couldn’t keep up with changing trends and technology, but a lot of them are victims of EA’s relentless mission to dominate the video game industry.
Psygnosis was founded in 1984, and headquartered in Liverpool, England. The studio got its start developing and publishing games for the early microcomputers, such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga, Atari ST, and ZX Spectrum. Their games were famous for having impressive graphics, sound, and responsive controls. Some notable games from Psygnosis include; Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings, Colony Wars, Destruction Derby, and the Wipeout series. Psygnosis was one of the premier developers for the PlayStation, and did such a great job that the studio was acquired by Sony in 1993. After the acquisition, the studio was eventually subsumed into Sony Entertainment; with the Liverpool location closing in August 2012.
9 Westwood Studios
Any gamer who grew up in the ‘90s knows about Westwood Studios. This studio, founded in 1985, is responsible for some of the most famous game franchises of that era. In 1992, Westwood Studios merged with Richard Branson’s Virgin Studios; then was acquired by EA in 1998. The most famous of Westwood Studios games are those in the Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy games. In fact, this studio helped launch the RTS craze of the ‘90s with Dune II, a precursor to Command & Conquer and Blizzard’s Warcraft series. Westwood Studios is also well-known for some of their Dungeons & Dragons licensed games, like Eye of the Beholder I & II.
8 Bullfrog Productions
The founding of Bullfrog Studios, in 1987, is a classic example of “right-place, right-time”. Commodore contacted the company’s famous founder, Peter Molyneux, after mistaking his company Taurus Impact Systems for another company – named Torus. Molyneux didn’t inform Commodore of their mistake, and instead led them to believe they had contacted the right company. Before Commodore realized their mistake, deals had been made, and they had sent Taurus several Amigas with which to develop networking software. Bullfrog’s third game was the critically acclaimed Populus. Other notable games from Bullfrog are; Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, and Syndicate.
Midway was an early developer and publisher of arcade games. In the early-to-mid ‘80s Midway was one of the major players in video games alongside Atari, Nintendo, Namco, and Sega. This company dates back to the 1950s, when it was a manufacturer of mechanical games. The list of classic games Midway is responsible for is far too long to be listed here. Some of their more notable games are; Defender, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, and Joust. In 2009 Warner Bros. acquired Midway after the latter filed for bankruptcy. Many of their more popular titles, like Mortal Kombat, are still going strong today.
A lot of gamers born after the year 2000 might have never heard of Interplay, founded in 1983, despite playing many games that belong to franchises began by them. Interplay is famous for its many licensed games – particularly their Star Trek and Dungeons & Dragons titles. Notable among them are; Star Trek: Judgement Rights, the Baldur’s Gate series, and the Icewind Dale series. By far their most famous titles are the Fallout games. That’s right, the Fallout franchise was started by Interplay. Since the late 2000s, Interplay has been selling off the rights to most of their popular franchises – the company has since become a shadow of what it once was.
LucasArts began in 1983 as Lucasfilm Games, a subsidiary of George Lucas’ Lucasfilm Entertainment. Their early games were primarily point-and-click adventure games. These titles are still beloved by fans, and include titles like; Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and the often overlooked Loom. This company rose to prominence thanks to the immense popularity of their Star Wars games, and to a lesser extent their Indiana Jones games. This all came to an end in 2012, when Disney purchased LucasArts, and promptly closed the studio. Sadly, the much anticipated Star Wars game LucasArts was developing, Star Wars 1313, was cancelled after the acquisition.
4 Pandemic Studios
This studio was founded in 1998, and had offices in the U.S. and Australia. Like many development studios, Pandemic was founded by former Activision employees who wished to have more creative control; which ironically is how Activision got its start when Atari employees quit for similar reasons. Pandemic was one of the most successful game developers of the early 2000s. Some of their most popular games include; Star Wars Battlefront I & II, and Destroy All Humans. In 2007 Pandemic was bought by EA, and after two years of working under the EA umbrella was closed in 2009. Their last game was The Saboteur, which is now considered a hidden gem.
3 Telltale Games
This studio, founded in 2004, was famous for their games that resembled interactive graphic novels. Their games were often criticized for a lack of interactivity, but the production quality of their games was excellent – especially the quality of the voice-acting. Telltale’s business model was to license an already established intellectual property and make a game that played like a movie - that the player could influence through their in-game decisions. Their more famous titles are; Back to the Future: The Game, Sam and Max: Beyond Time and Space, and The Walking Dead. Telltale would typically release these games one chapter at a time. In 2018, Telltale Games announced that they would be closing indefinitely.
2 Visceral Games
Visceral Games began as a subsidiary of EA in 1998, named EA Redwood Shores. It wasn’t until 2009 that the studio was renamed to Visceral Games. The studio is known for the many add-on packs for the Sims franchise, and for EA’s Tiger Woods golf simulation games. Visceral would occasionally develop a first-person, or third-person shooter which were always well-received by the gaming community. Examples of these are; The Godfather, Battlefield: Frontline, and the Dead Space series. They are probably best known for the Dead Space games; which were ahead of their time graphically. In 2017 EA closed Visceral Games; their reason was that Visceral specialized in single-player games, and EA wanted to focus more on multiplayer titles.
1 Microprose Software
Microprose Software, founded in 1982, was an early trailblazer in PC gaming. They were best known for developing games with incredibly deep strategy elements. In fact many of their most popular franchises are still going strong today, but under the Firaxis label. Some of their notable titles include; Sid Meier’s Civilization, Pirates!, X-Com: UFO Defense, and Master of Orion. This company changed hands many times; having been owned by Spectrum HoloByte, Hasbro Interactive, and Infogrames. In 1996, Microprose founder Sid Meier, who founded the company, left to form Firaxis Games. Microprose is actually still around in today - not that anybody notices.