Game On: The Greater Seattle Gaming Cluster

9/11/08Follow @gthuang

The Seattle area is known for many things. But right up there with the coffee, the weather, and the music scene would have to be the gaming community. If you’ve ever played a video game like Halo on an Xbox console, or a multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft, or an online “casual” game like Bejeweled, then you’ve almost certainly got a Seattle company (or connection) to thank. Everyone knows Microsoft and RealNetworks are here; lots of people know about Nintendo of America, Sony Online Entertainment, and PopCap; but there are also dozens of smaller, indie studios cranking out all manner of computer games and development tools.

In just the last two months, downtown Seattle has hosted two of the gaming industry’s largest expos, which we’ve covered: Casual Connect, a conference around casual games as opposed to traditional “core” games that tend to be more time and cost-intensive; and the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), which drew an estimated 50,000 people in a celebration of all the latest in gaming tech, business, and culture. It’s the kind of trend we at Xconomy pay close attention to, because it says something about how innovation happens and its impact on society and the economy—on both a local and a global scale.

According to a report by enterpriseSeattle, an economic-development research organization, there are some 150 game-technology and interactive-media companies in Washington state, which employ 15,000 workers and contribute $4.6 billion in direct revenue to the state. Those are the hard stats, but there’s also something intangible about Seattle’s unique blend of artsy creative types, storytellers, hackers, and software developers—not to mention a fierce competitive spirit—that has made it one of the world’s top centers for gaming.

Not that it’s all growing without limits. Just yesterday, Seattle mobile-gaming startups Mobliss and Reaxion announced they are merging into a new company called PressOK Entertainment—a sign of the consolidation that’s been occurring in the mobile-game industry. And I haven’t been hearing of as many new core gaming studios being formed lately. At the same time, though, casual game development costs are falling, Web-based tools are more plentiful, and it has become easier for small, dedicated teams to build games and distribute them to a sizeable audience.

So we wanted to provide a definitive guide to the gaming companies that are making it all happen. Following in the footsteps of our Xconomy Boston site, which has highlighted clusters of innovation there in music technology, Internet video, robotics, and Health 2.0, we now bring you the greater Seattle gaming cluster— the top companies, big or small, based locally or having significant local operations, that are pushing the state of the art in game technology, development, and business.

For this list, we looked specifically at game companies, not organizations. So no Penny Arcade (gaming website and comic), University of Washington (with its huge computer science program), or Digipen Institute of Technology (which offers courses in game design), though such entities play important roles in the gaming community. We drew the line at companies focused on game development and publishing—so we didn’t include software companies that fall more on the graphics, simulation, animation, or visualization side of things. And geographically, we focused on the immediate Seattle area—in part because Portland, OR, and Vancouver, BC, have their own clusters of gaming companies that number in the dozens.

Looking at the list, a few trends are apparent. Out of the 45 companies in our initial list, I would classify 24 of them—roughly half—as focusing more on core games, and 21 as casual. (This distinction is getting blurrier every day, however, as most companies—and players—are doing both.) Many of the core-game studios were formed in the 1990s, while the casual and mobile startups, not surprisingly, tend to be from the past five years or so. In terms of geography, nearly two-thirds of the companies (29) are based on the Eastside versus Seattle proper, which is probably influenced by the locations of Microsoft and Nintendo. All of that said, this is not a comprehensive list. If we’ve missed somebody, please leave us a comment or drop us a note at editors@xconomy.com.

Without further ado, here’s our fine 45:

5th Cell (Bellevue, WA)
Developer of casual games for mobile devices (Full Spectrum Warrior) and Nintendo platforms (Lock’s Quest).

Amaze Entertainment (Kirkland, WA)
A division of Foundation9 Entertainment, founded in 1996. Develops mainstream casual and core games like those based on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars.

ArenaNet (Bellevue, WA)
Online game network formed in 2000. Makes role-playing fantasy games like Guild Wars.

Big Fish Games (Seattle, WA)
Founded in 2002 by Paul Thelen from RealNetworks. Develops and publishes casual and online games for PCs, mobile devices, and consoles (Mystery Case Files, Hidden Expedition).

Boomzap (Seattle, WA)
Publisher of casual games headquartered in Singapore, but has had a Seattle office for U.S. distribution and marketing since 2006.

Bungie (Kirkland, WA)
Developer of the bestselling Halo franchise, bought by Microsoft in 2000, and divested by Microsoft in October 2007. Still makes games for Xbox and PC.

Cat Daddy Games (Bellevue, WA)
Maker of business-simulation games like the Tycoon series. Owned by game publisher Take-Two Interactive.

Digini (Issaquah, WA)
Maker of video-game development tools, such as Blade3D, for Xbox 360 and PCs.

Flying Lab Software (Seattle, WA)
Founded in 1997, develops games like Rails Across America and Pirates of the Burning Sea, focusing on massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

Fugazo (Seattle, WA)
Developer and publisher of casual games such as Cooking Academy and World Mosaics. Founded in October 2007.

GameHouse (Seattle, WA)
This division of RealNetworks (acquired in 2004) develops and publishes casual arcade and puzzle games like Little Shop of Treasures and Super Jigsaw Safari.

Gas Powered Games (Redmond, WA)
Founded in 1998, develops single and multiplayer fantasy role-playing games like Dungeon Siege and Demigod.

Gastronaut Studios (Seattle, WA)
Founded in Washington DC in 2002, moved to Seattle in 2004. Makes casual, sociable games like Small Arms.

Guppy Games (Bellevue, WA)
Mobile game developer and publisher, founded in 2004, makes action and puzzle games like Stick Fighter Fury and Numbolution.

Her Interactive (Bellevue, WA)
Develops interactive PC games marketed to girls and women, such as its Nancy Drew series.

Hidden City Games (Seattle, WA)
A gaming studio created by the founders of Wizards of the Coast (Magic: The Gathering). Develops tabletop and online virtual-world games like Bella Sara.

Hidden Path Entertainment (Bellevue, WA)
Developer of PC and console games like Wits & Wagers and Defense Grid: The Awakening.

Hipsoft (Redmond, WA)
Formed in 2002, develops family-friendly casual online and PC games with downloadable content, such as Build-a-lot and Ocean Express.

Humongous (Bothell, WA)
Originally formed in 1992, formerly owned by Atari, and now a subsidiary of Infogrames. Maker of PC and console games for kids, such as Backyard Sports series.

I-play (Seattle, WA)
Casual games publisher of PC, online, and mobile games such as the Dream Day series. Acquired by Oberon Media in 2007.

Leviathan Games (Seattle, WA)
Founded in 1998, maker of PC, console, and handheld games like Target: Terror and Online Chess Kingdoms.

Liquid Dragon Studios (Bellevue, WA)
Developer of PC and console games like Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm and Word Krispies, using proprietary game engine Splash.

Microsoft Game Studios (Redmond, WA)
Develops and publishes core games for Windows PCs, Xbox, and Xbox 360 consoles, like the Halo series, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Braid (available through Xbox Live Arcade).

Microsoft Casual Games (Redmond, WA)
Develops, publishes, and distributes Web-based and downloadable casual games in genres such as arcade, puzzle, and word.

Mobliss (Seattle, WA)
Develops mobile games like Family Feud, The Price Is Right, and my personal favorite Brady Bunch Kung FuCurrently in the process of merging with Seattle-based Reaxion; the new company will be called PressOK Entertainment.

Monolith Productions (Kirkland, WA)
Founded in 1994, acquired by Warner Bros. in 2004. Publishes role-playing and shooter games like Condemned, F.E.A.R., and The Matrix Online.

Nightlight Studios (Seattle, WA)
Founded in 2002, develops PC, console, and mobile games, including the iPod game Pirates of the Caribbean: Aegir’s Fire.

Nintendo of America (Redmond, WA)
Video-game giant, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan, develops, publishes, and markets games for Nintendo DS, Game Boy, GameCube, and Wii.

Novel (Redmond, WA)
Startup that makes political and economic strategy MMO games and business-related simulations.

PopCap Games (Seattle, WA)
A leading developer of online casual games, such as Bejeweled and Amazing Adventures Around the World.

RealGames (Seattle, WA)
A division of RealNetworks that includes GameHouse and RealArcade. Produces and publishes casual games.

Runic Games (Seattle, WA)
Formerly Flagship Studios (originator of Mythos), recently reformed and intent on creating new action-role playing MMO games.

Sandlot Games (Bothell, WA)
Developer and publisher of casual and family-friendly games for online, PC, and mobile, such as Cake Mania.

Smith & Tinker (Bellevue, WA)
Electronic entertainment company merging online and offline game play. Recently licensed PC games like MechWarrior (originally developed by S&T’s founder) from Microsoft.

Snowblind Studios (Bothell, WA)
Develops fantasy role-playing and combat games like Baldur’s Gate and Champions of Norrath.

Sony Online Entertainment Seattle (Bellevue, WA)
Opened Seattle-area office in 2004. SOE has produced Matrix, The Agency, and other massively multiplayer online games for PCs, consoles, and mobile.

Sucker Punch Productions (Bellevue, WA)
Spun out of Microsoft in 1997, developer of console games like inFamous and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.

Surreal Software (Seattle, WA)
Maker of role-playing video games like The Suffering and This Is Vegas.

Torpex Games (Bellevue, WA)
Developer of cooperative console games like Schizoid for Xbox (through Xbox Live Arcade).

Valcon Games (Bellevue, WA)
Publisher of sports and action games for consoles, like Shepherd’s Crossing and Riding Star.

Valve (Bellevue, WA)
Renowned creator of game franchises Half-Life and Counter-Strike, game engines, and development tools for PC and console games.

Vivendi (Issaquah, WA)
Recently merged with Activision Blizzard, maker of World of Warcraft and Guitar Hero 3, which has Seattle-area offices.

WildTangent (Redmond, WA)
Developer and publisher of PC, console, online, and downloadable games like Fate and SeaLife Safari.

WXP (Seattle, WA)
Developer of action, adventure, and social games for PCs and consoles, like Sceneit? and Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball Max’d.

Zango (Bellevue, WA)
Online media company that distributes downloadable and online games, videos, and music. Online games include Gun Run and Penguin Rescue.

Zipper Interactive (Redmond, WA)
Founded in 1995, bought by Sony in 2006, now a wholly owned subsidiary that has developed action/shooter games like SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals.

Zombie (Seattle, WA)
Developer of mobile, Web, PC, and console strategy games like Future Force Company Commander and Shadow Ops.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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