I’m going to give my pick to Rockstar, with some caveats. They are my favorite studio (technically group of studios) not because they are known for the best of business practices or the most affable relationship with their consumers, the press, or each other. But the open worlds they create in their games are so unlike what any other developers can do. They are not without fault, and certainly, GTAV had some design problems, but the worlds Rockstar makes have such attention to detail and character in both a macro and micro level that is unparalleled. GTAV is STILL topping sales charts years after its release because Rockstar was able to craft one of the best, most versatile virtual large scale playgrounds ever. And they’ve been doing this since 2001. The wild west of Red Dead Redemption is still one of the most beautiful game worlds I’ve seen, and GTA IV’s Liberty City more accurately captured the look and feel of New York than Warch Dogs 2 was able to do with San Francisco 8 years later (and Watch Dogs 2 created a really good San Francisco!). I play a lot of different games these days. But Rockstar titles are the only ones I still get that light-headed anticipation for. They may not make the very best games, but I’ve yet to see a more fully realized game world from anyone else.
Although Bioware will always hold a special place in my heart for making some of my favorite games, right now I am infatuated with Naughty Dog. Recently inspired by Crash N. Sane, I went back and played the original titles on PlayStation and they still hold up as excellent platformers. Their more recent titles, like The Last of Us and Uncharted, represent a turning point where they’ve embraced mature stories and darker characters while still maintaining that sense of childlike fun present in their old games. It’s a strange juxtaposition to be smiling during a fungal apocalypse, but somehow, Naughty Dog managed to make it possible. I am emphatically excited about The Last of Us Part II (a game I was, admittedly, initially against) and if Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is any indication, the series is going to be just fine without Nathan Drake.
This is a tough choice. Nintendo is an obvious answer for sure. It really feels like they’re growing into a new golden age of creativity which is super exciting. However, I’m gonna go with CD Projekt Red for this one. The Witcher series started out as a niche RPG on the PC and went on to become one of the biggest and most acclaimed franchises in modern gaming. This was due pretty much entirely to CD Projekt Red’s tireless dedication. After a split with publisher Atari, the studio became independent, releasing the Witcher 2 and the Witcher 3 themselves, the latter of these developed with a self-funded budget of $81 million. That’s incredible, especially because The Witcher series has the kind of attention to detail you’d expect from an indie team working on a small game, not a 250+ person studio working on a massive game world. CD Projekt Red is a model for what you’d want any developer to be: talented, independent, and absolutely dedicated to their fans.
If you’d asked me this a year ago I would have emphatically told you my favorite developer was Blizzard. Overwatch consumed my life at the time and I loved how Blizzard consistently supported their games and their fans. This year, however, I have once again been swept off my feet by Nintendo. The Switch is my new favorite toy and the vast majority of games I’m most excited for are first party Nintendo titles. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was our March Game of the Month, ARMS inspired me to go to an in-person tournament to compete, and Splatoon 2’s community makes me feel like I’m a part of something larger than myself. As I enjoy Mario + Rabbids (I know this was developed by Ubisoft Paris), I also look forward to Super Mario Odyssey and Metroid: Samus Returns. Nintendo managed to recapture my heart after they lost my trust with the disappointing Wii U.