There's a conventional wisdom in the gaming industry that splits companies into haves and have-nots. There are a handful of big, successful companies, and a broad underclass of upstart outfits on their way up and stumbling giants trying to put off their inevitable demise.
For gamers who don't need to follow the financial ins-and-outs of the industry, sorting companies into a handful of categories instead of digging to see if the reality of the situation matches their perceptions can be a helpful, time-saving exercise. The thing is, sometimes the companies we consider to be big players really aren't as big as we thought. And those rising stars (or companies with flagging fortunes) may not be quite as small in stature as they first appeared.
With that in mind, we looked to rank a selection of the most influential players in the industry by the metric that most clearly indicates size: revenue. We went through each company's financial earnings reports and took the net revenues each reported for its most recently completed fiscal year, then ranked them accordingly. While the information itself was interesting, it was easy to lose any sense of perspective when faced with a table of equally unfathomable numbers. To remedy that, we decided a visual representation of the company sizes was called for, so we used the smallest company on our list, The Witcher 2 developer CD Projekt, as our baseline unit of measurement. For example, CD Projekt posted $39.36 million in net revenues for its last fiscal year, so Take-Two's $825.8 million in revenues was equivalent to a little less than 21 CD Projekts, while one could fit the Polish studio into Sony's $79.1 billion in revenues more than 2,009 times over.
That brings up a significant caveat. Like a number of companies on this list, Sony's business extends far beyond gaming. And because not all of these companies report the revenues of their gaming business separate from all other interests, we couldn't accurately limit the exercise to just game sales. That obviously means giants like Sony, Microsoft, and Time-Warner will wind up dwarfing their more gaming-focused counterparts, but it carries impacts on the smaller scale outfits as well. For example, Konami operates a series of fitness centers in Japan, while Sega Sammy manufactures pachinko machines, and Namco Bandai boasts a significant toy business built on brands like Gundam, Power Rangers, and Tamagotchi.
Even taking that into account, there were some surprises in the data. For instance:
GameStop is bigger than Nintendo. The House of Mario had a particularly rough year revenue-wise, but did you realize the specialty retailer brought in more money than Nintendo by a cool $1 billion? GameStop also brought in more than Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts combined, underscoring just how much weight the chain has to throw around when it comes to protecting its used game business.
THQ topped Take-Two. Most of the news surrounding THQ of late has been grim, but the publisher behind Saints Row and the WWE wrestling games brought in more money last year than the outfit behind Grand Theft Auto and BioShock. Of course, Take-Two didn't have major releases in either of those series last year, but L.A. Noire and NBA 2K12 are nothing to sneeze at.
Zynga's still fairly small. In 2010, a report from SharesPost put the social gaming company's total value at $5.51 billion, topping that of Electronic Arts. Despite the hype for Zynga's initial public offering, the free-to-play Facebook publisher isn't yet posting the sort of sales one might expect from such a buzz-worthy brand. However, it is growing at an impressive clip. Last year, the company posted $1.14 billion in revenues, nearly doubling the $597 million it brought in the year before.
EA and Activision Blizzard are outsized by Sega Sammy and Namco Bandai. While EA and Activision Blizzard tend to come up when gamers think of the world's biggest third-party publisher, the two Japanese publishers draw considerable income provided by pachinko, arcade operations, and toys.