100 of (my) Best PC Games: Post Mortem

Over the past few months, I’ve spent some time highlighting my top 100 games, as well as a few that just missed out. Obviously, everyone’s top 100 will be different, and list like this are likely to say a lot about a person as a gamer; these sorts of lists will also tell us a lot about the state of the industry over the years.

In this article, I’m going to look back at my top 100, and see what my choice of games says about me — as a gamer and as a person. I’m also going to look at what my list says about the industry over the years. In looking at these stats, I’ve decided to include the “honorable mentions” from my previous article — these games have had enough influence over me that they are worth considering.

A few notes on the data behind the stats:

  • Genre: As the games industry has evolved over the years, the term “genre” has become less and less relevant. Games these days are often a hybrid of RPG, action, adventure, strategy, etc. So, when choosing the “genre” for a game, I’ve stuck with “industry accepted” terms. For multi-genre games, I’ve picked the genre that is the most dominant influence, except in cases where the hybrid is a well-established genre in its own right (such as Action-RPG or Action-Strategy).
  • Multiple Developer/Publishers: Many games have multiple developers and/or publishers, and where relevant, I’ve listed all contributors to the game’s original release (and not any subsequent rereleases).
  • Developer and Publisher names: Over time, developers and publishers change names, for various reasons — such as DMA Design being incorporated into Rockstar, or Lucasfilm Games changing their name to LucasArts. In these cases, I’ve used the name that the studio is currently most commonly known by.
  • “Independent”: “Indie” is a bit of a political term these days, and many big publishers try to cash in on the associated “street cred” of the term. So for the sake of clarity, my definition of an “indie” title is this — a studio that only publishes internally developed games, and is not publicly listed. For example, Devolver Digital (publishes games from multiple devs) and CD Projekt Red(publicly listed) are not indie, but Playdead is.

Disclaimer: I’m not a data analyst, and I’m currently writing this while under the influence of painkillers for a sore back (Excel and Codeine is an interesting combo). So don’t expect this analysis to pass any rigorous statistical validation.

Games by Year

I can’t say I’m surprised by this — I’ve often stated that the late 90s is PC gaming’s “Golden Era”, as have many others. No less than 46 games on my list were released in the years 1997–1999.

Top 10 Genres

Again, possibly not too surprising — shooters make up a huge chunk of PC games, and they were one of the predominant genres of the late 90s. RPGs coming in at second is, for me, not a surprise; its one of my favourite genres. I’d wager that spacesims rank a bit higher for me than most as well.

Developers and Publishers

For the developers, the crown was evenly divided between three developers, while a handful of others had multiple games:

  • Five games in list: BioWare, LucasArts, id Software
  • Four games in list: Blizzard, Epic Games, Valve
  • Three games in list: Apogee/3D Realms, Bethesda, Bullfrog, Looking Glass Studios, Remedy Entertainment, Rockstar
  • Two games in list: Black Isle Studios, Firaxis, Maxis, Obsidian Entertainment, Origin Systems, Playdead, Totally Games, Digital Extremes

No real surprises there — BioWare has a long history of exceptional RPGs, LucasArts has the adventure and Star Wars games covered, while id Software has innovated over and over. But otherwise, its a fairly even distribution.

One point to note — several developers were founded by employees of previously dissolved studios. For example, a significant number of Black Isle Studios employees went on to form Obsidian Entertainment — taking this into account, Black Isle/Obsidian would have four games, bumping it to the top of the list.

Meanwhile, for the publishers, the story is quite a bit different, and there is a clear winner. Much as it pains me to say it, that winner is Electronic Arts.

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This hurts me…
  • Fifteen games in list: Electronic Arts
  • Eleven games in list: Independent releases
  • Ten games in list: LucasArts

After LucasArts, several publishers had six or fewer games. The Electronic Arts dominance is maybe not unexpected (they own everything, and have done so for a long time), but I didn’t expect they would win by that margin. To be fair, Electronic Arts has not always been associated with brazen corporate monetisation, and there was a time in the 80s and 90s when Electronic Arts was associated with polished, high-quality games.

Genres by Developer and Publisher

Looking at the top 10 genres, some clear trends emerge — trends probably already known. All five of id Software’s games are shooters, while all five of BioWare’s games are RPGs. That trend plays out throughout the list, with most devs who produced multiple games usually favouring a genre.

LucasArts was a little bit of an outlier — as a developer they had a racing game, two adventures and two shooters. Looking at the broader LucasArts picture, however, two clear trends emerge — adventure games and Star Wars games.

When it comes to publishers however, no clear trends emerged, although given the limited data set, this was also somewhat expected.

What did I learn?

I was born in the 80s, and grew up in the 1990s, with my formative gaming years taking place from the mid 90s to the early 2000s. As you can see in the data, my gaming tastes skew heavily towards this time period. There is a strong argument that the “best games” are always the ones you play in your teenage years.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors at play — the late 90s is when 3D acceleration emerged, and when the internet was booming. The Dotcom boom saw massive investment in anything computer-related, including game development. The relative infancy of the industry, combined with exploding budgets, led to developers having unparalleled creative freedom. I could write an entire article on the significance of this golden era (I probably will soon), but its something worth noting.

So, that brings me to the end of a truly epic project — I don’t think I’ll be attempting it again any time soon (I’m not a fan of lists anyway). Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope you’ve found a reason to discover a new game, or perhaps revisit an old classic. Thanks!

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At some point in about 1989 I played my first videogames on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This was the beginning of a lifetime obsession with games...

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