Who Is The Greatest PC Developer Of All Time?

Ask that question 100 times and you'll get 100 different answers. Lucasarts. Sierra. Bethesda. Valve. Westwood. Ask me 100 times, though, and I'll give you the same answer 100 times running: Origin.

See, while I applaud "specialist" developers - those like Valve who continually progress the one genre or series - to me, if you're going to talk about the greatest PC developer of all time, it needs to be one that has proven itself across multiple generations, genres and series. Why? Because if a developer can come top of the class in more than one kind of game, it shows that there's brilliance running right through the company, not just in the engine room or art department.

It's why a studio like Irrational, which has brought us everything from Freedom Force to System Shock 2 to BioShock is so revered. The same can be said of Bullfrog, which was able to jump from Theme Park to Magic Carpet to Syndicate without missing a beat.

While I have great respect for all the developers named above, though, none can match the standards set by Origin Systems.

Origin was established all the way back in 1983 by the creator of the Ultima series of role-playing games, Richard Garriott, along with his brother Robert, father Owen and a fourth partner, Chuck Bueche. The studio's first game was actually the third in the Ultima series, after the first two had been published by Sierra.

Based in Austin, Texas, Origin would over the next 21 years produce some of the most beloved and successful video games to ever grace the PC, like the famous Ultima series of role-playing games (including Ultima Online, the world's first "big time" massively multiplayer online game), the Wing Commander franchise (including the excellent Privateer spinoffs), the "Strike" line of theatrical flight sims and the two Crusader games.

Across these games and more, Origin released critically acclaimed first-person shooters, role-playing games, flight sims and space shooters, and at one stage or another was home to famed developers like Richard Garriott (Ultima), Chris Roberts (Wing Commander), Raph Koster (Everquest II), John Romero (Doom) and Warren Spector (Deus Ex).

Sadly, Origin is no more. On the back of a string of successes in the early 1990s, the developer was bought by Electronic Arts. Rising development costs for Origin's ambitious games, the cancellation of several key projects and the departure of key personnel like Garriott around the turn of millennium spelled doom for the developer, though, and by 2000 it had ceased to exist in any form other than as a support mechanism for Ultima Online.

Electronic Arts finally wound the studio up in 2004, and has sat on most of Origin's properties (with the exception of an awful Wing Commander game) ever since. In a poignant touch, the last man to be let go from the studio was producer Jeff Hillhouse, the first person hired by Origin back in 1983.

A sad fate for such a storied developer, but an even sadder one for a succession of franchises that dominated the marketplace for so many years and now find themselves locked in a basement somewhere underneath Electronic Arts HQ.

That's my pick, then. What's yours?


    I'm boring, Valve is the best, not only for their games, but for their dedication to the platform and the fact they constantly prove everyone wrong.

    I'd pick Blizzard. I've enjoyed every game of theirs and have yet to find one I dislike

    Chris Taylor from Gas Powered Games although his best was done at Cavedog when they released the original Total Annihilation.

    Why do talented developers sign on with hacks like EA and Activision?

    id Software.

    I'd say Valve right now cuz they seem to be the only developer who gives a damn about making PC games at the moment. You could say Blizzard for the same reason but I'm leaning over to Valve because of how they managed to successfully deliever Steam. Face it, who doesn't like buying PC games for the American price as opposed to the over the top Aussie one (with the exception of those stupid regionally priced games by most of the major developers). Not to mention the outrageous sales they hold on a regular basis.

    Tough question.

    I could say Westwood, since they practically invented RTS (Dune II), then came damn close to perfecting it (Red Alert 2).

    I could say LucasArts, since they proved that games didn't need to be written by the programmers, and that a good story has just as much value as good gameplay.

    I could say Epic, who while have since deviated to consoles, have proved that the biggest asset PC gaming has is it's modding community. Just look up the 'make something unreal' contest.

    I could say Valve, who as well as making some of the greatest FPS's of all time, have proved that digital distribution not only works, but works amazingly well, and that free support for games doesn't have to stop after release.

    I could say Blizzard, who have turned games from children's playthings into competitive sports, and are one of the few big dev's still around that is soley focusing on the PC.

    I could say Bioware, who have given us fantastically deep RPG after fantastically deep RPG. They've also made star wars fiction that's better than the prequel trilogy.

    It's too hard to single out just ONE developer, but gun-to-my-head? Valve.

    While a lot of the legacy developers you've listed are fantastic and have had incredibly contributions, Valve is the only one that's still around, still constantly listens to it's fanbase, still vividly supports the modding community, still doesn't try to nickle and dime us to death, and still puts out quality game after quality game.


    ID software for sure

    PCPowerplay just did a good article on Origin too...

    i would say Id, sure they havent done anything new but they pretty much made fps's the pc genre and was the fps devs to my knowledge that had multiplayer

    HOLY CRAP! I totally agree with you.

    I had no idea how many of those games that I played were done by Origin...

    I fell in love with the Wing Commander games and have had a love affair with space combat flight sims ever since.

    Speaking of Bullfrog, what did they morph into, if anything?

    Man, imagine what could be done with a Syndicate game today...

    Thanks for the mammaries!

      Bullfrog are still Bullfrog, aren't they? They got bought out by MS, these days they're making the Fable series.

    aww man, Strike commander was awesome... it was the Original ace combat i swear.

    Privateer, now theres a property that needs to make a come back. That game consumed me during the 90's

    Agreed. WC & Crusader games pretty much seal it.

    You also forgot to mention that Origin were one of the best at cross platform development.

    I played a lot of my earliest games on the C64 - Space Rogue remains one of my favourite games of all time to this day. But it was released on 5 systems. No one can match that anymore.

    Great article. Personally I think Through the Looking Glass was the greatest of all time. Origin are a good choice though.

    More articles like this please.

      Looking Glass were awesome, but Origin wins if you ask me.

      Esp. as there were a few significant ex-Origin staff working there ;)

    How could Westwood or Bethesda be even mentioned in the same sentence as the others.

    Black Isle.

    Origin is a very good choice.

    The original System Shock is one of the most influential games ever made. It quite literally is Deus Ex before Deus Ex (many of DX's game mechanics come straight from System Shock; the Augmentation system is pretty similar to System Shock's Neurograft Hardware pickups) and even today can be downright scary in spite of the technical obsolescence.

    I would strongly object to Id Software being considered the greatest developer ever. Again, System Shock was Deus Ex before Deus Ex. Id's games unfortunately were simplistic blast-fests dressed up with great technology. It took until System Shock 2 and the original Half-Life for first person gaming to ever progress beyond the basic Doom/Quake template.

    In short, the popularity of Id's games enshrined an elevation of style (and 3d engines) over substance that took at least a decade to overcome.

    Then again, it could be argued that even today this pattern continues because the mainstream-ization of gaming has resulted in a massive influx of mass-market gamers that only want to play the latest CoD's deathmatch.


    Valve. Did the impossible.
    Digital distribution.
    DRM done right.
    Cloud saves/settings done right.
    Source engine: Multiplatform (PC, consoles and a genuine WTH awesome moment: the Mac

    Don't forget with Steam there are hundreds of yesturyear games now available for purchase through the versatility of the distribution. Want Myst or LucasArts game classics? It's there.

      Seconded, Valve #1.
      With runners up ID, Blizzard and LucasArts. Kudos to EA & Activision, who have a lower slot on my ladder due to the recent FPS wars they've been having.

    I miss Wing Commander :(

    I really wish someone would do a decent space-sim on the PC again, so I could pull out my old joystick and play again

    Something along the lines of a new Wing Commander or X-wing vs. Tie Fighter would do very nicely...

    Bioforge was an awesome game, up until the end... or should I say lack of...

    Wing Commander 3, Bioforge and the Crusader series did it for me...

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now