Despite the fact that many people immediately associate Silicon Valley as the go-to technology center for the Bay Area, a multitude of top-notch game developers are spread out throughout the entire region. Although the area doesn’t have many video games set in San Francisco, the region is certainly blessed to have some astounding game developers working here.
Many people may unfairly write off Zynga as a cash-grab social media developer, but it is unfair to deny the amount of influence they have had on the video game industry at large. With its headquarters on 8th Street near the 80 Freeway, Zynga has single handily help create a multi-million dollar industry with hit games such as FarmVille and CityVille. Although they have received criticism due to their games originality and quality, they have become one of the leading mobile game developers in the world and heavily influenced the free to play model that is currently sweeping the video game industry.
This indie darling studio was founded in 2000 by video game legend Tim Schafer after his departure from influential studio LucasArts. Double Fine has created a reputation as a company that creates remarkably unique games that mix and match genre expectations. Games like Psychonauts and Brütal Legend have enamored critics and fans alike but the studio has tragically not seen much commercial success with their game releases. Double Fine is also important because it was one of the first major companies to embrace crowdfunding. They successful created their game Broken Age through crowdfunding, alone. Schafer’s stewardship over the company continues to inspire fans and rewards them with some of the coolest video games in the entire industry.
LucasArts. With one word you can easily conjure up a mammoth tidal wave of nostalgia for video game fans that grew up with their seminal games in the 1990s and 2000s. Founded by George Lucas in 1982 as Lucasfilms Games, the company quickly grew and became one of the largest video game developer, publisher, and distributor in the United States. With its multitude of excellent video game titles, including its many Star Wars games, LucasArts transformed the video game landscape forever. Sadly, in 2013 the company was essentially shut down and turned into a small team so that Disney could still publish games under its banner. Although we won’t see any new LucasArts developed games, we can always play the recent remaster of Day of The Tentacle by Double Fine.
One of the newest and most promising studios on this list is San Francisco’s Campo Santo, which was founded by Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman, previous developers for Telltale games. Campo Santo just released their first game Firewatch, which has players dive into the Wyoming Wilderness in 1989 as they explore the life of a lonely fire lookout. The game was released on Feb. 9 2016, and was quickly praised for its stunning visuals, twisting story and unique gameplay. Despite not having the tenure that most of the other studios have on this list, Campo Santo stands out as a company to keep your eye on.
We all know and love Lara Croft, but did you know that the vast majority of the Tomb Raider games were built from the ground up in Redwood City? Crystal Dynamics was founded in 1992 and has created over 36 games in its 20 plus year lifespan. Even though they are primarily known for creating the Tomb Raider property, they originally gained fame for their Gex series. In recent years, the company has reorganized its focus onto Tomb Raider only projects and have changed the tone to fit a more modern, realistic Lara Croft. With their last game Rise of the Tomb Raider being released in 2015 to critical acclaim, the company is only getting better and is creating an action-adventure series to rival PlayStations Uncharted games.
Originally known as Electronic Arts Redwood Shores, Visceral Games is one of EA’s most acclaimed in-house studios. The company mostly started out creating James Bond and Lord of the Rings titles but quickly garnered attention for their intense, horrifying space thriller Dead Space. The game went on to dazzle fans with its intense scares and was heavily influenced by films such as Alien, The Thing and Event Horizon. The company was eventually rebranded as Visceral Games in the early 2010s and just released Battlefield Hardline, the last major release in the EA Battlefield series.
Supergiant Games may consist of a small team but their games certainly have a bite to them. The company is based in San Jose and was founded in 2009 by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, former developers from the Command and Conquer series. Despite not having a tremendous amount of games released, they do have two fantastic indie games under their belt. Their first game Bastion was released in 2011 and has players controlling ‘the Kid’ as he travels through a floating fantasy world fighting enemies and collecting special shards to power the titular bastion. Their most recent game was 2014s Transistor, a science fiction role-playing game where you control a woman named Red as she wields the sword like weapon ‘transistor’.
Linden Lab doesn’t really make games in a traditional manner but attempts to mimic real life in a virtual 3-D setting. Based primarily in San Francisco and founded in 1999, Linden Lab has made a name for itself by developing the online virtual world of Second Life. In Second Life you control an avatar and interact with other players in real time. But, unlike most games, there is no real objective or plot to speak of. Instead the game encourages the player to create and interact within a world of their own liking. The studio is famed for its uncommon work structure and its projects echo that uniqueness. Despite not really being much of game developer in the traditional sense, Linden Lab certainly deserves a spot on this list.
The Sims was the breakout hit for Maxis that helped launched them into video game stardom. Located in Redwood City, Maxis has created a name for itself as the go-to company for creating exciting, fresh simulations of real life. The Sims was published in 2000 and has gone on to become one of the highest grossing PC video games of all time. Knowing they had a major hit on their hands they quickly expanded the Sim property and developed games such as SimCity, SimCoaster and SimEarth. In recent years the company has garnered some ire for their poor handling of 2013s SimCity release and its strange always-on internet requirement. Despite this, Maxis still remains a huge force in the video game industry and has helped shape countless peoples childhoods and lives.
The last studio on our list is San Rafael’s Telltale Games which helped revolutionize episodic gaming and rejuvenate the failing adventure game genre. The company has quickly expanded and created major hits based on The Walking Dead, Borderlands, Fables and Game of Thrones. Telltale is also one of the most unique developers on this list because of their tendency to focus on other companies IPs and work on multiple games at the same time. This development practice makes them more akin to a television studio house and has elevated them as the go-to team for adventure titles.