The 10 Most Important Individuals in Gaming

When considering your favorite games, it's all too easy to ignore the people behind them in favor of a title's own merits. But video games are the culmination of years of work by dozens and hundreds of people. It's rare that a single person will be credited with the creation or popularization of an entire genre or franchise, but when it does happen, those names tend to stick with us. We pay attention to what they're doing, and their projects generate more hype than they generally know what to do with.

Obviously, there are more than ten individuals that really pop out of the woodwork in the gaming industry, but I believe these ten to be worth mentioning, just as much for their overall influence as for their current activities.

10. Peter Molyneux - Fable

Molyneux is a visionary of the most controversial kind, as his games rarely live up to player expectations. That's not to say they aren't good, but Molyneux runs his mouth so much that we usually end up expecting more than can possibly be delivered. However, this hasn't stopped him in the past, and we hope it doesn't stop him in the future. Molyneux's credits include the Fable franchise, Populous (the original god game), Black and White, and the creepy Milo demo for Microsoft's Kinect.

Molyneux's awards include recognition from both the French and British governments, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards.

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9. Satoshi Tajiri - Pokemon

Few game series have been as original and sold as many copies as Pokemon. From its humble beginnings on the primitive Game Boy to its current status as one of the biggest franchises of any medium, Pokemon was born from a single unique concept: "Gotta Catch 'Em All." Boy, did it stick. Tajiri, inspired by his childhood escapades catching bugs, developed the first Pokemon game over a period of six years, during which several employees quit and he didn't earn a dime from development. He expected the game to bomb, so imagine his surprise when it became clear how successful his creation would be.

Tajiri's been included on lists of the most influential developers in publications including IGN, Electronic Gaming Monthly and Edge.

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8. Sid Meier - Civilization

Sid Meier's creation of the Civilization franchise makes him the granddaddy of turn-based strategy games. True, the genre has waned somewhat in popularity, unless you count Sid Meier's Civilization V, which blew all kinds of minds last year. Even though sometimes other main designers fill his seat, the games are still stamped with his name. And that's got to count for something.

His awards include a Lifetime Achievements Award at the 2008 Game Developer's Conference.

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7. Fumito Ueda - Team ICO

Though Ueda can only be credited with three games, one of which has yet to be released, his importance to the gaming world is enormous. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus stand as proof that games can be more than the sum of their parts. The two relatively simple PS2 titles have worked their way into many gamers' hearts, and for good reason. Few designers have ever managed to cram as much depth and emotion into their games as Ueda does, seemingly without effort. The Last Guardian will no doubt be one of the best games of the year, and hopefully one of the best games of all time.

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6. Ken Levine - Bioshock

As a founding member of Irrational Games, Levine has served as creative director on such games as System Shock and Bioshock, both huge innovations in their own right. Particularly in Bioshock, the marriage of the RPG and action elements as well as the incredibly well told and nuanced story can both be attributed to Levine's vision. Irrational's next game, Bioshock: Infinite, will certainly up the ante.

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5. Jonathan Blow - Braid

Jonathan Blow's Braid may be solely responsible for the burgeoning of the Xbox Live Arcade and downloadable games in general. Braid made it clear that downloadable games could be taken seriously, and that XBLA, PSN and other similar platforms could become home to well-made, unique and artistic titles. He's also a big proponent of responsible game design, which everyone should get behind. His next game, The Witness, is set to come out this year.

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4. Will Wright - The Sims

The Sims is the most popular PC franchise of all time, and it seems everyone from pre-teen girls to hardened industry vets can spend hours torturing and titillating their virtual peeps. Beyond that, Wright basically introduced simulation in games as a concept with early games like SimCity, SimEarth and SimAnt.

Wright's rewards include the Game Developers Choice Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, induction into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, and recognition by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

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3. Hironobu Sakaguchi - Final Fantasy

Sakaguchi apparently created the original Final Fantasy in a fit of desperation after all of Square's previous games were met with failure. Little did he know he would be working on the franchise and similar games for the next two decades. Sakaguchi directed the first five FF games, produced the next four, and has since been involved with other in the series and Squenix properties like Vagrant Story and Kingdom Hearts. After leaving Square, he formed developer Mistwalker and developed the much adored Lost Odyssey.

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2. John Carmack - First-Person Shooters

Carmack is a co-founder of id Software and the lead programmer on a number of incredibly influential games, including Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Without Carmack, there might not be a first-person shooter genre today. You might argue whether that would be a bad turnout given the current stagnation of the industry, but think about all the amazing games we would have missed out on if not for Carmack and the other folks at id. Carmack is currently helping to develop Rage, which hits shelves this September. If early previews are any indication, it's going to be a doozy.

Among his many awards are two Emmys. Enough said.

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1. Shigeru Miyamoto - Nintendo

Was there really any other way to end this list? Miyamoto is basically responsible for every great Nintendo franchise, and his influence can be felt across the board, in every genre and on every system of the last two decades. From his beautiful, beautiful brain sprouted such creations as Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Star Fox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Kid Icarus, Earthbound, Super Smash Bros. and countless others. His influence on the gaming industry and his importance in modern pop culture in general cannot be overstated. His work is the most widely recognized of any in the game industry, and Mario ranks right up there with Homer Simpson and Mickey Mouse. That in and of itself is awe-inspiring.

His awards are simply too numerous to count.

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Agree or disagree? Hate my guts? Be sure to let me know!

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Mike Rougeau
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