Today’s massive gaming franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed are the results of hundreds of people pouring years of their life into a single project. When looking at the medium’s short history, it’s amazing to discover that some of today’s most popular series were actually the products of teams made up of only a handful of people. Some games and franchises come from humble beginnings, like the ones listed below that were all made by fewer than four individuals. Each has seen massive success in the industry, allowing its creators the opportunity to either build more ideas or simply pay the bills at home.
Great Games Made by Few People: Minecraft
Minecraft has become something akin to a cultural phenomenon, introducing a whole generation of children to the gaming industry. Initially released on PC, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices back in 2011, the title can now be found on virtually every popular gaming device in existence. Having sold roughly 13 million copies on PC and Mac alone by 2013, it’s really no wonder why.
It’s incredible that the game was created solely by Markus “Notch” Persson, who meant for the project to only be something to flesh out his portfolio while he sought more professional work in the field. With the title becoming a massive success under Notch’s newfound company Mojang, Microsoft thought it would be wise to purchase the entity for a whopping $2.5 billion back in 2014. To say that Notch struck virtual gold is an understatement.
Great Games Made by Few People: Axiom Verge
Though Axiom Verge wasn’t met with the rampart success that Minecraft‘s enjoyed up until now, the action adventure platformer is still well regarded for adhering to the atmosphere and grueling difficulty of yesteryear while introducing unique mechanics – like its gunplay – that set it apart from smaller budget Metroid-likes funded by multi-million dollar publishers. Tom Happ is the sole developer of the title and even went so far as to compose the music and concept art for the game. It took a whopping five years to make and can now be played on Wii U, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Great Games Made by Few People: Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat has remained a staple of the fighting game community since its inception on arcades back in 1992 and consoles in 1993. The brutal death sequences and combo-based gameplay are among some of the game’s hallmarks that keep players invested time and time again. It’s hard to believe that this massive franchise came to light through the work of only four individuals: Ed Boon, John Tobias, John Vogel, and Dan Forden. Each man is well regarded in the industry today, and it’s quite easy to see why.
Great Games Made by Few People: Braid
Braid was one of the first games to become synonymous with the indie gaming scene. It proved to the industry that people didn’t need to join the ranks of some the medium’s most distinguished companies in order to have their dreams of game development manifest into reality. It was the prime example of why the industry needed this movement to exist, too, as Braid introduced some clever gameplay mechanics revolving around the careful use of time.
The game was made by only one person, Jonathan Blow, and accrued a number of accolades upon its release, including the prestigious game design award at the 2006 Game Developer’s Conference. It’s available today for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Great Games Made by Few People: Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley released in 2016 after its sole creator, Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone, worked on the title every day for ten hours throughout the course of four years. The beloved farm simulator sold over 550,000 copies on Steam in its first two and a half weeks on the market alone. It’s not hard to see why, as the game miraculously blends genres in such a way that can keep players engaged for hours on end.
Though its unmistakably inspired by the Harvest Moon franchise, Stardew Valley somehow manages to outdo its inspiration by introducing complex and endearing characters. If you have yet to experience what this addictive indie gem has to offer, do yourself a favor and download a copy straight away.
Great Games Made by Few People: Rollercoaster Tycoon
Strangely enough, the massively popular franchise that is Rollercoaster Tycoon was started by one man named Chris Sawyer in 1999. Though Sawyer frequently talked to friends in the theme park industry when designing the game, its success was his own merit, especially the game’s capacity to include expansion parks at an additional charge. Seeing as how the first game accrued a whopping $180 million, it’s no wonder several sequels have since been made, with the franchise’s most recent iteration being 2016’s Rollercoaster Tycoon World.
Great Games Made by Few People: Tetris
The most influential puzzle game of all time was made by one man. Alexey Pajitnov created Tetris on an Electronika 60 computer in what was then known as the USSR. Working at the Academy of Science, Pajitnov was charged with designing computer software to test the capabilities of new hardware. He was inspired to create Tetris by applying the fundamentals of pentominos puzzles to the game.
What resulted was an addictive experience that immersed practically everyone he introduced the title to. Unfortunately, Pajitnov didn’t make any money off of the game for its ten years on the market, as it was then property of the Soviet government. The man did wind up getting the royalties he deserved, however, and undoubtedly enjoys a good life today thanks to the times he spent tinkering around while on the job.
The games above prove that it truly only takes one person to leave an impression on an industry that is still relatively young today. Whether it be clever gameplay design or addictive programming, there are multiple facets to make a game stand out from all the rest and make an impact in the medium as we know it. Today’s budding developers will assuredly make a mark on gaming for years to come. The rest of us will just have to patiently sit back and watch it unfold.