1. Sam Houser, Cofounder, Rockstar Games
Critics may decry Sam Houser's "brutally violent" and "sexually explicit" world in Grand Theft Auto, but there's no denying his genius. Gamers can go anywhere and talk to anyone—all while punching and shooting and driving through windows. The most recent GTA sold a record 6 million copies in its first week.
2. Jenova Chen, Creative director, thatgamecompany
If video games can be art, the proof is likely to come from Jenova Chen. He explores the expressive possibilities of game design by tapping into emotions rather than relying on virtual violence. His latest PlayStation release, Flower, lets players experience what it's like to be—you got it—a flower petal.
3. Fumito Ueda, director, Team ICO
Ueda and his Team ICO became critical darlings with 2001's Ico, a PlayStation 2 game in which a boy protects and guides a young woman through a cursed castle. But it wasn't until Shadow of the Colossus, an immersive giant-hunting adventure set in a bleak landscape, that ICO found popular success. The Last Guardian, Ueda's next title was recently unveiled and the trailer displays Ueda's ability to pull heartstrings.
4. Jane McGonigal, Director of game R&D, Institute for the Future
Jane McGonigal has become the high priestess of alternate realities. Last year, she unleashed Superstruct, a real-time massively multiplayer forecasting game that imagines the world of 2019, "23 years before human extinction." It asked members of the public to collaborate on devising ways around that grim, and potentially very real, future. "I'm interested in using games to figure out how can we intervene now," says McGonigal.
5. David Cage, Chief executive officer and director, Quantic Dream
David Cage and French developer Quantic Dream pushed the envelope in mature and cinematic storytelling with Fahrenheit—scenes featuring sex were removed from the American version, Indigo Prophecy. Cage's follow-up, Heavy Rain, continues his push toward serious gaming with a story about a serial killer, which asks the player: "How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?"
6. Kazunori Yamauchi, President, Polyphony Digital
The 42-year-old Japanese game designer is on the fast track: He has created eight Gran Turismo games, attracting a cult following among PlayStation users. Yamauchi's games are dazzling in their design and striking in their detail, with licensed reproductions of actual cars and a choice of tracks from around the globe.
7. Bart Decrem, Chief executive officer, Tapulous
Three days after its release last July, Tap Tap Revenge—an iPhone game that's basically Dance Dance Revolution except that you tap your fingers to a song rather than dance to it—shot to No. 1 among free game downloads on iTunes. Decrem has since partnered with labels (EMI) as well as individual acts (Christmas With Weezer, anyone?) to create band-branded apps.
8. Keita Takahashi, Game Designer, Namco Bandai
Katamari Damacy features a tiny alien that rolls random junk up into balls of increasing size—from coins and candy to buildings and mountains—creating a unique experience that caught on and spawned several sequels. Creator Keita Takahashi followed that up with Noby Noby Boy, for the PlayStation Network, where you play a worm-like creature that stretches longer and longer.
9. Neil Young, Chief executive officer, ngmoco
Neil Young left gaming giant Electronic Arts to create a small developer of iPhone games. Their squishy platformer Rolando, was one of the first titles to demonstrate the iPhone's gaming chops and quickly became a hit. Since then, addictive titles like WordFu (you may have seen scores posted to Twitter) has cemented ngmoco as one of the premier game companies on the iPhone.
10. Dylan Cuthbert, President, Q-Games
Since 2007's PixelJunk Racers, Dylan Cuthbert and his Q-Games have been releasing fun and beautiful games for the PlayStation Network. Whether it is the watercolor psychedelics of PixelJunk Eden, or the popular tower-defense title PixelJunk Monsters, the developer's games have fostered a cult following. The fourth game in the series, PixelJunk Shooter, will be released this fall.
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