If you were given a trophy and instructed to award it to the Most Influential Person in Video Game Development, who would get the honor?
You can probably grab a few names off the top of your head: Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, Carol Shaw, Gunpei Yokoi, Richard “Lord British” Garriott, Toru Iwatani–the list goes on and on. After all, games have evolved at such a remarkable pace that men and women are always making industry-changing contributions to the pastime.
Don’t strain yourself over your choices, though, because a decision was already made amongst 1,000 games industry executives at the 2011 London Games Conference. The most influential person in the industry, according to the surveyed attendees, is the late Steve Jobs, followed by Gabe Newell (co-founder of Valve), Shigeru Miyamoto (developer of Mario, Donkey Kong, and others), Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web), and Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook guy).
Again, so many men and women have made contributions to gaming that it’s difficult to mark one individual’s importance above another person’s. That said, and with nothing but respect for Jobs, he was not the most influential person in the games industry. His contributions to modern communication, tech toys and entertainment are unparalleled, but the iPhone’s impact on gaming can’t be placed above the people who first got us to hang out in arcades and buy home consoles. Shouldn’t our list of influential developers include a certain gentleman with the surname “Bushnell?”
The results of the London Games Conference survey are a decent tally of industry people who have had huge influence over the past five years or so. Sure, we play social games on Facebook. We play them on the Internet. We play them on the iPhone. But that’s all very new. We started playing Mario and Zelda games almost thirty years ago, and new installments still command a huge audience and great review scores thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto and his team.
If we really want to give a shout-out to the person who can arguably take the most credit for the state of gaming today, why not acknowledge the late Gunpei Yokoi? Yokoi invented the handheld Game and Watch games for Nintendo when he observed bored Japanese commuters fiddling with their calculators, and realized the hours we spend on trains and buses are ideal gaming time. The Game Boy followed, and the rest is history. Now, many of us get in most of our gaming when we’re in transit, and Yokoi is responsible for a big part of that.
None of this is to suggest that Jobs doesn’t deserve any recognition for his own contributions to the video game industry. The iPhone has irrevocably changed the portable gaming scene and achieved what Sony, Sega, Atari, and other competitors have tried to do for decades, with little success: Make Nintendo sweat. The iPhone is fierce competition for the Nintendo line of portable game systems, yet Steve Jobs wasn’t actively trying to go head-to-head with Nintendo. That’s a pretty impressive achievement for Apple.
There’s no argument that Jobs deserves his recorded place as a founding father of influence. But at the top? No.