The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Game Designers of all time. This list of famous American Game Designers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Game Designers.
With an HPI of 68.02, Gabe Newell is the most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 50 different languages on wikipedia.
Gabe Logan Newell (nicknamed Gaben, born November 3, 1962) is an American businessman and the co-founder and president of the video game developer and digital distribution company Valve. Newell was educated at Davis Senior High School in Davis, California, and attended Harvard University in the early 1980s. He dropped out to join Microsoft, where he helped create the first iterations of the Windows operating system. With Mike Harrington, he left Microsoft in 1996 to found Valve. Harrington left in 2000, leaving Newell as the sole owner. Newell led development of Valve's digital distribution service Steam, which launched in 2003 and controlled most of the market for downloaded PC games by 2011. He is one of the wealthiest people in the US, holding a net worth of approximately $4 billion as of 2020.
With an HPI of 65.82, Jeff Kinney is the 2nd most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.
Jeffrey Patrick Kinney (born February 19, 1971) is an American author and cartoonist, best known for the children's book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He also created the child-oriented website Poptropica.
With an HPI of 62.35, Steve Jackson is the 3rd most famous American Game Designer. Her biography has been translated into 17 different languages.
Steve Jackson (born c. 1953) is an American game designer. His notable creations include the role-playing game GURPS and the card game Munchkin.
With an HPI of 60.05, Lizzie Magie is the 4th most famous American Game Designer. Her biography has been translated into 15 different languages.
Elizabeth J. Phillips (née Magie; May 9, 1866 – March 2, 1948) was an American game designer, writer, feminist, and Georgist. She invented The Landlord's Game, the precursor to Monopoly, to illustrate teachings of the progressive era economist Henry George.
With an HPI of 59.83, Gary Gygax is the 5th most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.
Ernest Gary Gygax ( GY-gaks; July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008) was an American game designer and author best known for co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) with Dave Arneson. In the 1960s, Gygax created an organization of wargaming clubs and founded the Gen Con gaming convention. In 1971, he helped develop Chainmail, a miniatures wargame based on medieval warfare. He co-founded the company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR, Inc.) with childhood friend Don Kaye in 1973. The following year, he and Arneson created D&D, which expanded on Gygax's Chainmail and included elements of the fantasy stories he loved as a child. In the same year, he founded The Dragon, a magazine based around the new game. In 1977, Gygax began work on a more comprehensive version of the game, called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax designed numerous manuals for the game system, as well as several pre-packaged adventures called "modules" that gave a person running a D&D game (the "Dungeon Master") a rough script and ideas on how to run a particular gaming scenario. In 1983, he worked to license the D&D product line into the successful D&D cartoon series. After leaving TSR in 1986 over issues with its new majority owner, Gygax continued to create role-playing game titles independently, beginning with the multi-genre Dangerous Journeys in 1992. He designed another gaming system called Lejendary Adventure, released in 1999. In 2005, Gygax was involved in the Castles & Crusades role-playing game, which was conceived as a hybrid between the third edition of D&D and the original version of the game conceived by Gygax. Gygax was married twice and had six children. In 2004, Gygax suffered two strokes and narrowly avoided a subsequent heart attack; he was then diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm and died in March 2008.
With an HPI of 58.98, Will Wright is the 6th most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.
William Ralph Wright (born January 20, 1960) is an American video game designer and co-founder of the former game development company Maxis, and then part of Electronic Arts (EA). In April 2009, he left EA to run Stupid Fun Club Camp, an entertainment think tank in which Wright and EA are principal shareholders.The first computer game Wright designed was Raid on Bungeling Bay in 1984, but it was SimCity that brought him to prominence. The game was released by Maxis, a company Wright formed with Jeff Braun, and he built upon the game's theme of computer simulation with numerous other titles including SimEarth and SimAnt. Wright's greatest success to date comes from being the original designer for The Sims. The game spawned multiple sequels, including The Sims 2, The Sims 3, and The Sims 4 and expansion packs, and Wright has earned many awards for his work. His latest work, Spore, was released in September 2008 and features gameplay based upon the model of evolution and scientific advancement. The game sold 406,000 copies within three weeks of its release.
With an HPI of 56.47, John Carmack is the 7th most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.
John D. Carmack II (born August 20, 1970) is an American computer programmer, video game developer and engineer. He co-founded the video game company id Software and was the lead programmer of its games Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, and their sequels. Carmack made innovations in 3D computer graphics, such as his Carmack's Reverse algorithm for shadow volumes. In 2013, he resigned from id to work full-time at Oculus VR, where he served as CTO and later Consulting CTO in 2019.
With an HPI of 55.91, John Romero is the 8th most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 28 different languages.
Alfonso John Romero (born October 28, 1967) is an American director, designer, programmer, and developer in the video game industry. He is best known as a co-founder of id Software and designer for many of their games, including Wolfenstein 3D, Dangerous Dave, Hexen, Doom, Doom II and Quake. His game designs and development tools, along with new programming techniques created and implemented by id Software's lead programmer John D. Carmack, led to a mass popularization of the first-person shooter, or FPS, in the 1990s. He is credited with coining the FPS multiplayer term "deathmatch".
With an HPI of 55.11, Roberta Williams is the 9th most famous American Game Designer. Her biography has been translated into 20 different languages.
Roberta Williams (born February 16, 1953) is an American video game designer, writer, and a co-founder of Sierra On-Line (later known as Sierra Entertainment), who developed her first game while living in Simi Valley, California. She is most famous for her work in the field of graphic adventure games with titles such as Mystery House, the King's Quest series, and Phantasmagoria. She is married to Ken Williams and retired in 1999. Roberta Williams was one of the most influential PC game designers of the 1980s and 1990s, and has been credited with creating the graphic adventure genre.
With an HPI of 55.07, Ron Gilbert is the 10th most famous American Game Designer. His biography has been translated into 24 different languages.
Ron Gilbert is an American video-game designer, programmer, and producer. His games are generally focused on interactive storytelling, and he is arguably best known for his work on several LucasArts adventure games, including Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island games. While a student in 1983, he co-wrote Graphics BASIC and he then worked on action games for HESware, which went out of business. He afterwards joined Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts), and was given the opportunity to develop his own games. He invented SCUMM, a technology used in many subsequent games. After leaving LucasArts, Gilbert co-founded the children's gaming company Humongous Entertainment in 1992 and its sister company Cavedog Entertainment in 1995, where he produced games such as Total Annihilation for adults. He cofounded Hulabee Entertainment with Shelley Day, releasing children's games between 2001 and 2003. After working with Beep Games between 2004 and 2007, he was creative director at Vancouver-based Hothead Games development studio between 2008 and 2010, also doing some work for Telltale Games and with Penny Arcade. In 2013, he announced that he would move on from Double Fine Productions, after releasing the game The Cave with them. In 2017, he announced Thimbleweed Park with Terrible Toybox, serving as writer, designer, and programmer since 2014.
Pantheon has 22 people classified as game designers born between 1866 and 1976. Of these 22, 19 (86.36%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living game designers include Gabe Newell, Jeff Kinney, and Steve Jackson. The most famous deceased game designers include Lizzie Magie, Gary Gygax, and Dave Arneson. As of October 2020, 5 new game designers have been added to Pantheon including Lizzie Magie, Mark Cerny, and Carol Shaw.
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