Playing in the big league
IF you asked the average Aussie to name a famous Australian- made video game, they’d likely look at you with a blank face.
The Australian game development industry has been rocked to its foundations over the past few years.
Many of the major studios have closed, including Pandemic, Bluetongue, Team Bondi and THQ Studio Australia, while others have shed considerable staff.
SEGA Studios Australia is now a much smaller operation, while Krome, which once employed 400 people in three states, is a fraction of its former size.
That’s a long way from the whole story, however.
Ever played Fruit Ninja or Ski Safari ? How about Flight Control or the Real Racing games? These global hits were all developed in Australia.
Australian game development has entered an exciting new phase, led by studios working primarily on games for the Apple iPhone, iPad and Google Android devices.
This is an area in which small teams with smart, polished games can make a big impact.
Long- running studios such as Firemint and Iron Monkey ( which have merged to become Firemonkeys), and Halfbrick were well positioned to take advantage of the explosion of gaming on iOS and Android gadgets and are now leading the charge.
These studios are just the tip of the iceberg. Australia also has a thriving independent scene, with dozens of small teams making games. Publishing games is easier now than ever and Aussies are taking advantage of it.
‘‘ The closure of the larger studios has been terrible for many,’’ says Wil Monte of Millipede, the team behind Bullistic Unleashed.
‘‘ However, from this fallout we have seen some amazing independent studios appear. Like- minded people who worked well together at these large studios have started their own thing, producing the games they have always wanted to but couldn’t previously, and they are creating some really incredible stuff. The talent that was kind of locked up in these large studios is now blossoming and showing the world that Australia is an incredibly innovative nation in this field.’’
It isn’t just industry veterans driving this resurgence, but upand- coming talent too.
Independent Game Developers Association membership has soared in the major capitals, forming large communities geared around sharing information.
Epona Schweer runs the Sydney chapter of the association, as well as an incubator program at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment.
Starting an independent studio, she says, ‘‘ is so do- able’’.
‘‘ Not only is it the time to make a break from the system, it’s a perfect time to try something totally new. And the creative [ people] with ingenuity and the willingness to get stuff done will do well.
‘‘ It’s not 10 years ago when you needed to have a slick suit going out there pitching your wares to be able to survive . . . if you know who you’re making a game for, you can find them online and sell directly to them.’’
Shane Brouwer, creator of the Super Lemonade Factory, says the games industry reminds him of the music industry in the ‘ 90s.
‘‘ The barrier to entry has been lowered so that anyone with the drive and the time can make a game and a bunch of young upstarts can make a product that can compete with the established power players,’’ he says.
There are many challenges to overcome. Making a polished, addictive game is just the first step. Marketplaces such as the Apple App Store are incredibly competitive so independent studios must find ways to get their games noticed.
Developers that can will find richer rewards than before.
The Australian industry was once built around service for hire in which studios competed on price to make games for other publishers. The new generation is creating games and Australian brands.
Dozens of small teams are making and self- publishing games, feeling, what Nick Hagger, founder of Robot Circus and ex-Bluetongue creative director, calls ‘‘ that giddy rush which comes from doing something new and exciting’’.