Play­ing in the big league

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

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’’.

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