On the Shoulders of Giants: Spirit and Success in the Australian Games Industry

Reflections on Melbourne International Games Week 2017

It was a Sunday afternoon in late February 2016 and we were showing Doug Wilson, creator of JS Joust, around the city of Melbourne. We were staring at the popping colours of Melbourne’s graffiti lanes and talking about the energy in the air. Doug was thinking of moving here, he said there was something about the Australian development scene that got him excited about games here. He told us it felt like other game development hubs used to feel. Scenes that went on to produce some of the world’s best independent games, like Sweden, Denmark and Johannesburg. There was an energetic momentum on the Aussie indie front.

He decided to move here.

The community spirit of the Australian games development industry isn’t what you’d normally see, it goes beyond love for the games we make and into loving the people we work around. The typical habits of trade secrecy in technique, design and ideas are no longer the accelerant for success in The Land Down Under. In fact, it’s the opposite. We’ve banded together and shared our ideas, expertise and creativity to help each other be the best we can be. Because while we may still be small, we’re growing in numbers every day.

The Aussie development scene has gone through a huge transformation in the last decade. The world felt the ramifications of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 but the scene here was vastly changed by American studios pulling the plug on Australian based development. These changes have seen many individuals and studios rise above the clouds, especially in the world of mobile gaming. Australian titles such as Crossy Road and Bonza exploded not just here, but internationally, bringing those ever-elusive Dollarydoo’s to our industry and economy, renewing those aspirations of creativity.

The industry here has changed because it’s had to in order to succeed. As always adversity and limitation are creativity’s best friend.

Without a legacy of AAA companies, our growth has been predominantly independent development since 2008. We’ve haven’t had the luxury of having larger companies to absorb up our graduates or allow our experienced developers to climb a ladder. We’ve had to rethink the way we operate.

The result is that Australian development has become the vanguard for independent collaboration. Successful co-working spacesThe Arcade, Level One, All Day Breakfast, among othershave popped up creating spaces where although the companies and developers are separate, they grow together. Our arts developers are flourishing too, with and without government funding we’re seeing developers and creators push the envelope of interactive and game experiences. From escape experiences such as Shang Lun’s Earthrise which takes you on a journey through space in an authentic theatrical mindscape to Bar SK creating video game galleries and providing space for experiments to run wild. There’s even exhibitions like Contours, run by Chad Toprak which celebrate the diversity of game and play creation in Australia. You should check out both of these places if you haven’t already. You’ll get an experience like no other.

 

There is a groundswell of game talent in Australia and it’s not taking the traditional passage. Melbourne International Games Week is a way of putting all of the exciting things on a platter and serving it. The week actually comprising of 10 days is a curated collection of events for game makers, players and enthusiasts as well as families and passers-by. Events range from conferences to trade shows and public entertainment events. This year, over 60,000 game enthusiasts participated in key events across the city in game conferences and consumer shows including Game Connect Asia Pacific, Unite Melbourne, PAX Australia, the Women in Games Lunch, the Australian Game Developers’ Awards, Games: A Family Affair, Game Changer: VR Festival, live games from Pop Up Playground and urban exploration augmented reality app, Wayfinder, She_Makes Games, Contours and the Education in Games Summit.

We have passion here, overwhelmingly untainted by the politics and restrictions that AAA culture instils. We’re a little bit freer from market expectation and this is allowing us to try new things.

A game where your hands are guns, providing political commentary on America’s gun laws, a showcase about edible games and a mass market hits being created from internet cultural commentary. Rules of game making are being broken.

Events like PAX Australia and Game Connect Asia Pacific draw their own domestic and international crowds, including special guests and speakers brought over by the event holders and sponsors. But some come purely for the experience of being in Australia. This is a draw card for events held here – despite being so far away, we’re not only a work trip but a cultural experience. We’re underselling the experience of making games in Australia, being Australian. Let’s face it – we know how to have a hell of a good time. Even so, making an annual trip across the oceans is both tiring and mighty expensive, especially if it’s for just one event that may or may not be commercially viable. This is one of the many reasons behind the encompassing idea of Melbourne International Games Week; coordinating with each of the individual events to bring consumers, developers, publishers and media together for a festival-like experience, a feast of events that celebrate gaming. The perfect reason to come over for an Australian getaway. You add value to coming a long way by curating an irresistible, unmissable series of events that all happen in one week. That’s something you can’t get in many other places.

Since we are so small as a market it is important that we give international media and developers enough reason to come here. Something they can get nowhere else. That’s the thought behind tying our major games events into one week. We’re far, away, expensive and small, but we pack a big punch.

Why Melbourne, though? Why not Sydney, or Brisbane, or Perth?

Well predominantly, funding. Melbourne has incredible support from the government, particularly Creative Victoria and Film Victoria. Creative Victoria is fully responsible for the genesis of Melbourne International Games Week and all the incredible coordination and effort that goes towards working with all the individual groups and stakeholders therein.  It’s not just funding, as a result of continued support for the Arts, not just games, Melbourne is home to 47% of development making it a convenient location for almost half of the games industry to attend the week. It’s also an international hub for flights from New Zealand, our lovely neighbours. The culture here is thriving too, Melbourne drives its own reputation for being an artists city and games are not holding back here either.

Melbourne International Games Week is one of many answers to our island reality. We can create a key networking and business festival here in Australia and provide a central location, in the same way, Cologne, Singapore, Johannesburg and San Francisco serve Europe, Asia, Africa and the US. We are creating a pacific opportunity.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to work with Creative Victoria to make MIGW something more, to pour our hearts and souls into promoting a week that was for every type of developer and consumer. It was incredibly important to us to represent the wide variety of games being made here.

The buildup of excitement and anticipation was overwhelming; from the moment we started getting messages from friends who were coming to town to the local friends we hadn’t seen in awhile, the fun we would have, the ice creams we would eat.

The events within MIGW are so much more than consumer or taxable networking and education events. They are an opportunity to flourish and be part of the very real cultural movement of games.

Many years from now our participation in driving video games forward as the foremost creative medium of our time will be remembered as a vital segment of art and interactive history. The intersection between the technical and the creative in game creation is unrivalled by any other field and the presence of those hearts and minds at MIGW is sure to facilitate great things to come.

From playing board games and drooling over new hardware, to picking up so many Streetpasses you’re afraid your 3DS might explode; these examples are but a wafer-thin taste of what’s on offer. It’s the people you meet along the way and the new connections you make with one another, personal, professional and everything in between. The lovely surprise you get when you see friends you didn’t expect. The banter pouring out of everyone’s mouths over the semi-disturbingly ingested volume of beer. Oh, and the giant pretzels from Munich Brauhaus. That’s important.

We’re looking forward to next year and feeling optimistic that we live in one of the greatest eras of game development as an industry of commercial and creative growth.

Photo Credit:

Izzy Gramp

@shrubbette 

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