Australian game developers making it big overseas call on government to support the local industry

- January 7, 2016 4 MIN READ

According to figures from market research firm SuperData, the global mobile games industry generated over $25 billion in revenue in 2015, growth of 20 percent year on year. Australian games have made a significant contribution to this figure; Crossy Road, created by Melbourne developers Hipster Whale, raked in $10 million in revenue over 3 months with more than 50 million downloads, and the local industry is expected to be worth $3 billion in 2017.

But the Australian games industry believes it could be doing more if given the support promised by the government to other tech sectors. The industry is the focus of an inquiry launched by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam after the government abolished the $20 million Australian Interactive Games Fund last year.

“Five years ago, Australia had a burgeoning video game development sector employing thousands of talented people in this rapidly growing industry. Internationally, companies have experienced strong growth thanks to smart government support and favourable regulatory settings. In Australia, no such luck: the sector has been treated like the poor cousin of the creative industries,” Ludlam told the Senate last June.

As the inquiry prepares to report in April, local developers have continued to release games that are performing well internationally. Mighty Games Group, a new development studio launched by Crossy Road creators Matt Hall and Andy Sum, and entertainment industry veterans Ben Britten and Matt Ditton, has seen its first title Shooty Skies downloaded over three million times since its launch three months ago, bringing in over half a million in revenue.

The company was established in 2013 as a way for Ditton and Britten to explore new ideas and the free-to-play market. Though both were directors at other game companies at the time, they wanted to work on something new; Hall joined the company later that year, and began work on Crossy Road after meeting Andy Sum. With the success of Crossy Road, Mighty brought on Sum as its fourth director, gearing up for a big 2015.

Timothy Best, a writer and designer at Mighty Games Group, said Shooty Skies, the company’s first title, began as a prototype developed by Britten over the course of a weekend.

“The team was pretty excited by how good it felt so early, so Ben was put onto the project full-time with part-time support from artists being contracted from Matt Ditton’s game company, Many Monkeys. Soon after we extended the Mighty team so that we could help Hipster Whale develop and maintain Crossy Road. So, the beginnings of Shooty Skies were very resource-light and self-funded by the Mighty directors, then, as people were added to the Shooty team, they were funded by our client work,” he said.

Mighty works out of The Arcade, a collaborative coworking space in Melbourne for game developers – in fact, the majority of the Australian games industry is centered in Melbourne thanks to state government support – which Best said helped the team test the game and then act on feedback.

“We felt like we had a fun game which captured the feel we wanted. We were ready to roll and we were really happy that people seemed to get the same oddball laughs playing it that we did while making it,” he said.

With the local games industry having moved in leaps and bounds over the last few decades thanks to new technology enabling easier creation, the Mighty team has come to the space from vastly different degrees and jobs (Britten won an Academy Award for engineering), all drawn to games by the “endless possibilities” of game development.

Best said, “Games can encompass all other media: words, images, music, painting, performance, video. They also give you a dimension of collaboration between audience and creator that is hard for any other medium to match. Games are still pretty new compared with novels, opera or even film and TV. There’s a lot of new ground to be broken there. Finally, and increasingly, games are becoming massively accessible with most people carrying pretty handy game devices – smartphones – in their pocket at any given time,” he said.

“Games have a wide reach, have massive scope of what they can do or be, still have a lot of corners to explore and call on a wide range of really interesting skills and areas of knowledge.”

The potential for games is what keeps those working in the industry passionate about what they do despite the lack of support. Best cites a lack of funding as a key problem, while isolation from the “heart of the wheeling and dealing” in Europe and the US is also difficult.

“We also lack big, triple-A studios here, EA’s Firemonkeys excepted. That’s not a huge problem in the short term since the explosion of the mobile games industry and online distribution platforms like Steam which seems supports smaller studios, but it does mean we’ll start to lose the process and pipeline experience that you get from big studios. Big studios also give junior developers access to learn from a lot of senior talent. Luckily, the Melbourne independent development scene is pretty tight-knit and that helps foster talent and skill sharing here,” Best said.

He believes that the games industry and the rest of the tech startup industry have traditionally moved in different circles, which has contributed to a lack of understanding of Australian games development by local tech investors. Adding to the problem is the fact that young development teams are often more focused on the artistic side of what they’re working on rather than the business aspects, Best said.

When it comes to the inquiry, Best hopes policymakers will, at the very least, be more informed about the potential of the local industry. As for Mighty Games Group, the goals are to further develop and expand Shooty Skies, build a stable of games, and explore partnerships that can help it grow.

“We also want some adorable Shooty Skies soft toys and t-shirts. With Hipster Whale in the office with us, our side of the room is definitely letting the team down in technicolour huggy-softness.”

Image: Tim Best. Source: Provided.