AAA to Indies – Pitfalls of Australia’s game developing industry

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By Ivan Ban

In April, the last AAA game developing studio in Australia, 2K Australia, was unceremoniously (and figuratively speaking), taken out the back and shot in the head. The 200 talented employees suddenly found their lives uncertain as they scrambled to secure a job in an environment where there are no jobs of this sort. That studio was responsible for many hits in recent years; XCOM Enemy Unknown, Bioshock Infinite and Borderlands The Presequel, are just a few titles they were instrumental in creating.

But Australia does still have a game-developing scene and it’s one with a promising future, despite the withdrawal of the remaining 10 million dollars from the Australian Interactive Games Fund. Where there were once enormous dinosaur studios churning out games designed for mass appeal, see the very small and hardy mammal-like teams creating games with much more modest scope but that are able to explore concepts that a AAA studio would pass up as too risky or even because it is perceived to be obsolete. Compared to the bland procession of Assassin’s Creeds and Call of Duties, these games have character and bring us back to the imagination and creativity that disappeared when games started being as successful as blockbuster movies.

Some of these independent game developers have a resource available to them now; a safety net and a means to ease the dreaded passage to success, and it comes in the form of the AIE Incubator Program. This is essentially a business course, but one that is tailored to running a game developing business. An office space is provided with equipment/computers and they receive licenses for the necessary software for developing, a stall at one of the large overseas conferences (PAX in Seattle, GDC in San Francisco, Game Connection in France, etc), as well as various local conventions like PAX AUS, iFEST or Supanova and assistance promoting and publishing.

Industry-specialised mentoring is the key to the entire program and the support doesn’t stop at the end of the course; rent-free office space and attendance at local conventions continues to be available. In addition, developers who participated in the Incubator Program are eligible for up to $150,000 through the Post-Incubator Grant. Programs like the AIE Incubator ensures that Australia will continue to contribute to this industry, well into the foreseeable future.

Even as these indie teams become successful, the key to their success has been in the small size of these groups. They don’t have to pay hundreds of workers to make these products, rather they can split the profits amongst the two to five people they have. This is the environment that those who worked at 2K Australia until recently, have found themselves in. The cream of the crop; the most seasoned veterans of that studio, would have found employment anywhere else in the world, and the majority who stayed in Australia are doomed to be visiting Centrelink and considering how they can form their own upstart group and have their own Super Meat Boy moment in the sun.

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