The new Australian GD Industry

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It’s 2012, the Australian games industry has become mostly indie with a few notable exceptions and is divided into two disparate yet equally important groups, the young upstarts who are trying to make a living building video games and the old hands who have seen the cycle and just want everyone else to disappear and leave them to it.

At least that’s how it appears to be from the perspective of the younger generation.

This is a unfair viewpoint, but not without some element of truth. Australia’s industry was built up on middle of the road contract work for international companies, but the industry as a whole could not pivot fast enough when both the Australian dollar went up and the middle market just upped and died (again there are exceptions). So we’re left with a large amount of small startups with varying degrees of success and the previous generation of game developers just shrugging their shoulders and going “whelp, we’re sorry”. For the younger generation who have had dreams of joining a studio and being paid to work on games once they have finished their study, this is a bit crap and as such their feelings of being screwed over by those that came before is kind of warranted.

But on the flip side, there are developers out there starting companies and getting people paid to do work. Joe at Fiasco Studios and Morgan at Defiant Interactive are two excellent examples of the previous generation going “lets do it right” and building companies in the new industry. Morgan especially should be pointed out with his hiring policies working on giving students just what they need, a job with experienced people.

But in “Wait Awhile” these opportunities do not exist, at least not yet. Through some new ideas especially Spacecubed (a co-working environment that has started up) the games industry has started to have a ‘in’ to other businesses and a completely different type of person. And Lets Make Games has been an excellent industry body giving us what we need at this exact moment with very meager resources, they’re fighting the good fight and allowing the rest of us to get on with what we want to do, make games.

But how can we, the younger generation work towards building the jobs we want? here’s a few ideas. And note, the following does not have to be practiced by everyone;

  1. Wheaton’s Law with amendment – Don’t be a Dick and make sure you comment on a critical level.

    People should not be dicks, it’s a simple rule that in Perth goes double (cause we’re so damn small). However a new problem has arisen from this statement, apparently not being a dick means if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it at all. This isn’t a problem directly endemic of WA, but we can fix it. It’s quite simple, if someone asks for comment, give it to them honestly in the form of critical comment. However the person asking for comment should take the comment with dignity, regardless of result (and this applies to other people who overhear said comment).

    Even if someone says “it sucks” the next thing out of your mouth should be “sure, but tell us why it sucks”. We all want to see a better quality of game development, so we need critical comment to improve.

    Plus if someone asks for assistance, answer in english, not in a link to “Let me google that for you”. That’s just insulting.

  2. Work outside the games industry.
    This can be summarized as “network like crazy” (and may your liver hold out long enough). There is plenty of work for other people, sure it may not be directly games but it pays. And we need money. Do not look down on doing time in PHP or designing that umpteenth business card website. But do look for opportunities with people you want to work for! Look for people outside of your direct circle of influence and make opportunity, who knows where it will lead. Games are not made in a vacuum and game developers are very talented (esp in sweat equity). The first Startup Weekend held in Perth gathered the most teams to launch a product and have customers by the end of the first weekend. And the teams that came first and second? Half the team of both were Game Developers! And while the connections made have yet to bear fruit, they will in the future.

    My point is, stop putting up walls around yourself claiming to just want to put code on screen towards a game. You’ll miss opportunities which might be beneficial.

  3. Get some space
    I keep hearing about how people want space, but we (collectively) have no money. You never get something for nothing. So how do we solve this?

    What I think is that we just need to rip the bandaid off. Space needs to be paid for, but not in the traditional sense. A small space for a set number of months, say three months, at the end of it we’ll know if we can continue. But that small commitment would be the best way of testing the waters and limiting risk to the point that the game dev community can handle.

  4. Share some experience
    The WA game dev scene is built of cliques. This needs to stop, it’s hurting us in the long term. So to start with, next game jam we should mix it up, work with people we don’t know.

    And for something more radical, we should set up a volunteer partnering scheme.

    The idea is simple, teams make space for new people to join the team once a year and then have a idea of who they’re looking for. These spaces are then promoted to the community, people join with the understanding that the position will last for a minimum of three months. The idea is that it works both ways, experienced teams pull on students and student teams pull on experienced people.

    This will go towards providing the work experience and experience sharing we so desperately need and encourage teams to make room for students. Plus will have the effect of networking vertically across the game dev scene.

  5. Leave.
    Note, this isn’t for everyone and in theory people will come back with more experience in the future… right?

So there’s a few small ideas we can start to explore. Anyone interested?

p.s: I wrote the above article some number of months ago before media fund was announced, after seeing the recent reaction at the Melbourne forum I thought the opening bit was valid.  The later part is especially still valid, funding does change the situation, but we should still be working on other avenues!

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