The news coming out of the Australian game development industry some five years ago wasn’t painting a pretty picture.
High profile studio closures were abounding in the face of the global financial crisis as satellite studios owned by countries hardest hit lost their financial viability and the relatively strong Australian dollar made contracting work difficult.
Some 50 per cent of developers moved overseas or into other sectors at the time when the industry was hardest hit, but the rebound happened quickly and Game Developers Association of Australia (GDAA) figures now place the estimated number of people working in the industry at over 850.
The major difference between 2009 and 2014 comes in the shape of the studios. At its populous height, there were a mere 35 development studios. After the closures, that figure jumped as countless independent studios sprung up from the ashes. By 2012 there was over 180 studios which were active and self-sustaining, and that figure now sits at over 200.
"These are small, dynamic companies," Antony Reed, CEO of the GDAA told Develop. "There was a massive migration and we did lose some incredible talent, but we’ve seen a lot of growth off the back of that."
Central to that growth was the establishment of the Australian Interactive Games Fund, a three year program designed to inject capital into the industry which was to take in recoupable investments from the country’s successes. The current federal government, however, without consultation with the industry, axed the program amidst a swath of spending cuts in the most recent budget.
"We needed a program which would foster the industry’s growth," Reed continued. "And what we’ve seen with the enterprise recipients is that they are growing. We’ve seen one company almost double in size, and there are quite a few others that we’ve seen grow between 20 and 30 per cent since receiving the funding."
"As it stands now, we have very few avenues for a games company to seek investors that would allow them to execute a prototype. There were a number of companies which had planned to seek enterprise funding this year which had very well-considered business plans and content production plans. Those have now all been put on the back-burner because there is no investment model any more."
According to the GDAA, Australia is still graduating a lot of students into the industry, but is sorely lacking the experienced staff necessary to grow those entry-level developers and keep the talent pool expanding.
Australia is no stranger to big success stories in recent years, especially with its strong adoption of mobile platforms and digital distribution models. Pioneers like Firemint (now Firemonkeys) and Halfbrick, which created Flight Control and Fruit Ninja respectively, helped prove the potential of the new marketplaces and lay a clear path for other indies to follow.
The age of booming successes in a meritocratic digital landscape, however, is claimed to be at an end by some, but the size and agility of Australian developers will be a huge boon during uncertain times.
Some stalwart independent developers weathered the storm and remain in business, such as Torus Games, which works on a number of Dreamworks Animation titles, or Tantalus, which produces games based off Disney properties and a number of its own original IPs. Then there’s the rapid expansion of new Kixeye and Wargaming Australian studios, but these larger studios are the exception rather than the rule.
Finding ways to grow and fund new viable businesses out of the developers which already dot Australia’s landscape will be key in the coming years.