Australian veterans weigh in on local games development

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A feature written by Laura Parker for Gamespot AU did a great job covering three of the pioneering studios of the earliest days of the Australian games industry: Beam/Melbourne House, Strategic Studies Group (SSG), and Micro Forte. Local games veterans who saw the birth and rapid growth of the local games industry also shared their experiences of what it was like in the early days and gave their thoughts on the current 'rebirth'. These guys need no introduction. They are John De Margheriti (co-founder Micro Forte), Steve Fawkner (SSG), George Fidler (EA, Creative Assembly), and John Passfield (co-founder Krome Studios).

The veterans described how the industry had come a long way with work-for-hire and seeing a big surgeance of startups in the late 90's, but agreed that it was no longer a sustainable way of business. And despite having decades of experience each where you'd think they'd be set in the old ways of the industry, they're all embracing the new change that has been sweeping the games industry and share an equal level of optimism for the future of local games development. From Gamespot AU...

(Steve Fawkner) To be honest, the old industry was heading into a meltdown anyway. The focus was shifting toward games like Call of Duty with movie-sized budgets and long production times, a model which can only support a few big developers.

Fawkner says that the local industry had an over-reliance on work-for-hire and a lack of original IP development, but believes that digital distribution is the key in moving the industry forward opening some exciting possibilities for local developers. George Fidler agrees...

(George Fidler)“In the past, this has been difficult for two reasons: a lack of local venture capital and huge development budgets. It cost tens of millions of dollars to make video games. The budgets for casual and social games are much lower, which gives us the opportunity to fund projects ourselves. I think social-game mechanics are pervading every genre, on every platform of interactive entertainment. Electronic marketing and distribution, lower purchase prices and revenue streams, from in-game purchases and advertising are all here to stay.”

The shift in the gaming landscape certainly hasn't escaped the attentioned of Micro Forte boss, John De Margheriti, and he describes the change that we are seeing locally as a "renaissance" and just a beginning of even bigger things to come...

“As numerous Australian studios started floundering, it gave the amazing talent pool the opportunity to strike it out and go at it alone focusing on much smaller, self-funded titles. This is the renaissance of the games industry in Australia and I believe it will eventually be bigger than what it was. Now is the time because we are at the beginning of a new product life-cycle...”

John Passfield emphasises the need to embrace the new and adapt to change rather than clinging on to the old and that success doesn't necessarily come from the size of your games studio...

“I would argue that we, as an industry, are more successful than ever. Will we have 300-plus person studios again? Probably not. But I never saw that as a sign of success. What I count as success is high quality games in the top 10 around the world and great return on investment. It's easy to work out what should have been done in hindsight. What is important is for those still stuck in the old way of thinking to change quickly--embrace digital distribution, embrace metrics, explore free-to-play models and social play. Don't stick your head in the sand waiting for the old industry to recover.

Of interesting note, the veterans gave honour to the late Adam Lancman, the CEO of Beam Software/Melbourne House and head of the Games Developers Associaton of Australia (GDAA) who passed away unexpectedly in 2005. John De Margheriti revelaed that discussions were underway with Adam for the CEO role of Micro Forte until his untimely death.

For the entire feature, head on over to Gamespot AU...