IGDASA and the future of the games industry in South Australia

The South Australian chapter of the International Game Developers Association was launched on Wednesday 20th July 2016. The following is an expanded version of the speech that I gave at the launch.

I am the Founder and Director of Mighty Kingdom, a game development company based in Adelaide. Someone pointed out to me recently that with 20 staff we are probably the largest game development company in South Australia. While I do take pride in that, it also highlights to me just how much the industry has changed since I joined over 10 years ago.

I got my start at Ratbag Games in 2005, and was there for 3 months before the studio was closed down. I landed on my feet at Krome Studios Adelaide, and saw it grow to a team of 50 before I jumped ship to form Mighty Kingdom in 2010. Looking back, I realise now that this was probably the peak of the big studio culture in Australia. Several months after I left Krome, the Adelaide studio was shut down. A few years later almost every major games studio in Australia had closed. The industry that I knew was gone.

Well, the studios may have been gone, but the talent was still there. It may have been scattered and fragmented, but it was still there. From the ashes of the big studios rose a new industry of smaller, independent companies making games for platforms that didn’t even exist several years before. Every now and then one of these games would explode; Fruit Ninja, Real Racing, or more recently, Crossy Road. Each of these successes has altered the conversation, pushing aside the doom and gloom and bringing optimism.

But this is still an industry that is rebuilding itself, and with this comes the opportunity to actively reconstruct the industry in a way that makes it stronger, more resilient and also more open and available to all. For us here, today, in South Australia, I see the IGDA as being an important part of creating that change.

So why the IGDA? For me, it’s all right there in the name.

This is an international industry. The audience for our games is predominantly overseas. In fact, there are games that we have created here in Adelaide that are played by tens of millions of players worldwide. Thanks to initiatives like Adelaide Gig City and the, shall we say, eventual rollout of the NBN it is getting easier and easier for us to access and service that audience. On top of that, the current state of the global economy has made Australia attractive again to foreign investors and publishers. The IGDA can help you negotiate those contracts, drawing on our collective experience working with big brands, publishers and investors. We want to see more of those contracts ending up here, in Adelaide.

The games industry is a unique one. It sits on the intersection of technology and entertainment. This sometimes makes it hard for government bodies to determine where it lives; should we support it like we do film, or like we do with tech companies? To that I say, why not both?

This interesting position also brings with it a lot of opportunity. We are lucky in that this is not a zero-sum game. One studio’s success does not mean another has to fail. In fact, the opposite often occurs. Each successful studio helps advance the conversation and alter the perception of the industry as a whole. The rising tide does indeed lift all boats.

It is also an evergreen industry. No one ever flings their final Angry Bird, puts down their phone and says “that’s all the entertainment I’ll ever need”. No, there is a constant demand for new, more diverse content, all delivered on a dynamically changing landscape of platforms and devices. Innovation is baked into the DNA of game developers, as new trends emerge, mature and subsequently fade. Right now we are at the start of a new wave of VR and AR and new devices appear almost every day.

Again, the IGDA is here to help. We can help companies get access to these new devices and foster the sharing of knowledge that allows best practices to spread. We can also introduce those of you on the bleeding edge of technology to companies and enterprises that might be interested in what you are doing. And when it comes to government, we can present a single, unified voice to ensure that the support they provide is both consistent and relevant.

The final point I’ll make is on our role as developers. Yes, we represent game developers, but I feel that our role should be to foster the development of a strong, robust and diverse games industry in South Australia.

There is a wealth of knowledge and talent in this state; ODD Games, Team Cherry, Monkeystack, Two Lives Left, Mighty Kingdom… the list goes on. I want to see that knowledge shared and spread as widely as possible. And as the industry grows and matures, let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. We have a unique opportunity to define a collaborative and cooperative culture of game development here in South Australia, one that benefits everyone, not just the lucky few. I want to see an industry that celebrates success and understands that failure is a necessary part of the process. I want to see a thriving industry with opportunities at every level. I want to create an environment that maximises the chance of success for everyone, because success for any one of us benefits the whole.

Ultimately, I want to see us being mentioned alongside Helsinki, Toronto and Berlin, and to be held up as the gold standard for how you grow an industry. This is what invigorates me, this is what drives me every day; to challenge the old, silo model of development, and create a unique, vibrant and thriving games industry across all of Australia and I want the epicentre of that change to be right here, in South Australia.