Beginning with the 1980 establishment of Beam Software in Melbourne, the video game industry in Australia has experienced many changes over the last 40 years. With an early concentration during the 1990s in Melbourne and Brisbane, studios such as Krome Studios and Auran were making a splash on the international market (Apperley 2008). The industry was supported by various government plans over the years, such as the Game Plan initiative put in place by the Victorian government in 2000, which aimed to improve infrastructure, develop skills and grow local businesses (Knight & Brand 2007). The Australian games development sector seemed to be continuing to grow well into the mid-2000s, however, with the closure of 2K Australia on 15 April 2015, Australia was left without the presence of a AAA game company and the landscape of the country’s video game industry began to change (Serells 2015). This report will present an analysis of the current characteristics of the videogame industry both locally and nationally, followed by a careful consideration of the current trends in the Australian industry and the causes of the changes to industry, along with a discussion on the current employment opportunities, particularly for graduates, within the industry.
The current videogame industry within Canberra
Currently, Canberra is home to only 6% of video game studios within Australia. These numbers are amongst the lowest of any major region within the country and reflect the changing dynamic of the local video game scene (IGEA 2019). In previous years, Canberra has hosted high-profile studios such as Irrational Games, better known as 2K Australia, Dreamgate Studios and Panther Games. Since the closure of Irrational Games in 2015, Canberra has not accommodated a AAA studio within its borders and the industry has transitioned to support a number of smaller studios through initiatives such as the Incubator Program run by the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE). This program aims to support graduates to pursue commercial enterprises by providing funding and access to studio premises and equipment (AIE 2020). Further to this, CanDev launched in 2014 and seeks to bring together game developers in Canberra to share knowledge, experience and expertise and promotes many of the smaller games that have been developed and made in Canberra (CanDev n.d).
The current videogame industry in Australia
A report prepared by the Environment and Communications References Committee (2016) entitled ‘Game on: more than playing around. The future of Australia’s video game industry’ provided an overview of the way that Australians and their family interact with the industry. Some key statistics that the report lists include:
- 68% of the population plays video games and spend an average of 88 minutes a day playing
- 78% of that population are over the age of eighteen.
- 27% of the game playing population have attempted to make their own games using software
- 9% of the game playing population have studied or plan to study game development subjects
- 98% of the population with children under the age of 18 have a device to play video games for their children
These numbers reflect the positive role of the video game industry in Australia. The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) identified that the video game industry generated $2.46billion, an increase of 20% from 2014, with the largest increases being in the mobile platform (Brand & Todhunter 2015). However, the development industry paints a different picture in the Australian landscape. In the late 2000s, Australia had 45 companies in operation, three of which were classed as AAA studios. These included 2K Australia, Sega Creative Assembly and THQ StudioOz, which collectively generated an income of over $100million at a local level (Banks & Cunningham 2016b). The following table presents a collation of industry information spanning the last thirteen years drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008; 2013; 2017) and the IGEA (2016; 2017; 2019).
|Year||Companies in Australia||Employees||Total Income ($M)||Income Foreign($M)||Income Locally($M)||Growth in Jobs (%)||Growth in Income (%)|
As the table indicates, drastic changes to the video game industry in Australia can be observed between 2007 and 2012. Reports from Banks and Cunningham (2016a; 2016b; 2016c) indicate that some of the causes of this downturn in Australia can be related to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). For example, by 2012 a number of bigger studios, such has Pandemic, THQ StudioOz, Tantalus Media Brisbane, BlueTongue, Team Bondi, and Sega Creative Assembly, had closed their doors or downsized operations and the video game industry which was once widespread across Australia retreated to Victoria (Banks & Cunningham 2016b). In the decade prior to the GFC the Australian dollar remained between 50-60 US cents which allowed for the development of video games in Australia at a much cheaper price and saw a lot of increased activity for local game studios and attention from big name publishers. When the Australian dollar climbed, it became unprofitable for big overseas studios to maintain a presence in the country (Miller 2011). In addition to this, the lack of growth in the video game industry is highlighted by IGEA (2016; 2017; 2019) and can be in part attributed to a lack of government support and understanding, along with a distinct skills shortage, struggling internet speeds, difficulties attracting funding for early stage development, and an inability to secure international publisher deals.
Trends within the game development scene have changed quite dramatically over the last 10 years in Australia. Within Canberra, the largest game to be developed and released to date is Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (2014) by 2K Australia. However, it seems that such largescale projects are a thing of the past with the Canberra industry migrating towards an indie based scene with a focus on smaller projects. Skills in collaboration have become highly valued as demonstrated by the creation of CanDev (n.d) and initiatives out of AIE. The largest company still operating within Canberra on a commercial scale is Panther Games which began by designing hex-based combat simulation board games and has since provided simulations to the Australian Defence Department (Play it again 2020).
It can be observed that as a whole, Australia is still recovering from the impact of the GFC and is currently undergoing a process of renewal and regrowth. It is an ongoing process with the IGEA analysis of the 2018-19 financial year finding that 55% of current game studios in Australia are less than five years old. The analysis also shows that a least a quarter of those studios are making their first video game with only 1/20 game studios within Australia classed as serious game developers (IGEA 2019). However, these disappointing statistics do not reflect the slow recovery of the Australian industry. In 2015, Australia claimed 50% of the top 10 games released on the Apple App Store. Halfbrick, a studio based in Brisbane, released Fruit Ninja (2010) and by 2015 the game had been downloaded over one billion times (Serrels 2016). Further, Melbourne based company Hipster Whale reached 120 million downloads for their game Crossy Road (2014), 50 million of those occurring within 90 days of the games release (Tach 2015). On this path to rebuilding the industry, another global issue that Australian studios are facing is the loss of senior members within a team. Programmers, designers, and artists were leaving at a high rate from Australia. The Environment and Communications References Committee (2016) identified that up to 60% of the developers had left for either a different country or left the industry altogether after the GFC. It is important to note that even with the changing landscape of the video game industry, the percent of programmers has stayed between 33-34% over the last four financial years (IGEA 2016; 2017; 2019).
Currently, there are relatively few graduate programming positions advertised in Australia and internationally. Whilst this is unsurprising during the current global pandemic, it is interesting to note that even before the economic effect of Covid-19 low graduate hire rates had been observed. A by-product of the lack of employment opportunities is the high number of graduates that have/will become displaced after graduating. As detailed by the Environment and Communications References Committee (2016), as many as 5,000 students will enrol into a discipline relating to video game development, however, there are as little as 1/5 of that amount of people currently working in the industry. Of those that are, less than 40% are employed on a full-time basis (IGEA 2019). This reinforces the need for intervention from the Australian Government to keep individual talent from leaving the country to find work internationally or in other fields. Whilst 61% of studio planned to hire new staff in the 2019/20 financial year, the changing global economy may have changed this (IGEA 2019). The onset of the global pandemic has seen a rise in the availability to work remotely in almost every field, which may prove to benefit the video game industry. Due to this, many individuals and teams have condensed job opportunities into online documents and forums such as Remote game jobs (2020) or advertise through platforms such as discord.
This brief analysis has provided an insight into the changing nature of both the local and national video game industry. At a local level, Canberra has been a supportive place for the industry over the last decade. When larger companies closed their doors and AAA companies have been absent for over five years, it allows smaller companies to gain access to the established premises of AIE and the Incubator program. While this infrastructure is available elsewhere across the nation, the concentrated population of Canberra allows for better cultivation of such relationships. At a national level, the lack of Government funding that has been highlighted by the IGEA (2016; 2017; 2019) and industry leaders, as well as a recent enquiry by the Environment and Communications References Committee (2016), demonstrated that Australia is lacking in industry progress when compared to many of the other established nations. Therefore, the industry will require an intervention from the Australian Government to help it become a sustainable and profitable commodity.
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