With companies like 2K, Sega and THQ closing up shop in Australia in the last few years, it seemed only natural that the video game development scene in Australia was in for a bleak future. Here down under, we’ve had to sit through closures from all of the big companies even companies that managed to churn out some arguably popular titles including Bioshock Infinite, deBlob and LA Noire. Talented development teams were laid to rest due to outsourcing, liquidation, and bankruptcy, amongst other reasons. It was this bleak view at the game development culture in Australia that made me want to seek out the companies that do still exist. I wanted to show that Australia still has the potential for game development, even in the growing independent developer scene.
Going to PAX Australia 2013, the biggest video game exhibition to hit Melbourne, I got to meet with so many young and motivated independent developers from not just across the world, but from right here at home in Australia as well. I got to see games like Antichamber, Macguffin’s Curse, and Black Annex. All of these incredible titles were showcased at the Indie Pavillion, which was one of the main booths featured at the convention. It was a space where independent developers could get to show off their game and garner significant support from the attendees. It was through talking to these developers and attendees that I managed to hear about The Arcade.
The Arcade is a collaborative workspace in Melbourne that houses the offices of some of the best in the independent game development scene in Australia. About a month ago, I got to sit down and chat with Tony Reed and Annie Tyson of the Game Developers Association of Australia (GDAA). The GDAA is the company that is spearheading the movement to encourage and nurture the growth of the game development scene in Australia. Tony, along with the leaders of several companies such as Many Monkeys and Tin Man Games that now reside in The Arcade, got together and drafted the idea for a place that would allow independent developers to work with like-minded colleagues and even get some help from veterans to lift their game. The level of experience within the office spaces varies from new and motivated indie developers to award winning developers and seasoned veterans in the industry. With fresh ideas constantly flowing through, the space has become an absolute treasure trove of creativity.
There was one question that I had to ask Tony when we got settled after touring the two floors of offices: “What was the reason for the creation of The Arcade? Especially in Melbourne of all places.” To this he responded: “The indie scene was growing rapidly and I wanted to offer a space where I could nurture this growth. Having to wear down the government in order to help fund the centre was an ordeal in itself.” Clarifying further, he spoke about how the government of the time feared that funding spaces like The Arcade would lead to no return – such spaces were known as ‘incubators.’ He made it crystal clear to me that The Arcade was not intended in any shape or form to be an incubator. At its inception, the Arcade was planned to be an open environment where people were free to come and go in order to develop themselves and others in the pursuit for success. Such an environment is especially necessary in the independent game development scene, where it is easy to feel isolated and alone. Eventually, when the government wanted Tony to provide proof that this centre would succeed, he got together with the founding companies mentioned earlier and worked on giving them the proof they wanted. The chosen location was in Melbourne, simply because the infrastructure and potential growth existed there.
Wanting to know more about the GDAA, I asked about what other things the GDAA had been up to in the last few years, apart from The Arcade. It had seemed that Tony’s chats with the guys over at the Penny Arcade ignited the desire for an exhibition down under: “We were having a drink at St. Kilda when I was asked ‘Do you reckon it (PAX) could work here?’ I just went ‘Eh, I think so.’ And it just happened.” Fortunately, it paid off, and PAX Australia has solidified its existence in Melbourne until at least 2017.
The GDAA also worked on a fund with Screen Australia called the Australian Interactive Games Fund. This provided assistance to games that showed a lot of promise. A very notable recipient of this fund was League of Geeks, who was responsible for Armello. This strategy role-playing game is in Early Access at the moment, and is slated for release on the 1st of September, 2015. It can be seen that the fund would have gone on to help and promote further growth in the independent development scene. Unfortunately, in late 2013, the government of Australia changed, and the fund was a casualty of its first budget. In relation to this, Reed commented : “It’s just the government being the government I suppose… they’ll oppose anything that they didn’t put up.” He reassured me that it did not stop him from pushing for the continued support for the interactive arts and game development.
Tony revealed to me that another facet of The Arcade is the way that it works with local universities and helps to nurture local talent by offering workshops and interactions with students. This interaction with industry veterans and budding new developers allows for first hand assistance for the young generation, who are pushing their way through the industry. It also allows Tony to get a look at some rising superstar developers.
Finally, I asked Tony what was next for The Arcade and the GDAA. I was told that the success and interest that The Arcade had received from across the world prompted demand for centres similar to The Arcade – subsequently, an expansion is in the works across the ocean. Where exactly is yet to be decided. We also spoke about some of the cool games that were still being worked on, such as the Pac-Man game commissioned by Crossy Roads maker Hipster Whale, and Three Phase Interact’s successfully Kickstarted game ‘Defect.’ There is continuous work on encouraging developmental growth, and there does not seem to be an end to this unstoppable force.
The Arcade was an absolute treat to visit, and the warmth and feeling of closeness that each team had with each another was truly astounding. It isn’t a simple venue where people worked: it is a venue where people grow, and where people can support each other and push each other to exceed their limitations. It is a place where people can not only develop games, but also develop themselves. From simply meeting some of the people at The Arcade over a two-day period, I felt reassured that Tony’s vision for the growth of the indie game development scene would be a roaring success.