Update: Tantalus CEO Tom Crago has replied to Malcolm King, adding some much needed clarification and accuracy to the original article.
Yesterday, journalist Malcolm King posted a rather scathing opinion piece on the state of the Australian games industry over at the Courier Mail. Many of the statements made in the piece went against what I know to be true.
If the Internet were an online forum, King's editorial would be considered an excellent attempt at trolling. So it pains me to write a reply, but to have a piece such as this in the open, without rebuttal, would be a disservice.Let's start from the beginning:
One Melbourne programmer said "you put in the long hours, in part out of enthusiasm, but also because you'd look like a 'quitter' if you left work at 5pm. Fifty to sixty hour weeks are the norm and overtime is a rarity".
This is true for many industries, not just games development. According to responses to the article on the Courier Mail's website and Oz games development portal Sumea, it's not even the norm.
"If you're normally putting in fifty to sixty hour weeks and you're not one of the very senior staff or company directors then something is wrong with the way your projects are managed," said a commenter at Sumea.
"Comments from one CEO who is madly spinning to try to keep his company [Auran]afloat plus one programmer do not make an industry-wide trend. At the company I work for, most people are out the door 7.6 hours after they started, the vast majority of the time. There is no pressure to stay longer," stated another on the Courier Mail's website.
The article then appears to focus on the online gaming, which is obviously only a part of the industry as a whole. King provides 200,000 as the amount of people playing games online in Australia (sourced from The Fin and "toy and hobby trade magazines"), but does this figure include people playing games that aren't MMOs, such as Counter-Strike, Warcraft III, Battlefield 2 and countless others? Does it include people playing games offline? Surely they're just as important? Australia also isn't economically isolated - games developed here are sold overseas. The PC version of Bioshock was made in Canberra by 2K Australia, and that's done extremely well.
In my opinion, King has latched onto the downfall of Auran, and used it as an example of the Australian games industry at its finest. It's like saying Enron was the pinnacle of business management.
King also states that "as a taxpayer, I object to spending money on projects that should be funded by the private sector". Does King realise that the film and television industry currently enjoys the tax rebates the Oz game industry is lobbying for? King doesn't state whether he draws issue with this fact, but it seems somewhat hypocritical that he has yet to pen an article about it during the time the rebate has been in effect.
It's after this comment that we see the most surprising part of the article:
Government funding of online games with their adolescent fascination with slaying monsters or the combat genre, come very low on the agenda after infrastructure development, renewable power generation, massive water conservation projects, building more hospitals and educating school children.
Again the focus is on online games, but it also zeros in on a single genre as well. The tax rebate for games development in Quebec has seen a monumental boost in the province's economy. If anything, a booming local games industry would bring more money and jobs into Australia to help pay for the social projects King mentions. And games certainly don't have to be hack'n'slash titles like Fury, which King is clearly isolating with his statement. Super Mario Galaxy doesn't involve stabbing anyone with a sharp implement, and neither does Guitar Hero, Buzz or Singstar - all extremely social and friendly games.
King ends his article with the following:
"There's never been a better time as a student to get into this industry – hopefully the graduate talent pool will be big enough to meet the demand because I anticipate seeing even more hiring from Australian studios in the next 12 months," said Tom Crago, CEO of Tantalus at the Melbourne Games Development Conference last December.
But strangely neither he nor any one else mentioned the less than shining example the scaled-back Fury had set in the same week.
Fury has hurt the local games industry, that's true. But if you're going to mention the bad, you should also highlight the good - Bioshock (2K Australia), Destroy All Humans! (Pandemic), The Legend of Spyro series (Krome Studios), Medieval 2: Total War (Creative Assembly Australia), Heroes of the Pacific (Transmission Games) and more. These companies have done well, and nothing suggests they won't continue to do so. And Auran made a huge impact with Dark Reign, which despite Fury's failure, should not be neglected.
Malcolm King does present us with a reality of games development - a distorted one. I suggest if he wishes to take shots at the industry in the future, he should, at the very least, consult with more of those working in it.
I've contacted both Tantalus' CEO Tom Crago and Infinite Interactive's main man Steve Fawkner for their thoughts. According to Crago, the Courier Mail will be posting his reply in the near future.