Question Time: Your Interview With Tom Crago

We gave you the chance to ask questions of Tom Crago, head of the Game Developers Association of Australia. After the jump, Tom chats about getting a job in game development, how Australia compares to the rest of the world, and the diea of “Made in Australia” stickers on locally developed games.

Last Wednesday we asked you to send us your questions for Tom, who is not only the head of the GDAA but also of Melbourne studio Tantalus. Tom’s kindly given his time to answer your questions and I hope you find his responses as informative as I did.

Also, a quick thanks to everyone who submitted a question and stay tuned for the next Question Time candidate later today…

Here’s your interview with Tom Crago:

Is is true that the GDAA was formed in Australia to create a salary cap situation for between key game development studios in both Melbourne and Brisbane?

Wow, I haven’t heard that one before! But I do love a good conspiracy theory and the prospect of sitting, cloaked, in a large stone room with a group of game industry CEO’s, collectively pulling the strings of the local industry is attractive indeed. Look, this is certainly not the case… There is no agreement between any Australian development studios in relation to salaries. In fact, we actively compete for talent. At Tantalus we opened a studio in Brisbane specifically to get access to programmers, artists and designers working in that city. There’s a lot of movement of employees between studios in Australia.

How do you get into the games industry in Australia?

These days you really need to have dome some sort of games-specific study once you complete high school. There are a lot of courses offered at universities, and other tertiary institutions. You need to get one of these courses under your belt, and be up towards the top of the class. Then, most importantly, you have to have a very impressive body of work that you can show a prospective employer. If you’re an artist, this means a kick-ass show reel. If you’re a programmer, you need a game or engine demo that you created or worked on. And if you’re a game designer you need to be a able to show a bunch of paper design overviews that you’ve created. After that, it’s a matter of doing well at the interview and in any tests or trials that your employer might set you. It has to be said: it’s a tough industry to get into. It’s ultra competitive, but once you’re in it’s the best job in the world.

How do you feel about the stupidity of the “Ratings” system for games? Do you think we will ever see a system introduced that is workable and concrete across all media?

Yeah well I think we all know it’s a joke here in Australia… It certainly will change, it’s just a matter of when. I’d like to think it will happen in the next 5 years.

What is our role in the industry? What is our biggest export do you think?

We do pretty well here in Australia. We’re known for working on a wide variety of titles, across a range of platforms. We do a lot of big, licensed titles (Star Wars, SpongeBob, Cars) but we’ve also had success with original titles. de Blob and the Puzzle Quest games are a couple of recent examples of Australian developed games that have been extremely successful. You can go as far back as Dark Reign from Auran and Powerslide from Ratbag for evidence of our ability to successfully bring original titles to market. It’s hard to say what’s the most successful Australian developed game of all time… I tend to claim our game Pony Friends on the DS, which has now sold more than a million copies. Again, it was an original title.

I’m currently studying game design at RMIT and I was hoping for some advice regarding what steps I can take now to help secure me a job in the future. Currently, my peers and I are all planning to search for jobs overseas as most graduates we speak to complain they’re stuck making phone games etc. What’s in store for the Australian game market, and should we stick around?

The Australian game development industry remains healthy and I know there a number of companies hiring. But of course the great thing about being a game developer is that you can work anywhere in the world. So for sure, all graduates should look at options overseas. A lot depends, of course, on the type of game you want to work on, and there’s a sense in which you have to keep your expectations realistic, especially initially. No love for mobile phone games? That’s a shame! We have some of the best mobile developers in the world here in Australia.

Ayrton Coll
Australians buy and play plenty of games, but do you think that until we start producing at the same levels as the U.S, Europe and Japan, the government and Australian culture in general (being primarily rooted in sport/cars/outdoors etc.) won’t take them as seriously?

Well I think we do produce games at that level… but it’s maybe true that we haven’t yet had the global smash hit title that would really put us on the map. Maybe that would help with the Government. But I think it’s more a case of Governments everywhere catching up with the fact that games are now right up there with film in terms of their contribution to the cultural and leisure landscape.

I’d like to know what exactly some of the hurdles are when it comes to licensing agreements in Australia? Certain games are delayed or distributed unevenly in this country (Rock Band etc) and I hear responses like ”couldn’t get licensing” or “it’s to do with licensing”. I understand songs need to be licensed but I think people would enjoy hearing a clear definition as to why it is sometimes difficult? Are there games that are harder to license than others? How does it affect non-music based games?

This is probably more a question for a publisher than a developer. We actually don’t deal with licensing issues (nor are we involved in sales or distribution.) At Tantalus when, for example, we work on a Cars game, all the licensing issues are dealt with by Pixar (License owner) and THQ (Publisher). I could only speculate that for music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, they actually need to put in place separate agreements in each territory, which would obviously be time consuming. Not that that’s much consolation when you’re waiting for a game that you know was released in America months ago!

James Murchison
Why don’t Australian made games advertise on their boxes that they are Australian made? I can understand not doing so in the USA, but here in Australia the packaging should have an Australian Made logo.

Yeah I think that’s a great idea. The problem again, though, is that this is something controlled by the publisher. And the boxes are all manufactured off shore. Maybe we could look at getting a sticker attached to the boxes, in the local distribution warehouses. I’d love to see it happen.

How should the Australian industry position itself as more and more global publishers look to outsource production to Asia and Eastern Europe? How much of a challenge to our industry do you think this is?

Great question, and for sure it’s a huge challenge. We can’t be as cheap as Asia, so we clearly need to be better. We have to have a quality proposition that far surpasses any of the low cost options. We also need to be more reliable, easier to work with, and head and shoulders above our competition in terms of our creative spark and innovation. It’s a battle, especially here on the other side of the world, but we continue to punch well above our weight division.


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