An Australian Game Dev Story

Geoffrey Suttor worked at THQ Studio Australia for over eight years, through its various iterations, until it was closed by THQ earlier this month. In a blog published at Tsumea he took the time to go over his experiences working on a number of different projects throughout his tenure.

It's must read stuff for anyone interested in the challenges facing the Australian industry. In the blog Suttor discusses the difficulties involved in producing the kind of games THQ wanted, in the face of a rapidly evolving industry.

It was at this time that I believe the studio’s hand was forced into something that was almost definitely the nail in the coffin but ultimately kept the studio alive until it’s recent demise. The games industry was changing, polarising to either very high quality AAA or low budget mobile games. The middle ground titles and budgets that THQ corporate was handing the studio were no longer selling or profitable. A major worldwide economic crisis combined to make decisions for console gamers a lot more obvious, they were only going to spend their hard earned money on high quality AAA experiences, and the emerging mass mobile market were after 99 cent mobile titles for a short stint of fun.

We didn’t have the option go to go to the smaller mobile titles which I think would have been a much better fit for our studio. You see we were a internal studio, and what that now meant was that we were part of ‘core’ and had to produce AAA titles with metacritic scores of 80 or higher. Anything less would be the end of us, and honestly, if we had not taken on the title at that time I’m pretty sure it would have been the end us there and then as THQ restructured and closed a whole lot of studios. It was do or die for THQ Studio Australia and the next game was going to have to be done on our next gen tech.

Considering the fact that most other staff members at both THQ Studio Australia and Blue Tongue have stayed relatively quiet about the closure of the Australian studios, this blog is quite candid and well worth reading in full.

An Australian [game studio]Story [Tsumea]


Comments

    I'll make sure to fit in time to read the whole thing later, but it's rather sad that global circumstances and a slavish obsession with Metacritic scores helped the demise...

    Then again, perhaps consumer buying trends really are changing, and middle-of-the-road games just aren't selling well. If everyone's flocking to either big-budget quality games or very cheap mobile titles, perhaps there just isn't space for quirky, innovative console/PC titles...

      Either Mark Reign or CliffyB said the same thing at the last GDC, the 'average'/budget/"middle of the road" game is dead.

        What they fail to see is that it is not dead at all. It has just been taken over by indies charging a much lower pricepoint. The average/budget/middle-road titles that publishers still make certain to charge full price for are certainly dead and should of been long ago. The failure of studios to adapt or even trial lower price-points is strange to me.

      Just read the full piece, it's really quite sad that so much effort went to waste when corporate couldn't see any more money in it.

    It's a good summary of the studio - I only came in the last 3 years but it was still a great place to work.

      Hope the ex-THQ guys get moving, either as Indies or over to Canada. Probably always be more money staying local and working on databases, but there were some coders there for sure that are Triple-A export ready.

    I've always wondered if reviews should have a separate score/rating for uniqueness/innovation for mid-tier games, where the game may not be AAA but has a cool idea or may be improved in a sequel.

    e.g. Alpha Protocol deservedly(IMO) had a metacritic of 64 with its technical flaws and what not but it had some unique innovations which could have maybe had a innovation score of 80 or higher.

      In business, just like life you don't get rewarded for participation. a good idea/innovation is great... but if you lack the ability to execute it your still toast

      that's just the way of the world

      With how the reviews have been for the last 4-6years, every site might as have just go with:

      Its Great!

      or

      Its Shit!

      I mean if a site that gives a review uses a number score like 1 out of 10 or 1 out 100, I see comments on a games that get 7 or 8 saying the game is shit and not worth it, when back 8 years ago if a game was given a 4 or less then it was certifibly shit.

        A lot of game-reviewers on sites that count to Metacritic I felt always reviewed a game based on what they wished it to be, or was it suitable for their age group or what they wanted, and not aware that their review may never be read, their ironic and witty jokes not laughed at - but their final number was going to force young families to sell houses. I had one review from a major site that said they knocked off points from the review score because it was clearly targeted at a younger demographic. Thanks for that.

        When you read a review of your title you've spent years working on, targeted at children watching the current cartoon on Saturday mornings, and the reviewer starts talking about the changes they would have made to make it more relevant to the hardcore audience, the original series and expanded universe - that's when you start to lose interest in reviewers and what you can do to improve your Metacritic, despite the importance of the value.

        My very blunt, non-referrenced and angry summary is Metacritic used to mean something until people who wanted to work in the games industry started reviewing games without understanding what they were doing.

        I can understand a spread in reviews, but I dont understand how these reviewers and their websites have never been under a spotlight by the IGDA, Kotaku or similar.

        The exchange rate doesn't help, problems within the studio don't help - but giving a game a '35' when similar sites gave the game an '85' - that is a reviewer I would like to meet on a panel and give him a 5 minute summary of my last 12 months, the facebook screenshots of fiends trying to sell their homes and find any form of work to pay the rent, for themselves and their kids - and ask him, now, do you think it was really that important to let the world know that you are so hardcore you remember the original PSX title, and therefore every new version is crap and you wont give it above 3.5 / 10 until that changes?

    I think people have to make games "for the love of the game". The quality then shines through, people buy the game, companies make money.
    e.g RDR, after seeing the detail they put into the game, me and my mates finally bought it.

    If you're going to make unambitious, short, single player games, then they should be selling them for $20.

    I would like to see more games with the RDR style open world game design. Or games like batman arkham asylum, with a more interesting IP than a generic western.

    Ideally if they made a well know IP into a great game design, a company could make millions. e.g Batman grand theft auto.

    I played that airbender game and to me it did not live up to the great tv show.

    Well the key is that we have world class universities doing games related courses so the talent is here so we have to keep them here and not moving off to places like Canada or lost into other industries like web development.

    If only the government would put up some serious investment and set up and "publisher" body for australian games development that would co-fund projects for other publishers if its made in australia and fund entire projects. Not only would we see a heap of studios rise up, if ran correctly by the right people could be very profitable for the government. As the investment could turn into a publishing body that can be sold off and a heap of studios will be up and running that could gain international investment resulting in 1000s of working people paying taxes along with the studios.

    Tho i can only dream really.

      This didn't work film production, and actively stifles creativity because only certain types of film s get now. The local industry now does significantly worse than before the government got involved.

        The film industry a particularly baffling case it seems like these industry bodies (like FFA, Film Victoria etc) will only fund film guaranteed to bore people.

        Frankly AAA is closed off for the moment, soaked up by a handful of companies (Ubi/EA/Acti/Rockstar/Bethesda), you only need to look at how quiet it was this June/July, even compared to June/July in 2010 which at least had some decent new games, the middle of the road releases are becoming $20 XBLA/PSN games.

    It seems relatively obvious that middle-of-the-road games selling at the same price as AAA games aren't going to look so good in comparison. But the pressures on price are historical, and aren't necessarily indicative of current thinking. People are used to buying $20 games that aren't as ambitious as AAA titles, via download services. It's no longer the province of the throwaway game. That's the new middle-of-the-road, surely.

    Terrible but unfortunately how a lot of us think. Not giving games that didn't get a 9 or a 10 a chance is killing off publishers and their visions (not to mention their jobs). For what its worth, sorry guys.

      Not charging what an 7 our an 8 us acruelly worth to the consumer might have had something to do with it. You can't make Toyota and charge for a ferrari.

    If Australia wants a piece of the gaming pie (which in recent years has surpassed the movie industry) then they have to do the same thing as other countries encouraging this. We have Universities now offering degrees, and more than enough enthusistic people in the country who want to. But they need support and encouragement from the govt (tax breaks etc, like overseas). They need this to get the industry growing and stop relying on overseas investment which can evaporate with a single letterhead.

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