Mike Acton: "Money Goes Where The Talent Is, Period."

High Australian dollar? No local publishers? A supposedly “dead” game development scene? None of these things are relevant for today’s Aussie game devs, according to the Engine Director of Insomniac Games, Mike Acton.

“Is this a wise career choice?” asks Mike Acton, the Engine Director of Insomniac Games to a roomful of game developers.

“If you have to ask whether or not it’s a wise career choice, it’s not a wise career choice. If I can do anything at all to stop you from doing it, it’s not a wise career choice. I simply shouldn’t be able to stop you. In this room, especially after what has gone on in the AU game development industry over the last couple of years, you guys are still here. No one has stopped you.”

It’s the first official day of this year’s Games Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) summit and Acton stands before local game developers asking them why they’re here and why, despite all the obstacles that have been thrown their way, they still continue to make games.

As the Australian game development industry recovers from the recent closure of some of its biggest studios, Acton tells developers that in light of many international publishers cutting the rope and abandoning Australian studios, now is the time for Australian developers to aim higher and put perceived obstacles behind them.

“So many people want to complain that the Australian game development scene is dead,” says Acton, referring to message boards and blogs where people all around the world have predicted doom and gloom for the local scene.

“First, those people need to shut the f*ck up. You’re all here...” he says, addressing the room of developers.

“You’re all here, and as long as there are game developers there is a game development scene. The Australian game development scene is not dead -- what’s dead is the way we used to do things; that’s very different to saying that game development is dead.”

Acton acknowledges that he doesn’t know the ins and outs of Australian politics and investments and comes to this as an outsider looking in, but he says that a few important points need to be made about game development that are highly applicable to the Australian scene.

“One of the big complaints made is that there’s a lack of international development coming into Australia... I want to point out some really important facts. What we do is entertainment (if we put aside the serious sector for a moment) and what we have is a group of extremely talented and passionate people, and money goes where the talent is, period.”

“If you can demonstrate that you are the talent, that you can do something that no one else can do, that won’t get ignored.”

“You’re not going to have Activision or EA go ‘This is the best goddamn group of people I have ever met, but they’re in Australia so I’m not going to work with them'. Money comes to where the talent is, regardless.”

Another frequent complaint that Acton flags as a red herring is the high Australian dollar.

“The value of the dollar is only relevant if you’re a commodity,” he says.

“If I’m going to outsource to a bunch of B-Players, the value of the dollar matters because I want to go cheap; talent doesn’t matter. But that’s not what you’re doing in Australia. You’re A-Players. Unless you’re a commodity, this point has no value.”

Acton stresses that game developers need to have something to say and they need to have unique and original ideas. He believes that it is crucial that game developers build their brand and become known for what they are able to offer, no matter how small the team is, if they are to thrive and remain resilient.

"The money, recognition and opportunities go to where the talent is," he says.

"If i’m a publisher or developer looking for someone to fit this opportunity or spend this money, unless I’ve heard of you, you have no chance at all of getting any of that. You need to make sure we hear about you, globally. You are a game developer, that as a thing has value to you and to us as an industry. Value your own voice: the things that you have to say have real value. Don’t let it be subsumed by the company you’re working for. It’s your voice, own it."

Acton says that the old way of making games is dead, but that the strength of game developers is in the way they can adapt and change, and that is precisely what the Australian industry will be able to do.

“One of the skills we have is change,” he says.

“We adapt, we modify, we figure out how to do things, so when people say game development is dead or publishers aren’t doing this or that, we will adapt.”

“There’s cause for hope here. What I see is we have a group of passionate and talented developers and that’s honestly all that’s necessary.”


Comments

    I'd have to disagree. The talent goes where the money is. How many game devs up and moved overseas after the major closures here in Australia over the past few years?

      What makes you think that those who moved were the most talented? Wouldn't the least talented be the ones forced to move? Not every individual in the games industry is talented. Most of them just want to work for someone and make money doing something interesting.

        I'd be inclined to think the least talented would switch careers. The most talented would up stakes and move internationally because they'd actually believe they have what it takes to make it in this industry. It's not a trivial decision to move overseas away from friends and family. You'd have to be pretty committed to make that choice.

          Ouch, dude. I switched industries because I have a wife and a house, but I can assure you that my performance reviews were pretty good when I was a game programmer.

          There are many, many reasons why people decide to move away or decide to stay. Some people can afford to go indie full time, others have to work a day job and do what they love after hours.

          Life is more than just chasing your dreams to the detriment of those around you. Sometimes you have to fit your passion around the realities of life.

        This was based on personal knowledge of a few game devs (VERY talented) who have moved overseas to follow the big bucks after major closures, as well as a number of articles, (including at least one on Kotaku) specifically about this issue.

          I know a bunch of ninjas who have taken up jobs at kick ass studios overseas. Who wouldn't want to work with people are talented and passionate as Mike at Insomniac, or on big budget AAA titles.
          Yes, some great people have stayed. But the young, mortgage free dudes are off working with EA, THQ and the budgets that accompany them.

    Awesome article Tracy! Whenever I see Mike acton's name, I read it as "Mike Action".

      Oh man, I totally read it as "Mike Action" until getting to this comment.

        me too

          Been reading it as Mike Action because I'm pretty sure Tracey has been tweeting "Mike Action" instead of Mike Acton.

          :/

          ps. Mike Acton = Supreme Mo Overlord. I just wanna climb it like a cliff face.

    Controversial. What was the mood like in the room when Acton was saying this stuff, Tracey?

    Still, it's a great pep talk. Let's hope for the sake of Aussie talent, that it rings true.

      It was a really encouraging talk and everyone in the room seemed motivated by it. There was lots of nodding. :)

        Forgot to hit reply. Now people will see me nodding along to nothing.... *nods emphatically*

    I'll listen to Acton when ever he has something to say about programming, but I don't think he has a clue what it's like for aussie dev studios.

    I think this guy is completely and unreservedly right. Australia needs to forget EA and Activision as sources of investment for a few years and work out a foundation for local investment. There ARE investors in this country, but none of them are used to investing in videogames. Figure that out and there will always be that local bedrock, no matter what the global economy is like. Obviously its hard right now, obviously we have individuals who are leaving the country. We also have new graduates and young people coming of age all the time. The people who have moved away aren't the only people who can or want to develop games.

    He is right, Australia has rarely produced anything exceptional on the AAA stage. With no IP of value and an established profitable studio why should Publishers take risks. The days of large studios in AU is over. It's unlikely to ever happen again as the cost of AAA development skyrockets come the next generation of hardware. The publishers that can afford that already have all the talent they need. The only way to make living in games development now is to create niche indie titles with the hope of having a hit. It's that talent Acton is talking about. Make something people want to play... profit.

    well a positive note everyone should consider is that when development started, you had 1-4 maybe a few more working on a game, that slowly grew and grew a grew to a few years ago it was 50-150 people in big studios. Now thats no longer the case, it has crashed and now its time to build new studios as you can make games with 1-4 people, get it out there and become a success. This is the time to build studios and build names and grow new studios and it appears that is the case.

    Also studios have to build a brand, HalfBrick and Firemint are two brands that are known world wide are many know that they are Australian studios. We need more of those, but more importantly innovation is the key to success, adapt and push new technology as well are also in another great period, the cross roads between two generations. So the best coarse of action is to make games, not complain, its that simple.

    “Money Goes Where The Talent Is, Period.” ,so how do you explane mw3 then dumbdumb

      umm what lol?

      what does this have to do with MW3? But my guess is you are one of those trolls who hate on MW3 but in fact owns it and most likely went to the midnight launch as well. But being logically the explanation for that would be that Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer are staffed by talented people, so talented that they have made a product that has great reviews and is the fastest selling game of all time.

        I think he's referring to the fact that Activision fired the Studio Heads of Infinity Ward and let all the top game designers leave... they handed the franchise to Sledgehammer and they were able to make the highest grossing game of all time.

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