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.”