Every so often, figures from the government or industry are published illustrating the size of the Australian games industry. One developer, however, thought the figures seemed a little small. So he started compiling a list of his own.
Ashley Ringrose is the director of SMG Studio, the developer responsible for One More Line and recently, Death Squared. Not long after the industry advocates IGEA published their stats at the start of the year, Ringrose noticed some discrepancies. Not all of Australia's major studios contributed to the survey, which skewed some of the figures, and plenty of adjacent companies that develop video games — but aren't full time developers — weren't included either.
Ever wondered precisely how large the Australian games industry is?
The biggest discrepancy Ringrose noted was that some of Australia's largest companies didn't contribute to IGEA's figures. Staff at EA's Melbourne studio, Firemonkeys, weren't included in the figures. Neither was Wargaming's Sydney office, which is the largest dev studio in the state with around 110 staff. The casino industry also wasn't counted, even though their process of development is looking more and more like traditional video games every day (particularly when compared to mobile game development).
So Ringrose reached out to other devs, through private Facebook groups, messages and emails, and began building a list of his own. IGEA's figures earlier this year said that there were 928 full-time employees — or full-time equivalent employees — in FY 2016-17.
According to the figures, compiled with the help of people from within those studios and others in the Australian dev community, the real full-time equivalent number of people working in the Australian games industry is 1307.
Another 137 staffers are on part-time or contract work, and if you widen the net to include those working in the casino games development, support staff, non-game developers who also happen to make video games (like digital agencies), games media, esports and marketing, the figure stands at 3,150.
The figures are updated through a shared Google Docs sheet which has been circulating around the dev community. It's not complete: the FTE or overall figures don't include anyone working in esports, either as players or on the infrastructure side with companies like Gfinity and ESL. There's also missing data on education-focused studios, universities or colleges that offer courses for or concentrate on the different aspects of game development. The in-house marketing for local publishers, like Blizzard, Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, Sony and so on aren't included either.
But it's a much better picture of what the games industry looks like. We know that Victoria has the bulk of Australian development, and that's still the case here with more than 39% of the quoted employees across full and part-time equivalent work. (IGEA's figures earlier this year had 36% of the industry based in Victoria.)
QLD's industry is rather large too. Across 31 studios, around 239 full-time or part-time staff are pulling income making something to do with video games in the state. That's just over 16%, although the more interesting stat for me is the similarity between NSW and QLD in the total number of studios (40 to 31 respectively).
Firemonkeys/EA remains the biggest traditional games employer, with 170 staff, while Zero Latency has become one of the most well-staffed companies with 59 FTE and 23 part-time/contractors on their payroll. The biggest companies are in the casino business, however: Aristocrat Gaming, which bought out Big Fish Games for $1.3 billion last year, has over 700 FTE staff alone. Scientific Games, which is based in Las Vegas, has a Sydney office with around 300 staff. And then there's firms like Isobar in Victoria, a digital agency that has worked on VR content and runs an innovation accelerator, which has another 350 employees.
In a conversation over email, Ringrose explained that he hoped the survey would help give people a better picture of the Australian industry. He's also hoping more people come out of the woodwork to flesh out the figures, particularly the streamers/esports industry which has grown exponentially in the last couple of years.
"I want this to be a positive thing, but a message that we still have a ways to go," Ringrose explained. For him, the most intriguing part of the figures was discovering the presence of major studios like Sledgehammer in Australia, as well as the size of the casino companies.
Even outside of that, the figures make for great reading. Team Cherry, developers of the cracking Hollow Knight, are a studio of just five people. Ubisoft has one developer working remotely from Australia (although the studio's internal marketing force, based out of Sydney, is a full office). Infinity Ward has a developer working remotely from Tasmania, while Treyarch have three staffers across Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
While the figures aren't complete, even just having a broader picture of what the local gaming industry looks like is invaluable. It helps discussions with local, state and federal governments, but also gives individuals a better idea of what other studios are out there when they're looking for work, and where else their gamedev skills might be applicable.