Nathanael Peacock
Technology Journalist

Nathanael Peacock is a tech, digital and entertainment writer

Nathanael Peacock
Technology Journalist

Nathanael Peacock is a tech, digital and entertainment writer

It’s not all levelling up and losing lives. There’s plenty the business sector can learn from Australia’s indie game developer culture.

In 2014 it was estimated that the video game industry would reach revenue of more than $80 billion globally. Global box office sales, by comparison, only reached $36.4 billion.

It’s big business, and getting bigger with the rise of trends like virtual reality, yet the industry is still made up of small operations using cost-effective distribution tools to get their wares to the masses.

And as an extremely competitive industry, non-traditional thinking, smart use of technology and community are key, along with healthy doses of determination and resilience.

They’re characteristics any business owner will be familiar with, and lessons any business can learn from.

A shot from behind of a person in front of a mass of coloured lights and shapes

Customers first

Customer experience is the new frontier, and nowhere is this more prevalent than the video games industry. Rigorous testing to identify bugs, glitches and issues occurs prior to going live because they realise the importance of the (vocal) community in the success of their games. In cases where they haven’t, like the release of Assassin’s Creed: Unity in 2014, they’ve gone out of the way to make peace with the community. The Assassin’s Creed example led to developer Ubisoft giving a free game to all who bought it early on due to glitches in the game at launch.

With the advent of social media, along with review sites like Zomato and Expedia, the ability for customers to amplify their experiences – good or bad – beyond their immediate network has never been greater. The old adage of “if you please a customer they’ll tell one person, but a bad experience and they’ll tell seven” is now probably closer to “if you please a customer they’ll tell one hundred, but a bad experience and they’ll tell seven hundred”.

Determination

In recent years, the gaming industry in Australia has come under political fire. Firstly, the 2014 federal budget axed the $20 million interactive games fund earmarked for the period 2014-15, as well as opposition to an R18+ classification meant the industry needed to fight to gain public recognition as an adult medium, rather than a pastime for children. 

The challenges for developers have been considerable, with big developer 2K Australia announcing its intended closure this year, but determination of the community has seen some success stories: Sydney based developer Blowfish Studios hit the number one app in US with Siegecraft downloaded 1.5 million times.

This determination to succeed in the face of challenges has meant the sector in Australia alone is now worth nearly $2.5 billion, according to the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA), and is expected to hit $3 billion by 2017.

Non-traditional thinking

Distribution methods have changed considerably in the last 30 years, and the games industry – by virtue of their inherent technological nous – have evolved their operations to capitalise. In the mid-90s, ROM cartridges were the preferred method of delivering games. Following that came CD-ROMs, then Blu-ray Discs, then came the online distribution that’s prevalent today, using services like Steam, Origin, the App Store and Xbox Live Marketplace.

Game developers, particularly independents, have actively sought out the next way to distribute their wares – constantly striving to lower costs, and putting savings into creating a better product that will help differentiate them from competitors. 

The cutting edge of technology

Video games have long pushed the boundaries of what technology can do. Game designers spearheaded investment in games apps (leading to the business and enterprise apps we rely on today), and pushed the boundaries when it comes to VR and augmented reality. In addition, the gamification of workplace processes is increasingly seen as an effective way to engage staff members – recognised by project management tools, which assign points to team members for being active in discussions. 

Because the games industry is so competitive, being on the cutting edge of technology, whether it’s to work faster or deliver a new experience isn’t just a competitive advantage, it’s a survival mechanism.

Multi-tasking

Job titles can define our working life. In big companies, titles are crucial to know who reports to whom and where responsibilities lie. Like small business, small independent game developers are product of a passion, small teams that work nimbly and across everything.

The team manager can be the writer, the animator and the programmer. The writer is also the creative director, distribution manager and marketing specialist.

For example, Expand is a meditative experience about guiding a small pink cube through an ever-changing circular maze that’s received praise from events such as PAX and Freeplay.

Two developers made it.

Chris Johnson, a developer from Adelaide is the designer, programmer, animator and everything else about the gameplay. Chris Larkin is the other developer, he is an award-winning composer who developed the soundtrack, which loops and twists around the action on screen.

It can be a frenetic existence, wearing that many hats. But with the right tools, technology and people, it’s doable, and can result in a product that delights customers and keeps them coming back.

Many game studios in Australia run a small team.

Learn why you don’t need a big team to be successful.

Find Out More

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