The Australian video game industry has taken a beating in the past decade. Most of our large studios - like Melbourne House, Krome, Transmission, and Bluetongue - fell victim to factors including an unusually high Australian dollar, faltering investment, and the global economic downturn.
In their place, something new has emerged. Small, independent studios, more often than not making smaller, cheaper games for mobiles and tablets, have emerged in staggering numbers. Some are extremely small, just a couple of people working on games together, or even a single creator working solo, such as Colour Bind creator Finn Morgan. A few have grown quite large, such as Brisbane's Halfbrick, creators of Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, or Melbourne's Voxel Agents, who brought us Train Conductor and Puzzle Retreat.
It's a tough life being an indie developer, running a business on razor-thin margins with little to no third party investment, counting every cent of your marketing budget, if you're lucky enough to have a marketing budget at all. Many talented teams labour in obscurity and never get a big break-out hit.
On the other hand, some are drawing quite a lot of attention, especially at GDC (Game Developers Conference), which is one of the largest gatherings of independent video game creators in the world. GDC is being held in San Francisco next week, but the best games being exhibited have already been selected and announced. A quarter of them are Aussie-made.
Of the eight games named "Best in Play", two were made locally: Fight the Dragon, made by Melbourne-based 3 Sprockets, and Muse, by fellow Melburnians Current Circus. Similarly, two of the eight honorable mentions are also Australian: Tail Drift, made by two-person Brisbane team Right Pedal, and Catapult King, by another Melbourne studio, Wicked Witch.
Australians make up only a tiny fraction of the industry worldwide, so for one in four of the games being recognised at GDC to be locally-made is a startling achievement, and says great things about the quality of our local talent.
Also at GDC next week, the mobile gaming website Pocket Gamer will be presenting its awards for best games of the past year, and Aussies have been well-represented in this regard as well. The list is too long to present in its entirety, but local nominees included Tin Man Games for their Gamebook Adventures series, Two Lives Left for Crabitron, Mu and Heyo for Boson-X, Wanderlands for Stickets, and Halfbrick for both Fish out of Water and Colossatron: Massive World Threat.
It's a credit to the creativity, ingenuity, and determination of our local independent game creators that their work is being praise so highly and so widely.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
Screen Play is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez