marcus westbury

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Zero summit games

April 12th, 2008 by marcus

[Yes, somewhere inside me is a frustrated headline writer just busting to get out.]

2020 Computer Game strategy

I have to thank Ben Eltham and the comments over at Larvatus Prodeo and Christian McCrea for drawing this to my attention. Despite the fact that one of the agenda items for next weekend’s 2020 Summit is explicitly “How to encourage participation in emerging global industries such as game design, the internet 2.0, graphics-rich applications and animation” there is NO ONE on the list who really has much actual involvement with the computer games industry in Australia.

My own involvement in the world of computer games is pretty f**king minimal to say the least but i have at least had a long term interest and engagement in the area. Unless someone else who really knows this stuff received a late call up from reserve grade like me it may be left to me and a couple of games-friendly academics to carry this particular torch at the summit (there is obviously some sort of TORCH/ GAMES extended tortured China/Tibet metaphor there but i’ll be damned if i can be bothered working it in just now).

So i thought I’d throw it open here for any good ideas to take to the summit from the Games world. Can’t promise that it will be massively useful but I am trying.

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9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Christian Mc Apr 12, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Marcus, I’m writing a Ozco-funded whitepaper this year called Game Arts in Australia that talks about arts education and practice that would be useful for games, looking at the british model of creative incubation. I didn’t think it was going to be a reaction to ‘creative industries’, but yeah it kinda will be by the looks of it so far.

    Tell them this – basically an approach that considers games a ‘successful industry’ will fail and fail comprehensively. It will poison everything it touches and throw good money after bad. Basically we need to ask why the one videogame that had significant cooperation from academy and government – Fury by Auran Games – was so massive a failure. Auran was and is full of incredibly talented people who know how to build games, so what went wrong?

    My advice to Government :: Stop treating the games industry like an industry. It doesn’t follow a template of success and failure that makes sense with any other field. Stop teaching game designers how to ‘exploit IP’ as if it means anything. Britain abandoned this madness a decade ago.

    Games needs a dedicated approach from a dedicated office. it doesn’t need to be expensive, it doesn’t even need to have money. It just needs to be a body that knows where the holes are and can build a bridge. Basically that the summit lumps in games with other media is not a symptom – thats the problem.

    I highly recommend initiatives that leverage the future directions of games, instead of the present. People are not buying the big commercial games in the same way, and are often buying smaller indie titles. The government will do very well to insulate game producers FROM the market during production and then encouraging them to capitalise on their own work, their own creativity. Not a fantasy of what the market wants.

    Policy needs:
    – An R rating for games needs to be introduced immediately. The SA attorney general is blocking it and immeasurable harm to games industry, games culture and parent’s rights in the process. If it takes changing the Powers Act, do it.
    – Games education at the primary school level, teaching kids to teach their parents about games.
    – Letting Australians tinker and back-engineer technology is absolutely vital. We must disentangle from the American intellectual property system if we are to prosper.

    The Government should be asking not how it can help companies make money, but how people who are capable of making the games industry healthier and more cultural need to be supported. Thats it in a nutshell.

    Games people I’ve spoken to about the summit so far have looked at the list and seen nothing. Mark B. mentioned on the comments of that LP thread that “Stuart Cunningham knows about about the games industry – because ACID (Australian Centre for Interactive Design) is hosted by Creative Industries @ QUT.” Well, if thats the case, we’re in big trouble. Not because thats a bad thing, but if the closest we can get to a games person is someone who works with people who run a University collaboration group (as great as it is) that as one of its many foci sometimes looks at games, then you may as well not bother at all. Take it off the list and concentrate on other issues. Stuart Cunningham can do more good talking about other issues, for a start.

    Any of the people on this list would be fantastic representatives for the games industry, so if theres a call up for a representative, I hope it goes to one of you.

    Cheers and thanks for the opportunity.

  • 2 mez Apr 12, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Well, I’m not an expert in the field myself, but I’m currently in pre[mature]-beta-embyronic-testing of this: _Augmentology 1[L]0[L]1_: [Read: it’s not even approaching ready, but I’m throwing it out there in the hope it may just be helpful/relevant input]. It’s not Oz-centric, but it will – when full fledged + functional – attempt to address various issues related to Synthetic Realities + MMOGames.

    Who knows, you may even be able to line up some swanky sponsorship deal;)

    Best o’ non-country-specific luck,

  • 3 Adam R Apr 13, 2008 at 1:10 am

    The games industry freaks me out a bit because of how locked out independents are by proprietary hardware. The Nintendo DS dominates game sales charts in Australia.

    The consoles and handheld units that are owned by the giants in the industry, with tight DRM, prohibitive development and licensing costs, and numerous other barriers to entry.

    The best mainstream avenue for independent producers seems to be Xbox 360 Live Arcade at the moment. Microsoft release one game a week worldwide for download for $15 or less and they accept titles from just about anyone, it’s just incredibly competitive because of the captive audience. Microsoft have kind of blown it though with its selection of sub-par retro remakes.

    Nintendo have just launched Wiiware overseas, the Wii equivalent to Live Arcade which promises to be friendly to developers, and Sony have the Playstation Store, which looks like its a bit behind. Wikipedia will give you a good summary of all three.

    The iPhone SDK 2.0 is due soon and could provide a decent development environment for independent games. It will have Bluetooth for multiplayer games, a GPS that could add functionality and a touch sensitive interface. A slow and unconventional interface might kill it for existing games.

    I’ve got DOOM II with Bluetooth coop on my Nokia e65 Symbian business phone, and wi-fi, which rocks my world. It’s the only platform I still play freeware independent titles on, and there are heaps of them

    Anyway, thats my theory on how the bulk of gamers are accessing independent games at the moment. You probably won’t get that specific but when you arrange for a massive injection of Art’s Council Funding, DFAT support, tax exemptions, program for the dole, and games classes at schools, TAFE and Universities… just don’t let them develop anything for the PC. I love my PC but its gaming days are over.

  • 4 Ian Uniacke Apr 15, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I am no expert on market or industry analysis. I work for a local games company that ships games for playstation, xbox and pc.

    Off the top of my head there are two things I think would help the industry a lot.

    First and foremost would be the construction of a professional union/association for games developers. I understand both sides of the story and that a competitive market makes it hard for employers to give better packages to the employees, however I believe that employers may be doing a disservice to themselves as the best and most creative talent leave for foreign shores. This means that our potential for break out hits is affected and the industry as a whole suffers. Along the same lines, sponsoring research into productivity, especially such things as the effects of crunch time would help employers to make better decisions about how to apply their workforce.

    Also I would echo other peoples thoughts that supporting independents would be a massive boon to the industry. Independent film makers can attain grants from the government to get their works created, and a similar program would be a massive boon for creating a richer and more diverse gaming economy. Even grants as small as 50,000 dollars could allow independent developers to approach experimental games. I think also that a government run body that can negotiate with the big guys (Sony, Ninentdo etc) on behalf of the independents would help overcome the barrier of the little guy trying to get on Live Arcade or WiiWare.

  • 5 Fodder Apr 15, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I have g-mailed you something meaty.

  • 6 Wilson Apr 15, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    I’m not an expert, so feel free to ignore my comment. But I feel like posting a comment up about this topic, because I may work in the industry one day. I’m just a graduate software engineer working at a research firm at the moment.

    I play games a lot, and I did see Fury in the ebgames store, and it looked interesting, but the marketing didn’t convince me that it was better than the market dominating World of Warcraft that existed. Even if it WAS different from WoW in some way, it wasn’t marketed publicly as such (unless I could be bothered reading up about it on the net). And because I wasn’t familiar with the developer before, I was less interested. So game marketing (within Australia anyway) may need a little bit of a review. I’m not sure what happened overseas.

    I would agree with the previous posters that your best bet to find details to present at the summit is to actually look into how game developers manage their ‘product’ from its inception all the way down to product release and continual support. Compare this with successful software company models in another industry and see IF there are any similarities, or differences.

    Australia tends to be really good in the software development industry in a lot of areas. We tend to have good ‘thinkers’ as a result of our industry, and we tend to be valued for our creative talent as opposed to our coding monkey talent which can be outsourced overseas.

    Who knows, you may find that there is just not enough experience yet. And game developers maybe doing everything right. We maybe just too young. Sometimes time is the issue, and people like to expect results within a few years, when we should allow for more.


  • 7 Wilson Apr 15, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    “We tend to have good ‘thinkers’ as a result of our industry”

    Should be:
    “We tend to have good ‘thinkers’ as a result of our education system.”

    Apologies for the mistake.

  • 8 Sam Hinton Apr 18, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Hi Marcus,

    Good work getting in on the action. You may have only a small voice, but I’m guessing the 2020 summit is only the start of the game, so to speak 😉

    I’m currently running a University of Canberra funded early career researcher project looking at the shape of the games industry in Australia – the challenges, problems, past developments and possible futures. Later this year I’m going to do a bit of a grand tour and plan to meet up with some of the key industry people.

    I’ve written a bit and hope it’s not too late to get it to you. I largely support the points Christian makes below. I’ll send more in an email, but my main points are:

    1) we need to stop treating the games industry like other industries (it’s not film or IT).

    2) we need to support small, independent developers who may produce games which have no commercial value to create/support a frothing foam of creative game development energy from which great stuff can emerge

    3) we need to make sure that commercial developers are on a level-ish playing field with other comparable countries like the UK and Canada; this means we need ratings system reforms and better industry support like a 40% tax rebate.

    4) we need to make sure whatever support we put into the industry does not create yet another Australian industry that only exists because of tax payer support

    More in my email. Hope it gets through.


  • 9 Peter Camilleri Apr 20, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Marcus and congrats on making it into the summit.
    I, like most, am no expert, but a gamer and this is my view from the outside. There is a stereotype that is harming the games industry, the IT Geek. Most people, especially teenagers, see anyone involved in programming or IT in general as a nerd, geek or a number of other things that are considered “uncool”. There should be a change in the schools. From year 7 at least children should have the option to take computing classes to learn how to program and truly understand computers. It would be preferable to have computing classes earlier, say in year 3 or 4, and to make them compulsory (lets face it, people who can’t use computers well are seriously disadvantaged and things won’t change any time soon). This knowledge should be second nature to a student and a part of a person life, like learning to drive. But currently the situation is that learning how computers work is “uncool” and this is the first obstacle that needs to be overcome. By making Computer Studies a class like English, Mathematics or Science, the stereotype will soon change to become more positive and all children will be able to use a computer properly, aiding them in all other aspects of their life. This will help to foster growth in the Australian Game Development Industry and now more children have the option to pursue game development careers, and for those that do indeed become game developers, their training since their early high school years will allow them to handle more complex problems and ultimately design and create games that are of a high quality.
    I also agree and think that supporting independents will greatly strengthen the game development industry. Grants, even small ones, would promote more people to enter the industry increasing the quality of output. After a few years the competition for those grants will rise and so will the quality of games being produced by independents, and this will be a snowball-like effect. The small grants will most likely start to get slightly bigger, further promoting everything previously said, and so on, the industry grows. When games like Crysis or Bioshock or those classic games like Starcraft were created and reached the shelves one must understand that a person, or group of people, came up with the original concept. Those people happened to be in some way connected to the game development industry and so their games were fully realised. However it is a certainty that these people with concepts that could become great games lie beyond the game development industry. And when the independents are supported, the base of production for games will increase and more top class games will be noticed, which will only serve to help the game development industry. The independents are like a great gold vein, waiting to be tapped into so their worth can be truly harnessed.
    Personally, I have not yet chosen my career path but entering the game development industry is something I have considered however competing with major companies appears to be a daunting task. Along those lines it would be a good idea if the government established a group that could assist people like me; it would be similar to a union but they would do more. The group would aid new entrants to the industry by helping them to get on their feet in their first few years and also help the entrants to establish other contacts within the industry. The group would also assist independents in negotiating with the larger game development companies (a notion previously mentioned), similar to a union. This would greatly help the game development industry to appear friendlier from an outsider perspective as potential entrants know that there is a group within the industry that can help them out if they require assistance. I know that personally if this idea was proposed and considered at the summit then I would be far more likely to join the industry as I would know that my chances to become successful within the industry would be increased because of such organisation.

    So that’s my view, start teaching computing skills from a much earlier age, support the independents and establish a body within the industry to help new entrants and independents in general.
    Congrats again Marcus