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Anthem for the Year 2018 — January 25, 2018

Anthem for the Year 2018

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There’s not much to love about a studio closure. As I talked about in my assessment of the Australian Gaming Industry, it’s an itinerant, project-driven industry, that means a closure is ending a collection of permanent jobs. The biggest closure in recent years locally has probably been 2K, of Borderlands fame, with the local development scene now preoccupied with a glut of mobile and free-to-play games that are as hit-and-miss on iTunes and Google Play as they compete with a market over-supply.

The reason for my lament is that I suspect a new closure is coming soon. Kotaku are reporting today on the general feeling among Bioware that their future hinges on the success or failure of their upcoming IP, Anthem. Whatever you think of the game – and I happen to think it looks pretty darn good – it is still being compared to the games as a service stalwarts such as Diablo III and Destiny. Neither of which have had seamless launches, and the latter of which still draws criticism after failing to learn from the mistakes of Christmas Past.

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And that is both a shame and a reality. The benchmarks set by the big players in the industry – Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts (among others) means that lofty KPIs are often the death knell of once mid-tier studios. I spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time in Bioware’s worlds, Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights … and I know that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect still draw considerable affection from the internet at large. But now everyone is in pursuit of the next Overwatch or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. They want the attention of streamers, of gamers, of the mainstream media. They want to be able to exploit revenue streams, and not just the usual additions of DLC and micro transactions, but now we’re talking merchandise and advertising. Big Business has finally woken up to the opportunities presented by gaming.

Perhaps a telling sign of the times is that IP is now the main commodity of the gaming industry. The death of THQ didn’t stop the sale of its popular series, Darksiders, with the launch of the third instalment due out this year. Atari are using their subsidy to crowdfund investors for a Nintendo Switch launch of gaming classic, Rollercoaster Tycoon. Theme Hospital is still invoked as the precursor to new development, Two Point Hospital. The love of titles and characters far surpasses the love of studios and publishers.

Ironically, it seems that it was the love for the Mass Effect brand which signalled the beginning of the end for BioWare. Impossibly high standards set for Anthem are likely to make for a sad ending on what was undoubtedly one of the best developers of the past few decades.

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7.8 Billion Reasons — January 18, 2018

7.8 Billion Reasons

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association published the results of its local industry survey this week, concluding that video games industry in Australia employs 928 people full time, and contributes $118 million to the economy “in spite of limited recognition and support”.

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Source: IGEA (2018)

The point of the survey is to communicate to Federal and State Governments exactly how little taxpayer support goes towards the industry in Australia, when compared with something like film and television, or fine arts, but – if I’m perfectly honest – I think this message falls flat.

For starters, it’s 2018 … I don’t know that FTE is really the right measure to gauge industry density. It’s still a market that has a lot of freelance, short term contract and even students contributing to that $118m. While I am almost certain that the idea of a stable, permanent job in the games industry is aspirational, the truth remains that it is fundamentally a project-driven environment. That means short-term contracts, lay-offs, scales up-and-down, and everything else that came out of the wash when the internet was up in arms about ‘crunch time.’

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but telling the good news stories is how you attract more good news. Overall employment numbers, or products shipped, or almost any other metric probably would tell a better story than total FTE, particularly when we’re talking less than 1,000.

Secondly, $118m is very, very low. We’re talking globally an $80 billion market. I always thought that Australia punched well above its weight, but this makes me think that there’s simply not enough clout there to peak the Government’s interest.

For comparison’s sake … let’s have a look at the numbers.

  • Americans spent US$21.53 billion on games and hardware in 2013. That’s one market, five years ago, and by the time you introduce Asia and Europe into the figures, you can start to see how we hit the magical $80 billion benchmark.
  • Esport is about a $700 million industry on its own, with the latest figures estimating over half of that revenue being generated out of China and North America. Australia generating the equivalent of a third of that revenue as the contribution from an entire industry means that it falls far behind its regional and philosophical allies. Far behind.

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Source: Starkn (2018) 

  • If you want to look at employment numbers, the story is even more gloom-and-doom. Mining, for instance, which has considerably scaled back its employment post-boom, still employed 163,000 people by the end of 2015-16. While I’m sure there is a reasonable level of competence and skill required to get a job in the mining industry, in my experience, it seems like a far lower barrier-to-entry than a role in game development.

These stats should either fill you with hope that there’s room in the domestic market to grow, or sadness with such a woeful industry footprint. While I’m leaning towards the latter, I suspect that the industries that rely on the optimism of Australian gaming will take the glass-half-full approach. There’s no money to be had in the schools that teach game development if they’re skilling people up for a fledgling industry.

Look, the IGEA is right – it is an industry that needs support. If anything the comparison with global figures shows that it’s a huge market that Australia has failed to exploit with any great success. We are on the front doorstep of one two great esport success stories in Korea and China, and we are simply not milking that for what it’s worth.

I spoke with representatives from the Victorian Government last year, represented by Creative Victoria, just before Melbourne Games Week, to broach the issue around what it would take for Government to support esports. The short answer: it wouldn’t. ‘Esport was something that should fundamentally be industry-led’, they decided. I am sure I can insert a rant about the funding traditional sport gets here, but I’ll save that for another time.

The point is, is that we are missing out on opportunities, and while I have a philosophical objection to much of conservative politics, giving them a slap on the nose isn’t how you go about winning favours. Showing them where Australia can benefit in the face of a shrinking economy does win support. You’re dealing with a bunch of old white men in suits – for the love of God, show them more numbers – good numbers – and less art.

The remaining $7.8 billion dollars we’re missing out on as an industry is a bloody good start.

Ain’t That a Kick in the Head — July 23, 2014
Pack Leader — December 11, 2013

Pack Leader

LEGO Legends of Chima • PlayStation Vita

The journey to platinum continues today – noting that I managed to find the 4x multiplier brick which would have made life much easier if I claimed it earlier on. For now, I’m working my way through a lot of the old levels again, this time with all of the core characters but sadly without enough credits to purchase one of the nomad tribe, which (for the fox) could quickly score me two trophies.

So … we grind. And we keep grinding (now with multiplier!) our way towards the fox!

Companion — December 10, 2013

Companion

Journey • PlayStation 3

Even though I call myself a gamer, I have never gotten around to playing Journey. Until now!

I have literally just turned off the console and walked to my computer. This certainly was an emotional game – I started off thinking that this was another artistic waste of time, before becoming fully invested in the story by the end of it (even though I’m not entirely sure what the story is).

Despite my relative success with the game, I still only managed to earn two trophies for this title – Rebirth for simply finishing the game, and this one, Companion, for playing the majority of the game with the same player. I had a quick scan of the trophy list, so I think I have a better grasp of what to do next play-through, but a lot of it relies on the other player doing the right thing (or not doing something as the case may be). It really is a game that needs to be completed in one sitting, so I’m not sure when I will next get an opportunity to have 2-3 hours to myself, but strange things have happened, so I’ll wait-and-see.

It’s not my game-of-the-generation, but it’s still very, very good. The more I think about it, the more I can appreciate what they’ve done with this as an emotion-invoking medium. Well done Sony Santa Monica and That Game Company.

Adventure — December 9, 2013

Adventure

flOw • PlayStation 3

I have no real idea what the heck flOw is supposed to be a game about, but it was bundled together in the Journey Collector’s Edition, so I thought I’d have a quick bash.

In all fairness, this isn’t something that I can imagine getting into. I really just wanted to play Journey but I downloaded what appears to be the extra features rather than the game itself, leaving me with nothing but the game that did successfully download.

Hopefully some more gaming goodness to come tonight – possibly with a DCUO trophy pop if I play my cards right!

Winter is not coming — December 7, 2013

Winter is not coming

RESOGUN • PlayStation 4

If you’re going to make a fun little game to play, that’s well-and-good. If you’re going to use (A) Game of Thrones references in your trophy list, then you probably need to brace yourself for one big, fat, wet sloppy act of love to take place on your person – I like it, and I want you to know how much I like it.

It’s just ticked over midnight here, so I thought RESOGUN would give me to quick-fix I needed for the day. I am at an awards event tomorrow night (or ‘tonight’ really!), so knocking this quick trophy on the head means my jobs done for the day!

Rhino Canyon —

Rhino Canyon

LEGO Legends of Chima • PlayStation Vita

Nothing particularly exciting about this one, just another level on the journey through the story.

I made some brilliant trophy progress on RESOGUN last night, though I’ll admit I cranked the difficulty down a few notches. I also had an opportunity to get outside in Metropolis in DC Universe Online, which was great but I’m not sure if the game saves my progress as I had those few difficulties at the start. Hopefully I can get to Level 10 and get rid of that ugly 0% trophy blemish on my record.

Lastly, I finally managed to get myself into a few multiplayer matches on COD Ghosts. The game still wasn’t really worth the pre-order, but at least I feel it’s not going to waste. Time will tell how this one stacks up.

In the meantime, back to Chima!

The Sum of Truth — December 6, 2013

The Sum of Truth

Assassins Creed III • PlayStation 3

God DAMN it, iPhone! I had some great content for this trophy written and you’ve taken it away from me.

It went around the lines of: blah, blah, Finished, blah, blah, Annoyed at Credits and Epilogue, blah, blah, stain on the wart on the arse of the gaming landscape.

And something about farting confetti.

Unleash the Power — December 5, 2013

Unleash the Power

LEGO Legends of Chima • PlayStation Vita

First of all, I want to express how downhill iOS has gone in a post-Steve Jobs world. The software skips around, and makes it very difficult for an iPhone blogger to be able to quickly knock-out an entry. Poor form, Apple.

I started a new game this morning because I’ve come to the sad realisation that one platinum trophy under my PSN account is a sad state of affairs. Across all of my ID’s, I’ve probably got a few, but having settled on this one – then I’m sorry to say that my effort has been less than satisfactory.

LEGO Chima is what happens when they go off and create their own IP. It’s not bad thus far, I love a big sword (pull your mind up out of the gutter) and the little protagonist, Laval, is pretty good at swinging it around. I cleared the first level this morning, Spiral Mountain, and managed three trophy pops along the way. Gameplay is almost identical to LEGO Lord of the Rings, but without the common-knowledge lore to go armed with, it’s as much a journey of discovery of a new world.

I have a trophy guide for this one, so hopefully if I chip away at it, I’ll pop a platinum and boost that PSN rating. Until I get sick of my ID and change it again that is …

(C’mon Sony! Give us the option!)