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Origins of Australian Game Developers

We can see in various game developer hotspots around the world where successful game companies have spawned off many other companies in the same area as employees break away to start their own studio. Dallas, for example, was where Apogee Software (3D Realms) was based and where id software relocated. Ex-employees of those companies left to form Ritual Entertainment and ion Storm, making Dallas a hotbed for First person shooter games.

Australia has its own similar stories, and during Alfred Milgrom's opening speech at the ACMI Hits of the 80's exhibition, Alfred mentioned with pride of the role Melbourne House had as a catalyst for the game development industry in Australia. We decided to graph out some of the links between the origins of various Australian game developers, and the results were very interesting. While many Melbourne game companies can be linked back to Beam Software / Melbourne House, it's amazing how many are linked directly to Torus Games. What was it about Torus Games that motivated so many entrepreneurs?

Of course, we're continuing to refine and update this chart, so if you know of any corrections or additions that need to be made, please do post about it in the comment box below and I will make an update!

1994: Tantalus co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, Andrew Bailey, was enticed to Australia by Beam Software where he worked for five years as a programmer before starting up Tantlus with Trevor Nuriden.

1994: Torus Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Bill McIntosh, got his start at Beam Software as a programmer for the company from 1985 until 1993. Watch Bill talk about it at the ACMI website.

1999: After a four year stint at Torus and learning the ropes from Bill McIntosh, Rob Murray started up ndWare to provide high tech programming services to the games industry, and then focussing on game development itself as Firemint in 2001.

2001: Chris Wise worked on titles like Carmageddon TDR 2000 at Torus before leaving and founding Virtual Mechanix

2002: After completing Dark Reign 2, several ex-Auran developers working on the project in Santa Monica, California became homesick. Rather than lose their exceptional talents, Pandemic established a second studio in Brisbane, Australia.

2002: (Creative Assembly) Ken Turner, Project Director (from AustralianGamer) "Basically, we left EA (they had a Gold Coast studio back then), and by left I mean in the nicest possible way - booted out the door. George used to get Creative Assembly to do all the sports products, local sports: AFL, Rugby and stuff like that. I think they even did an early version of FIFA on the PC way back when. So, when Tim, the owner of Creative Assembly at the time, heard that we were available to resources, he went "wow, that's great, I’ve always wanted to have an Australian studio". Back then I think we were seen as terribly low cost."

2002: Firelight Technology, the company behind the famed FMOD, has origins in Tantalus. Firelight CEO and lead programmer, Brett Paterson, was previously a Tantalus employee.

2003: Redtribe is started up by Blue Tongue co-founder, Chris Mosely

???: Interzone Entertainment Chief Operating Officer and co-founder, Robert Spencer, has roots in BigWorld as Strategic Business Manager.

Rebrandings and acquisitions

To complement the origins chat, I've decided to compile another chart of company renames and acquisitions.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/07/08 - 5:35 PM Permalink

Evolution was more or less an Auran spinoff. A lot of senior EA Gold Coast people came from Auran. A fair number of Evolution and EA Gold Coast people landed at Pandemic and also Krome. A lot of the original THQ Studio Oz people came from Auran and EA Gold Coast.

You should probably add the Krome lineage from John and Steve's original company (Binary something?) through Gee Whiz then to Krome.

This chart is going to look like spaghetti if you draw all the links! Aussie gamedev is incestuously small.

Submitted by souri on Tue, 22/07/08 - 11:50 PM Permalink

Was Justin Green (CEO of Evolution Games) an ex-Auran employee? Otherwise, the _origin_ of Evolution games isn't related to Auran.

Yep, I've added the Binary Illusions Interactive -> Gee Whiz! -> Krome link. Thanks!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/07/08 - 2:25 AM Permalink

BTW - I think this is a neat idea. The Australian industry is small enough that you can trace a family tree. Imagine how tough this would be for the UK or the US.

With THQ Studio Oz, I believe Steve Dauterman ran EA Gold Coast before moving over to run the local THQ outfit, and several of the senior people were from Auran when the studio started up, I think. Maybe some THQ folks can chime in on that one. So I think that falls into the same category as the Pandemic and CA.

Submitted by souri on Wed, 23/07/08 - 5:00 PM Permalink

Who were the other founding members of Evolution games? Anyway, I thought Justin Green was the main man, given his start-up keynote at one of the AGDC conferences years ago.

The history behind THQ is a bit of a mystery, I don't know much other than Evolution Games closing because of the publisher pulling out and creating a local studio. Would love to know more. I would have thought Auran had a much greater role in Brisbane as Beam did in Melbourne, and if anyone knows if Ratbag Studios spawned any other startups, that would be great. I know there was one small (albeit short-lived) studio to come from there.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/07/08 - 10:20 AM Permalink

As far as I know, Ratbag hasn't spawned any new startups. There was a company in Adelaide called HardCover Entertainment and they hired some ex-Ratbag staff but HardCover had already been setup by non Ratbag people at that stage.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/07/08 - 10:57 PM Permalink

Steve Stamatidis and John Passfield ran Gee Whiz back in the mid 90's I think, before Steve and John met up with Rob Walsh to form Krome in November 1999. John eventually migrated to Pandemic in early 2002, so there's a link there ...

But to be honest, there's links in almost EVERY company from one to the next, unless you're simply following founders.

Just to screw things up as well, it's worth noting some people have left newer companies to go back to working for what is now Krome Melbourne.

Submitted by souri on Tue, 22/07/08 - 11:47 PM Permalink

Yep, we're only linking developers who've left and founded new companies (with the exception of Pandemic Studios and Creative Assembly, however those ex-employees had a big role in the formation of the new company).

There's no point in linking companies via employees who have left and joined others since that's quite prevalent in the local industry. One of my friends has worked for six well known game companies in Australia already, to cite just one case.

We're also not linking the mass exodus of employees to other companies. It's happened a few times in Australian development history, but this chart is all about ex-employees forming new companies.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/07/08 - 9:08 AM Permalink

Brett Paterson from firelight actually started in the industry at torus Games. Daniel Visser, founder and CEO of Wicked Witch also started at Torus, but had a stint at Beam Software as well. Crawfish Interactive, one of the big UK handheld developers of the late 90s, was founded by Cameron Sheppard, an ex Beamer. I know Crawfish wasn't an Australian company as such (though there were quite a few Aussies working for them) Rob Murray from Firemint and Daniel Visser had some ties with Crawfish and Crawfish probably played some part in helping get those 2 studios up and running early on.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/07/08 - 12:22 PM Permalink

Starting up a new studio is tough. A lot of companies in AU have employment contracts that prevent you from offering jobs to anyone you worked with for about a year and sometimes longer. And to start a new team you need funding, publishers and investors are reluctant to hand out that sort of money to a team that have nothing much in the way of tech, assets etc... track record of working at different companies can count for something but they still have to build up their tech base from scratch rather than re-use an engine that was developed for previous titles.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/08/08 - 2:37 PM Permalink

Rob Murray started at torus

Submitted by souri on Thu, 07/08/08 - 3:08 PM Permalink

Yup, that's why Firemint is linked off Torus.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)