What's the Australian indie scene like?

I know these forums are home to many aspiring game programmers/artists. As I speak, some of them are already at work at homebrew projects, stripping apart open source engines and mining voluntary talent from across the world. My question is: exactly how big is the independent games movement in Australia? Are there a lot of bedroom coders out there, anonymously plugging away at the Next Big Thing? Is it a subculture, bubbling beneath the mainstream or the past-time of a dedicated few?

This is the reason I ask: I am a journalist-in-training testing the possibility of a print magazine (quarterly or otherwise) that reports on the indie scene in Australia. Interviews, studio profiles, works in progress, thoughts for the future, etc. Currently, videogame magazines seem to channel the mainstream with no focus on smaller studios. If, in fact, an indie movement exists, I feel that journalistic coverage is appropriate in order to document the successes, failures and innovation it produces. Games are reaching a mid-life crisis: less companies, more money, higher stakes. Effectively, more sequels, more derivation and less innovation. Less creativity. I believe independent development can bring back these things. Journalistic coverage of the homebrew scene may encourage it to grow further.

Red 5's picture

Great idea Drift, hopefully you'll get a lot of positive response so you can go ahead with this.

CombatWombat's picture

Good questions, those :) Their level of good-ness is well matched by a level of difficulty to answer, however :)

First some background: I recently went part-time from my day programming job in order to spend more time developing a game I'd been working on as a hobby. I'm hoping to make some money from it, but it just takes so long to get all the code written... And that's even to get something with enough gameplay to overcome my programmer art to get people interested in helping out!

I think it'll be hard to get numbers on how big the indie games movement in australia is - I think the best approximation is going to be having some kind of poll on Sumea (which as far as I am aware, is the only game development site specifically geared at game developers in OZ/NZ). You might also get some kind of figures from the GDAA (http://www.gdaa.asn.au/) but they are oriented towards dev companies that are up and running than independent/hobby programmers (eg the $800 entry fee to the game developer's conference puts it out of reach of most independent developers who aren't students)

As a "bedroom coder", I know of about 4 others in Melbourne with a similar interest, compared with perhaps about 40 programmers without an interest in game development that I've worked with over the years. Only one other of these game developers is actively working towards getting a game published. I guess that my gut feel would be that it's a relatively uncommon past-time rather than a subculture (although I'd be very pleased to find I was wrong on this ;-)

I think you'll also find a fair number of the bedroom-coders also work for games companies despite their IP contracts with their employers. These people would have a fair bit to lose by publicly declaring they're working on a game in their spare time. Having seen friends' contracts for two of the bigger game developers in Melbourne, I know that people at either of these companies would be breaking their IP agreement to distribute games or code they wrote in their spare time.

Other point I'd make is that it would probably be difficult to get good information on failures of BC's - IMHO it's a difficult for people to own up to failures (well, unless they get to claim the US$2000 author's fee at gamasutra too ;-)

I think you're right on target about the journalistic coverage possibly encourage the scene to grow.

A web site with journalistic coverage would be good - a print magazine even better (perhaps with a centerfold of a good game development rig? ;-)

Cheers,

CombatWombat (aka Mark)

Drift's picture

Cheers, Wombat. Yeah, I see a lot of street press for alternative music, dance, fashion, etc. but none for games. That's what gave me the idea. I'm shying away from the website idea, since Sumea does a pretty good job of it and moving towards a cheap, print magazine. Like all street press, it would be supported by ads and thus free. I would have it displayed at universities, I.T./design colleges (I hear one just opened in Victoria?) and maybe specialist game stores like Electronic Boutique, Game Keeper, etc.

It would be pointless to start one though, if there wasn't enough of a movement out there. I teamed up with a programmer friend once to create an RPG (I was the writer) but it fizzled before it left the design document! Like you said, it's an uncommon past-time so perhaps it's a little early to be considering something like this. But remember that I.T. boom a few years ago? It's levelled off but still going strong. Like many Western economies, Australia has invested in the information sector and embraced I.T. in a big way...we are training shitloads of programmers every year. So where are they all going? Designing database systems for fucking Telstra? Why don't they make some games? God knows we need more indie studios out there willing to take chances. Plus, it's probably more fun!

Nice to hear you're working on a game at the moment. Programming's a bitch, I know (I bombed Comp Sci before switching to journalism :) ) but all the best. Out of curiosity, are you coding your engine from scratch or tinkering with a free one?

Just as a parting note, I live in Sydney, which is not as sensitive towards the videogame movement as Melbourne (being the uncultured swines we are), so it's pretty hard to get an opinion on the indie scene. Anything to do with gaming always seems to pop up in Melbourne ie. Microsoft's homebrew scheme for the X-Box (only applicable to Victoria-based studios). Plus, most of the game festivals are held down there.

Blitz's picture

One of the main reasons that melbourne gets the festivals, and is a fair "hub" of game development is due to government support. It might be worth getting in touch with...whoever is in charge of that stuff??? in the vic govt for some figures on independent developers in vic...
CYer, Blitz

CombatWombat's picture

Drift, my game engine/library started off as an accumulation of useful code
I'd written (like many hobby game programmers I've got a string of unfinished
projects that I took the good bits of the code from as I moved onto the
next project).

Drift's picture

Is there enough code hanging together for a decent preview? (screenshots, concept art, etc.)...if so, would you willing to have it featured in a magazine? I'll need to pitch this magazine idea to a publisher so I'm trying to gauge the amount of potential content out there.

Drift's picture

Hey Doolwind. Yeah, I've realised that publishing costs are way over my head so I'm considering an online zine, updated quarterly.

I'm still toying with it though: it's really an issue of dedication and whether or not I'll persist with the idea. If so, I'll remember to give you a call about your game.

fuzzmeister's picture

I am working on a game demo and would be willing to participate... i have a long way to go however as i work alone (apart from some art that i have been given rights to utilise). Drop me a line if you wish to know more.

FYI: I am using my own engine that i have been working on for close to a year now. Also no plan to publish the game is planned.

souri's picture

There's a fair few initiatives for independant game developers, with kits and funding. It'll be interesting to fire off an email to the GDAA, Film Victoria on who's receiving the development kits or how many developers have appled for the Digital Media Fund for Game Content Development, just to see how many independant game developers signed up. I agree, it's hard to figure out how many independant game developers are making it out on their own. They've either never heard of this site, not feeling compelled to tell everyone about their project (until it's near completion), or perhaps there aren't many out there at all. I'm kinda thinking it's probably a bit of all of the above. I've met someone who's in the industry, and I would have never found out they were working on a game if I didn't kinda probe. I mean, did you know that I'm kinda working on something as well? [:)]

I should really compile some list of the available options, funding, kits that are available to independant game developers, and perhaps some tips on government support, which developers like [url="http://www.sumea.com.au/sdevelopersprofile.asp?developer=57"]Dead Puppy[/url] or Justin Green from ex-Evolution Games might be willing to help out with.

As I said in other posts, I really think independant game developers are the future of the industry. It's hard to believe that the current crop of developers would be enough to sustain the kind of growth that some people estimate (such as the one below, taken from the [url="http://www.xboxworld.com.au/news/leading.php?idNews=546#1"]Xbox development kit press[/url])

quote:


The growing Australian games industry currently employs around 600 full time artists, designers and producers in 40 games development firms and is estimated to be worth AUD $825 million per annum. Industry estimates predict employment figures may reach 2,000 within five years*.