Melbourne’s games industry continues to thrive thanks to VicScreen

Julian Wilton, Creative Director of Massive Monster, is about a day away from releasing a little game called Worship of the Lamb. I say “little”, but Worship of the Lamb has already received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and at the time of writing, the game is a top seller on the Steam digital PC storefront. It’s not even available to play yet – these are just pre-purchases.

Worship of the Lamb had a remarkable pre-release marketing cycle, which created a huge swell of anticipation for the game. Impressions from a public demo released a few months ago were very positive. Video game content creators introduced the game on Twitch to a captive audience. The merchandise – a stuffed animal of the lamb protagonist – is adorable. The publicity stunt – a limited edition custom controller – was hideous, but it got a lot of attention.

Much of this is due to the game’s publisher, publicly traded and globally recognized ‘punk’ games label, Devolver Digital. Devolver provided the Massive Monster team with not only seasoned PR and marketing support, but other considerations and resources that would typically be beyond their reach as a very small team – localizations in different markets being a key example, which greatly expands their potential audience. .

But if Massive Monster hadn’t received early funding for Worship of the Lamb from VicScreen – formerly Film Victoria, the state government’s creative funding body – its pitch and proof of concept for the game never impressed Devolver Digital, and Wilton would probably tell me a very different story about Development.

Worship of the Lamb. Image: Massive Monster

But here’s what appeals to me, especially as a resident of Sydney – Julian Wilton is originally from New South Wales and only moved to Melbourne a few years ago due to the Victorian Government’s support for his local video game industry.

If Wilton’s home state had any support to directly fund its own video game industry – which includes several aspiring developers in colleges and university courses, a few independent studios, as well as major multinational developers – Worship of the Lamb, the latest darling of global indie gaming could have been the pride and joy of Sydney and New South Wales. But it’s not.

“We love games” was the message VicScreen was driving at an event attended by GamesHub, held at Paper House in Melbourne, as the creative organization showcased the work of several game developers who had received government grants to their projects.

Big song and dance aside, we’ve known for a long time – through many conversations with Victorian game developers, as well as through the quality of games coming out of Victoria – that government funding of the State of Indie Projects is essential to fostering a strong and vibrant game development community that produces great work.

It legitimizes the creation of video games as a valuable creative industry, and Victoria has several ways to fund and support game development at various stages of production, as well as other business needs.

Terry Burdak short paper house, the small game development studio and store that hosted the VicScreen event. Previously created Paper House paper bark, a beautiful game revolving around a wombat, the Australian bush and the perils of the hot Australian summer – funded by what was then Film Victoria. The studio’s next project is Wood & Weather, a playful god game that lets you control the weather at will and explores the lingering effects of extreme weather caused by climate change.

VicScreen Wood & Weather
Wood & Weather. Image: Paper House

Read: Australian developer Paper House will track its environmental impact going forward

It’s not the kind of games you conjure up when you think of the lucrative business of blockbuster video games, “gamer” culture, and titles that rake in millions of dollars a day. But like any form of creative art, the spectrum is broad, and video games made on the indie side of the scale – like those funded by VicScreen – are incredibly valuable. They use the medium to explore the kinds of ideas and stories that the greatest developers would never dare to touch, and in innovative ways rarely explored.

According to Burdak, although Paper House is largely run by the studio, VicScreen’s funding has helped to significantly minimize the studio’s financial risk, providing more security for its creatives, which then allows the team to spend more energy to their creative work. “I was able to make sure everyone (including myself) transitioned from being a contractor to being an employee, and all the benefits that come with that, like sick leave and annual leave, and get[ting] great,’ he said.

A similar story comes from Gucka relatively new studio run by First Peoples Future folklore, a farm management game for mobile devices with a futuristic fantasy setting inspired by the Australian bush. Project Director Hayley Percy, a Wiradjuri woman, says the company has benefited greatly from VicScreen funding, especially since she places a strong emphasis on exceeding expectations in building her team to place the Indigenous people in key positions. in all facets of the business. Guck is currently experimenting with the absolute best practices for implementing this, in what Percy calls “building a substantial foundation of sustainability.”

Future Folklore VicScreen
art of Future folklore. Image: Guck

“The things that we’re dedicated to are actually building different fundamental practices in the industry,” says Percy. She says having the leeway to build this has been key. “We need to give people the opportunity to develop their skills and not assume that everyone has to be a great shooter in their role because that’s not how you build diversity in the industry. It must start from scratch.

This approach is beneficial for anyone operating in the industry. But Guck’s exploration of this new territory will hopefully pave the way for how First Peoples can participate in the Australian games industry in the future. Percy cited things like understanding how First Peoples might work differently as a creative team, how there might be differences in how they work with funding bodies and other organizations — and the hope of Guck is that it might filter an understanding of best practices elsewhere in the display industry.

capricious strand from studio Ghost Pattern has long been in the eye of the local gaming community – it’s a unique narrative game set in 1970s rural Australia that explores elder care through the lens of a pre-teen, which uses the principles of spatial theater to put the storytelling burden on the player.

Grants from the Victorian state government helped the Ghost Pattern team every step of the way, says Jason Bakker, and this consistency ensured the game’s distinctive approach to exploring deeper themes was well funded. and sustained, long-term.

VicScreen Wayward Yarn
Bit capricious. Image: Ghost Pattern

capricious strand was actually one of the first games that VicScreen funded a prototype of, according to audio director Maize Wallin – something that has since become standard practice. Now, more than 6 years and 30 employees later, capricious strand is on the eve of its release in September 2022. It features an incredibly strong Australian voice cast, including screen veterans like Michael Caton and Anne Charleston, in a work that incorporates elements of game, film and theater to create a very special identity for himself.

During the same period, Anthony Tan worked on Path to the woods, a game that follows a deer and his child through a magical-realistic post-apocalypse. Tan started working on Path to the woods when he was just 16, and the game quickly gained attention for its striking visuals and animation. A trailer that debuted at an Xbox press conference in 2019 skyrocketed interest in its passion project, as well as expectations for the game.

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Tan’s public communication more or less ceased in 2020, as he sought to refocus the direction of the game and reconsider everything about the project in the wake of its sudden popularity – he was, after all, learning making your first game – and as anyone would expect, creating something on your own is hard enough without the weight of a big expectation.

Tan had received a few initial grants from commercial entities like Microsoft and Epic Games, but it was just enough to keep him afloat as a solo developer for so long. Tan received funding from VicScreen in early 2022, which he says was key to securing Path to the woods to the finish line and improve the quality of his professional life – which will hopefully contribute to the quality of the game. of Melbourne State to a coworking space at ACMI X. The move allowed him to better connect with other game developers and creatives in the Melbourne community, and catch some sunshine too.

All of these stories suggest the same thing: if a government really cares about its creative arts – of which video games are one of the most important and beloved – it must do all it can to fund small independent game creators specifically. . essential to the sustainability of the industry.

Victoria has been doing this regularly for around 30 years – through Film Victoria and now VicScreen – helping Melbourne become globally recognized as one of the cities where some of the most famous games in the world are created. More than half of Australia’s game development efforts are located in Melbourne, and if the likes of Julian Wilton are any indication, that’s where all the upcoming talent will end up.

Screen Queensland has followed suit in a bid to strengthen its industry. Screen Australia has introduced similar measures at the federal level, to complement tax compensation for digital games.

Now is the time to wake up the rest of Australia’s states and territories – and other countries and regions around the world – to develop (or in some cases resurrect) the gaming funding programs that will ensure the country does the essentials. of the growing global interest in the games industry – and, to ensure that we are concretely supporting talented developers who can bring art to the world with video games.

Disclaimer: GamesHub traveled to Melbourne, Victoria on behalf of VicScreen for the purpose of covering this event.

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