As a UK based games critic, I am aware I don’t interact much with the Australian games industry at all. A near twelve hour time difference and being located on physical opposite points on the earth, it’s easy to just not end up connecting with a part of the industry who are largely awake while I sleep.
I didn’t realize quite how much of the Australian games development scene was passing me by until I came and experienced the community myself. In particular, attending the Australian Game Developers Awards shone a huge light on a sector of the industry I knew woefully little about.
So, a little background and context. The Australian Government, specifically the government of Victoria, have flown me out to Melbourne this week as part of a visiting journalists program alongside a handful of North American Youtubers, streamers and critics. This entire week features a whole host of gaming events bundled together under the title of Melbourne International Games Week, a tight packed week of conferences, conventions, studio launches and other events designed to bring the Australian games development scene all to one central celebration of what the local gaming scene has to offer.
I was invited out on relatively short notice with an offer of flights and accommodation covered to come and cover the week. As someone unaware of the Australian development scene, and with little chance of otherwise making it this far around the world, I accepted.
That brings us to the Australian Game Developers Awards. I’ve attended game developer awards in both Europe and America, and usually there’s a decent number of nominees I am already aware of.
I was surprised that during the entire awards night in Melbourne, I only recognized two of the nominees.
Almost every video game nominated for an Australian Game Developers Award was a title that, as a full time games critic, has passed right by me without me knowing it existed.
Sure I knew about Crossy Road, but I had never heard of Agent A: A Puzzle In Disguise, a beautifully polished point and click adventure which won the award for Excellence in Art.
I was aware that Assault Android Cactus existed, but Killing Time At Lightspeed: Enhanced Edition, a game whose focus on character diversity, social justice issues and exploration of privilege and bias are exactly the kind of things I love in games, won awards for both Innovation and Diversity without me having a clue it even existed.
As the evening rolled on fantastic looking title after fantastic looking title was shown up on screen to cheers from the local development scene as awards were handed out, and I had never felt more out of touch with the conversation surrounding relevant and important gaming releases.
There was a whole world of fascinating games being released, and I was completely oblivious to almost all of it. That is a serious issue.
I spent the rest of the evening talking frantically to game developers about what the barriers were to getting international press attention for Australian made projects, and many of the same answers came up time and time again. Australia’s closest geographic neighbors are in Asia, which introduces marketplace barriers from language to their social networks of choice. Time zones play a factor in getting noticed by games press in an always online but not always awake world. The costs of traveling to international events in English speaking countries can be prohibitive for a country whose development scene is primarily student indie developers following the 2008 Australian AAA studio crash.
None of these are insurmountable obstacles, but when you add them all up it’s easy to see that getting Australian developed games noticed outside of Australia is more of an uphill battle than many in the rest of the world really realize.
For me as a visiting journalist, realizing how much of an industry I had overlooked is only the first step to covering more Australian developed titles. I have to work out still which content curators I should be following, I need to make an effort to follow up what those curative sources have been sharing while I sleep. I need to make more of an effort to understand the unique challenges of development in the country.
Put simply, the knowledge that I and many others in games press have been failing to cover this section of the gaming market properly is the first step on a long road to seeing more Australian game take off internationally.