It's an exciting time for Adelaide’s local video game industry, as the State Government recently announced a multi-million dollar Digital Game Development Hub to be constructed on Pirie Street, provided by Canberra based company Game Plus. Spearheading this development alongside Game Plus is a local mobile game development company called Mighty Kingdom - who’s small beginnings have snowballed into large successes.
"When we started Mighty Kingdom, originally, we were an app developer, before we swapped to become a game developer. Our first office was in an old burrito shop on Morphett Street," explains Philip Mayes, founder and director of Mighty Kingdom.
Philip believes creating a successful game takes a lot more than just good ideas and talent within your development team; but also empowering them to make meaningful decisions, eliminating the need for a big hierarchy which is traditionally seen in larger companies.
"The great fallacy is that people think that making games is just sitting around and coming up with a brilliant idea and then everyone falls in love with it right? That may work for some people, but for the majority it's market driven," Phillip says.
It's that same market driven attitude that has allowed Mighty Kingdom to work successfully with multinational brands such as Disney, Lego and Shopkins. Developing a long line of mobile games that can have up to millions of players every month. Creating a meaningful dialogue between these brands and the players is Mighty Kingdom's specialty; measuring what it is that players value in their games and then responding to that.
"We obviously get support emails from people who are grumpy at certain parts of it. Not a lot of people email you when they're happy," he laughs.
Unfortunately, there are people that push back against this modern market driven approach, believing that game development companies are 'only in it for the money'. "I think that some people discount the commercial realities of game development... the reality is that there are thirty-seven people up there who have mortgages to pay."
"I think that discounts the fact that no-one pays for things they don't value," Phillip explains. "What we are in the business for is value creation. There is value being created there whether you believe it or not. Some people get a bit twitchy about the fact that we focus so heavily on analytics and all these sorts of things that go contrary to pure game design and development."
"At the same time, there are some tactics that are a bit predatory that can afford to be toned down. So I think having some sort of ethical guidelines in terms of how those games are developed is a net positive."
Philip describes an industry which has been under rapid change ever since the Nintendo Wii introduced the market to a vast and overlooked audience of casual gamers. Leading into drastic change for business models when mobile phones came into the picture.
"The Wii was an interesting time for the industry, because it showed that the consoles narrowly defined their market each time; as they doubled down on the hardcore gamer, as the controllers got more complex and the games focused on a particular genre."
"When the Wii came out it showed that there was this huge other audience for games that a lot of companies had just overlooked. Then when the smart phone came out, it became really popular."
"One of our measures is not how big Mighty Kingdom gets, but how big the industry can grow."
Philip explained that transitioning into developing mobile games was an exciting move in his career. Having worked on console games in the past, he feels that working with the mobile platform has given him more ownership over the content that they create with a much faster output.
"There are billions of these devices in people’s hands around the world and each one of them is capable of running games. So suddenly games are available to everybody and really blew the doors off the market."
The local games industry, however, went through a major overhaul during the global financial crisis. Forcing major triple A companies to pull their funding and their offices out of Australia entirely. Which had left behind many professionally trained artists and developers to go on to create companies of their own, resulting in a "second wave of this renaissance of gaming".
"Previously there had been a lot more of a service based industry, but now it’s an original content industry - which is really cool, but we haven’t rebuilt that scale yet. So, there are no companies working on big triple A products."
The State Government's recent voice for support within the local video game industry shines a light of hope on aspiring game developers, as the Game Plus Hub highlights untold opportunity to co-work alongside industry leaders and internationally renowned brands. Similar co-working spaces around Australia have proven to be successful. Allowing companies to share information very quickly and work collaboratively on projects in ways which were not possible before.
"We’ll be taking up the entire back wall of the space, which is like two cricket pitches. The reason we’re still only employing thirty-seven and not more is because currently we have no physical space to put in any new desks, so we’re pretty keen to move. We’re taking sixty desks to the new space."
"I think it’s a very interesting time for the industry in general and in SA in particular. The announcement from the State Government is a real game changer. For me, this is just the start of the conversation with them (State Government). If they see the results they’re looking for at the end of this two-year funding period, then that’s going to continue on and on."
You can also learn more about Game Plus and the new Game Development Hub here.