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Friday, September 22, 2017

TGS 2017: Lack of structure is really costing Australian game developers opportunities


Opinion by Matt S. 

So Tokyo Game Show 2017 has started, and I've got plenty to say about it, which I will in the coming days (if not weeks). But in terms of immediate observations, one of the things that really struck me is how effective some nations through Asia are in bringing their game developers together to promote their nation as a game development hub.

An incubator in Singapore took out a very large booth in one of the main halls, and used the space to highlight games that have either been developed by teams that have used the incubator, or are in development. The delightful Cat Quest, which we fell in love with earlier this year, was one. A similarly-cute game featuring bunnies did for the casual RTS genre what Cat Quest did for the RPG, and after demoing that (it's out in 2018), I fell in love with it as well. Chatting with the developers, there is a strong sense that Singapore is becoming a regional game development hub; the investment is there, the talented developers are there, and there's a mix of larger studios (to give the young developers first jobs and develop their skills), and smaller indies (when more experienced young developers strike out to do their own thing).

Singapore's floorspace was dwarfed by Korea, which as a nation had one of the largest booths at TGS, and was using that space to demonstrate all the wonderful games its developers are creating. Elsewhere, there was distinctly marked areas where smaller and emerging nations, such as Malaysia, were set up.

Meanwhile, there was some real talent among the Australian developers that were there. The teams behind Yonder and Hollow Knight, both very notable Australian games, were displaying their work in the indie section - a large bit of floorspace that TGS offers to individual developers to bring all their work into a single area for people to discover. Back in the main floor, the developer behind visual novel, Quantum Suicide, was actually placed in the romance and dating game section of TGS, and that was a real coup for them, as that section is generally one of the busiest of the show.

But there was no "Australian" section at TGS. Our government, hostile as ever towards game development, would never think on investing in some floorspace to allow Australian developers to demonstrate their games as a united front, and unfortunately we don't have an incubator of the scale of the Singaporean one to step in for what the government should be doing.

Sadly, that's going to cost Australia in the longer term.

One of the benefits of being seen as a regional "hub" for game development is that work tends to flow into the market. Developers in major game markets, such as the US and Japan, are always looking to outsource localisation, art work, UI design and QA testing. If developers in those markets know there is a vibrant "hub" of talent in regional markets, then those outsourcing projects will tend to go that way. Cost is another factor, of course (and unfortunately the cost of doing business in Australia is another hurdle), but the perception that there is a lot of talent to choose from in a market is also important.

Another benefit for developers in being able to pool resources in this way is the visibility. The indie section at TGS is a great initiative, but having a booth on the main floor is simply going to get more foot traffic. Being able to set up a large group display, share resources to have help on the booths (such as people handling out promotional material), and so on is all going to help maximise the attention that each individual game gets; the Singaporean and Korean booths were both far busier through the day than the indie section was.

So in terms of helping Australian developers form valuable industry contacts, and in promoting the games themselves, having an "Australia" booth would have been a major boon. And it's important that Australia builds its presence in the Asian games industry. Something I'll be discussing in a future article is how significant the break between "the west" and "Asia" is becoming in terms of game development. What you see at E3 or Gamescom, and what you see at TGS, are so significantly different, and it's because, I believe, the Japanese (and Korean, Chinese, Singaporean, etc) markets have come to the realisation that they are better served targeting a domestic and regional market first, and then if their game becomes popular overseas, so much the better.

Geographically, Australia is part of the broader "Asian" region. Culturally there's a great deal of the "west" in us, but the "west" is an inconvenient market for us to target - most of our prospective business partners and customers are on the flip side of the day to us. A developer like Cotton Candy Cyanide - the one producing the visual novel, and doing it in English and Japanese specifically to make the game seem like a domestically-produced Japanese game - strikes me as a very wise way for Australian developers to identify foreign markets to target.

So, while TGS has always been seen as a lesser party to E3 or Gamescom, I think that's a mistake for the local industry. Australia could be a very significant player in the emergent Asia-Pacific market, and a resurgent Japanese games market, coupled with the explosive demand for games in China now, is a market worth taking seriously.

- Matt S. 
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Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld

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TGS 2017: Lack of structure is really costing Australian game developers opportunities
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