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Bringing together developers, local industry heads and representatives from local and state government, last week FTI, The City of Vincent, SK Games, and Let’s Make Games came together to launch Level One. Clearly passionate about the cause of games development in WA, Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie opened the night, not just the launch of another co-working space, but “a celebration of the amazing talent that we have here.” Kate elaborated on numerous projects that had received funding through FTI’s OOMPF program, as well as former recipients of Screen Australia funding. Highlighting examples where early financial support made a real difference in getting local games to market, she went on to explain how the idea of a dedicated co-working space had come about.
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Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie

“It came out of a survey we did in 2014 to try and figure out what it is that we needed to do to better support the games industry in WA”.

A co-working space was shown to be a proven tool to enhance the success of local industries, with Melbourne’s ‘The Arcade’ (a state level funded co-working space now associated with up to 40 percent of Australian-made games) and Perth’s startup space ‘Spacecubed,’ both noted examples. Kate stressed the importance of accessibility, with the addition of a free co-working day open to the public and 24/7 access offered to full members. All with the intention of “providing the kind of collaboration and amplification space that game makers in WA need.”

Such collaborative opportunities were embraced by ByteSprite, who made use of FTI’s ‘pop-up’ co-working space during early development of their game Bramblelash.

Liam: “It started last year when we were just working from the library, everyone was meeting up there but around September we moved onto SK, where a more permanent fixture made it a lot easier to get through to more people.”

Sam: “The… [co-working space] was free, and we are, of course, poor indies – we don’t have a lot of money, so that aspect was really awesome. Basically, it’s really good for networking and things, like… amazingly good.”

Not actually the ByteSprite team

When asked if they had tried other co-working spaces, both were adamant that alternatives were expensive and not well suited to the needs of game developers.

Sam: “This is the only game orientated [co-working space] in Perth. To be honest, for us, there’d be no point in going to any other… we don’t have the same needs as those at a place like Spacecubed. [Apart from the affordability] a big aspect of it is the community side… we’ve gotten loads of opportunities that are probably very subtle…”

Liam: “There’s all sort of reasons it helps, a really big one is having people to playtest and sort of bounce off… a lot of the time I’ll call Kit over and ask ‘how does this look?’ or he’ll give me tips on tools and such… which is great, along with having the perspective of people that are separate from the project.”
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“Logic will get you from point A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere”.

Prior to Kate’s introduction, Noongar leader Shaun Nannup offered a formal Welcome to Country, allowing an opportunity for those present to reflect on the importance of a vital connection with the land and to one another, a connection once established through Indigenous traditions of art, song and dance. While maintaining a deep sense of reverence for his ancestors and the custodians he describes as the ‘caretakers of everything,’ Shaun quoted Einstein, perhaps a poignant statement for those whose endeavors hinge so heavily on process and logic.

Speaking on behalf of FTI, CEO Paul Bodolovich affirmed their role as an organisation committed to helping ‘people who tell stories on screens.’ He encouraged local game makers to be disruptive in an ongoing conversation with members of local and State Government; urging them to express the challenges they face, as well as their dreams and aspirations. Paul highlighted the importance of a developer’s perspective in informing policies that could play a part in helping bring about a sustainable local industry.
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Further playing up the importance of a dedicated game-making space, Louis Roots spoke about SK’s role in bringing about Level One.

“…this backyard was a carpark when we got here and we’ve kinda done a lot of renovations… we put games in public spaces, in social spaces… parties, bars, festivals, in an effort to get games to people that might not otherwise find them, and not just larger games; but niche, alternative artistic games that are more a reflection of the creator. We found some really good stuff in Perth, we’re from Perth and we love to showcase [local] stuff around the world. We’ve known about the importance of a physical space for a long time, it’s a big part of what we do, so when this idea of co-working came around we were very happy to use our space.”
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“We’ve known about the importance of a physical space for a long time, it’s a big part of what we do”

As producer of Developers at Large, director at Let’s Make Games and the Perth Games Festival, Jon Hayward brings a considerable depth of experience in speaking about the unique challenge faced by developers in seeking out an appropriate work environment.

“…It’s not what the space is… it’s about who is there. Working from home you need to be very disciplined, you need to have your space set up correctly, you need to know the moment you start work there is no distractions, you can’t just stop and do nothing… even though that is an option some days.”
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“When I was working at Spacecubed, I was working on a startup. When you’re working in a game space amongst other game developers, you build games… You’re not trying to see a problem and fix it, you’re trying to build a fun experience, you’re trying to do something interactive, something engaging… which is different to everything else, and the more people [creating those kind of experiences] here the faster we grow… realistically, this is more than an old house.”

Rounding out formal proceedings with the official cutting of the cake (shoutout to Ros and Ash), Mayor John Carey expressed an admiration for what he described as champions of local industry, whilst observing the irony of the current political climate.

“We’ve got a new Prime Minister saying ‘it’s an exciting time, we’ve got an ‘ideas boom’ and yet at the same time we’ve seen at a federal government level, the cuts to programs to encourage and foster game developers”
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“I think that it’s tough times… tough times for innovation in many areas and I think that perhaps in those times we can see that people do take more risks, people come together, and we need champions in the industry, we need champions who are going to advocate for further grants, because, let’s face it: while crowd funding is great (and if I hear anyone else say, why don’t you just crowdfund it?…), of course, we now know that’s a highly competitive market and it has almost become passe.’ Everyone is crowdfunding, and there is a role for government to provide grants and funding to assist prototypes and development.

Tough times they may be, and while many share a positive outlook about the prospect of bringing people together to build momentum for local industry, others are more pragmatic about potential outcomes. Like many involved in indie development, 3D artist and coder Kit Mathews works a more stably funded occupation part-time, whilst pursuing game development projects in his free time:

“It’s good to have a realistic view about (turning a profit in games) I mean, it would be great if you could create a sustainable, profitable venture… but how realistic is that when there’s so many thousands of people on the planet trying to do that, and only so much market share… are you gonna be the best of the best… or are you gonna stumble onto something that no one’s even thought of before? I mean, there’s a point of difference in terms of marketing, [both outcomes are] possible… but maybe not where the cost of average rent is well above the projected income from your game!”

Local Devs (L-R): Grae Saunders, Liam Hunt and Kit Mathews

When asked what he thinks of the possible advantages to those starting out in cultivating a mindset not as concerned with the prevailing limitations of industry culture, his response is somewhat more optimistic:

“I think that’s really valuable, those sort of seeds for the future… “ Sam, calling from across the room interrupts: “…Did you say you can see the future Kit?” Kit: “Yes that’s what I said… I feel if we can keep the space going for five years, then we’ll have a few success stories and a really strong culture, but… in the past Perth has always struggled to keep these sort of things going for any amount of time, we’ll see how it goes.”

Liam: “Um… can I see your new assets?”

Kit: “We don’t have new assets…

Liam: “All the sandy levels…”

Kit: “They’re from November last year…”

Rohan Ford

Rohan Ford

Contributor at GameCloud
A fond reader of PC Format in the early 90s, Rohan has a background in graphics and is an active musician in his home town of Perth. With a penchant for narrative-based adventure, fighting games and the casual multiplayer space, he has a particular reverence for the dual aesthetic and technical challenges faced by indie developers and those charged to do 'more with less.'