Game on in AU gaming development

We just can't get enough people: Oz gaming industry

Growth in the Australian gaming industry is set to explode between now and 2010 according to one industry representative, but despite a plethora of graduates, there just aren't enough people out there to satisfy its needs.

According to Evelyn Richardson, who is executive director of the Game Developers Association of Australia (GDAA), her organisation is "projecting growth over the next 5 years," with the number of domestic game developers "doubling to at least 2,000." This number is "just game development studios, but we're also expecting a fair amount of growth in the service contracting sector, particularly in the out-resource side."

Richardson told ZDNet Australia&nbsp this morning that at least part of the growth was due to the pending introduction of next-generation console environments like Sony's Playstation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 2. "For example at the moment on a Playstation 2 or Xbox game," said Richardson, "you're looking at [employing] 40 to 50 people full-time for 2 years, and budgets between US$8-10 million. On a Playstation 3 or Xbox 2 environment, you're looking at project teams of 100 to 120 people full-time for two years and project budgets of US$15-20 million. So it's not an incremental leap, it's actually exponential."

Regardless of the growth the local gaming industry might be experiencing, however, it's not all good news. Richardson said the real issue for local industry right now was finding suitable employees. "The issue that we have now is that all the medium-to-large sized companies are recruiting right now, and we don't have enough local talent," she said. "We're taking all of our graduates coming out of universities and so on, but we estimate that nationally we need at least 150 people per annum for the next two years--people who have at least 3-5 years experience. Richardson said these people are coming from offshore.

Andrew Owen has somewhat of a unique perspective on the issue facing the gaming industry. Owen is involved both at a student and at a staff level at Monash University's Berwick campus in Victoria, which is a subsection of the university's Faculty of Information Technology. The campus was formerly known as Monash's School of Multimedia Systems and offers students various courses dealing with multimedia technologies, one of which offers a games development major. Owen also spends some of his time working in Monash's marketing department.

Speaking with ZDNet Australia&nbsp this morning, Owen admitted that "there is a lot of work at the moment in the games industry, especially here in Australia," but pointed out that a lot of his peers had actually taken positions overseas, as opposed to working locally. "So many of them [graduates] have actually gone off to work overseas, for companies like Epic," Owen said. Epic Games produce the popular Unreal Tournament series, of which the latest iteration is UT 2004.

And it looks like Epic is still hiring. The company's Web site currently lists no less than 10 detailed position descriptions for full-time roles in their Raleigh office in North Carolina, United States. The roles range from graphics-based roles like animator and concept Artist to roles as a programmer, production assistant or even Japanese technical translator.

Fellow games company Electronic Arts is even offering university students internships. On its recruitment Web site the games giant has links to EA internship programs in Europe, the UK, Canada and the United States, and there are dozens of jobs listed on its international job boards.

Owen said that at his faculty's final celebration and presentation night, many of the students had already lined up jobs before they had even graduated - and a lot of them were taking off for overseas.

One possible reason for the brain drain is a lack of enthusiasm from the local game development industry, according to Owen. "One thing we find hard is trying to get some of our students to get work experience with the local games companies, because a lot of them aren't interested," he said. "And we only talk about students going in [on work experience] for a few weeks - not actually being on a project but just being there in the environment, staying out of people's way."

"When it comes to graduation time, they [games companies] come looking for people, and we're thinking, hang on - you wouldn't give us 5 days [of work experience], but now you're quite welcome to come in and grab them? A lot of these students think: "I don't want to work domestically because they won't help us out, so I'm going to the United States or I'm going to Europe," he continued.

There are efforts going on to address the problem, however. Several universities and other educational institutions offer game development qualifications in Victoria alone. Both the Victorian and Queensland governments are investing in the area, and as a consequence most of Australia's development companies are located either in Melbourne or Brisbane.

The Victorian government in particular has a Game Plan strategy to deal with the industry, and local game content can be funded through Film Victoria's Digital Media Fund.