With the impending release of our very own Aussie developer Big Ant Studios’ latest offering in Don Bradman Cricket 2017, we got the chance to catch up with Ross Symons, the Founder and CEO of Big Ant to discuss all things cricket, football, and the future of Australian games development.
Big Ant has taken on some large sporting franchises over the years, including AFL, Rugby League and the hugely successful Don Bradman Cricket. It’s incredibly difficult for these games to compete with the likes of FIFA and Madden.
“The biggest difference with Big Ant developing a game would definitely be licensing. Licensing would be a big help. We are taking on a lot of sports that EA won’t take on; if EA don’t do a sport, we’ll do that sport. So essentially for us, what we really need to do is leverage what we have into more sport; for example, we want to take on tennis next, so we’ll leverage ourselves from there.” said Symons.
“The thing was, the AFL wanted a game, so it wasn’t too difficult for them to obtain a publisher that would get licensing and get the game out. The difficulty is that the AFL have a balance sheet and want to make a profit, whereas other sports will make games as a marketing exercise – FIFA didn’t make much to begin with, and other sports have recognised that games are a way of engaging and not running a profit. You have a certain budget and if you carve out too much for a license, the game will suffer.” continued Symons
“The difficulty is that the AFL have a balance sheet and want to make a profit, whereas other sports will make games as a marketing exercise”
It’s been well documented that Australia and in particular Melbourne, is a hotspot for gaming. The gaming industry in Australia seems to be much more close-knit than other parts in the world, a trend that seems to be continuing.
“If you particularly look at Melbourne, it is a hotspot with a great, rich history of game development, and we don’t see each other as competitors. So essentially the entire community helps each other to get games out and you can see that everywhere you look. That’s the reason PAX is here, and it’s the only PAX outside of North America, and that’s because of our collaborative efforts – in Big Ant’s sense it’s because we’re sports mad.” said Symons.
We know that the state of local game production has been struggling with many larger AAA studios going under over the last few years and success coming more from smaller indie studios who collaborate and build a reputation. The main issue seems to be the government and general sense of understanding around gaming.
“I think that the issue we have is recognition with the Federal government – we are treated second to other forms of entertainment even though we have three times the income of Hollywood. They don’t recognise that and they have actively called out games as not being an art form.” stated Symons.
“If you particularly look at Melbourne, it is a hotspot with a great, rich history of game development, and we don’t see each other as competitors.”
VR is the hottest trend of 2016, with PlayStation VR bringing an affordable VR solution into the home for the first time. VR fits best with experiences that come naturally to the human body.
“We put VR internally in nearly every game we do – it just comes down to whether it is appropriate or whether it makes sense for the game. With Don Bradman, it would make no sense to add it for running or bowling; even batting there is a lot to think about – when the character moves forward he is going to shift and the whole world is going to shift.” said Symons.
Diversity is a big necessity in game development – and Big Ant has sought to increase the female presence in the industry.
“I think we’ve actually failed dismally over time in trying to attract female employees, and it’s a clash at Big Ant between the fact that we’re doing IT, and that we’re making sports games. When you put these two together, historically they often don’t appear so attractive to women in general.” said Symons.
“So we’ve gone about it in other ways by introducing women into our games – with Don Bradman Cricket, we’ve got first-class female cricketers down at the MCG in the mo-cap suits and getting authentic women in our games, hoping that it will promote more females in sport and in games development.” continued Symons.
“The Switch from Nintendo seems to be the first console on the go – and I believe there will be very powerful mobile devices that will do similar things to what the Switch will do.”
The game development scene in Australia seems uncertain, but Big Ant seems to believe that the Nintendo Switch will lead the way as gaming converges towards not having two separate gaming divisions but more of a merged mobile/home console platform.
“There’s a great pedigree of the past, and as the future approaches there is convergence. The Switch from Nintendo seems to be the first console on the go – and I believe there will be very powerful mobile devices that will do similar things to what the Switch will do. You won’t have a concept of ‘mobile’ and ‘console’, and when that happens, Australia is really well suited for the consoles of the future.” said Symons.
Don Bradman 2017 is set to release this week on both PS4 and Xbox One. It’s potentially the largest Australian developed game to release so far on the PS4 and Xbox One.
“Scarily enough our development baby comes out in December! Mostly it is a refinement on the original, but there are some amazing things with cross-platform sharing, including the ability to make custom stadiums and then share them online, so somebody can create on one console or PC and send it to another, right down to the ad boards and logos. The game is essentially a cricket sandbox. You can create your local team and ground and go and play!” said Symons.
I’m sure Don Bradman himself would be super-excited to see how technology has progressed in leaps and bounds.