South Australia’s video game sector is levelling up big time, grabbing global attention (and dollars!). We chat to two local devs to discover how gaming is changing minds and charging up the economy.
If you thought video games were just child’s play, it’s time to think again! Four out of five Australians now play video games, up from 67 per cent in 2021. The average Australian gamer is 35 years old, has been playing for 11 years, and is just as likely to be a woman as a man. Even more mature Aussies are levelling up their downtime, with almost 70 per cent of over 65-year-olds playing video games.
The stereotype of gaming as an anti-social hobby is also well and truly dead – 75 per cent of Aussies play video games to socialise with other people, and 91 per cent of parents play with their children to bond as a family. Putting to rest the myth that gaming is inherently ‘bad for you’, the top three reasons for Australians to play video games are for enjoyment, to spark joy, and to improve mental health – the latest report from the Australian eSafety Commissioner shows gaming’s “incredible benefits” are more prevalent than its risks among kids and young people.
Playing for high stakes
The game industry has also become an economic titan of the entertainment industry. Globally, total gaming revenue is expected to rise from $348 billion in 2023 to $479 billion in 2027. The Australian games industry tripled between mid-2015 and mid-2022, and is now worth $4.21 billion annually.
South Australia’s burgeoning industry is already home to nine per cent of the nation’s gaming studios and 12 per cent of the country’s developers, with employment in the state’s sector growing at more than 40 per cent in recent years.
Game on for SA!
The South Australian Government, through the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC) and Invest South Australia, is committed to providing meaningful assistance to our state’s game developer talent. The goal is to make SA the nation’s next major games hub.
South Australia is increasingly seen as an investment destination for international gaming studios, thanks to the state government’s Video Games Development rebate. The nation-leading rebate – expanded last year by $13.5 million over four years – allows video game studios to claim 10 per cent back if they spend $250,000 or more to develop a game in SA. The rebate has helped lure two big-time developers here already – Keywords Studios and Big Ant Studios – together creating over 100 local jobs and generating millions of dollars in work.
The state government also supports South Australia’s universities and vocational education and training institutions to provide the skills for the next gen devs. In just the past three years, more than 1,900 locals have graduated with a degree or certificate in interactive software (VFX, AR/VR and games), creating a pipeline of local talent to take our industry to new heights.
SA’s super-cool indie scene
For many gamers, what’s most exciting about SA’s industry are the highly-anticipated releases from our thriving independent creator scene. This includes large indie studios down to solo developers working across desktop, console and mobile – and many are grabbing global attention (and dollars!).
One of the indie games creating a whole lot of hype both here and around the world right now is darkwebSTREAMER, a psychological horror RPG (role-playing game) simulation that has the player exploring a fictional internet while delving into the darker side of streamer culture.
darkwebSTREAMER is the creation of indie Adelaide studio We Have Always Lived in The Forest. The studio’s founder, Chantal Ryan, is an anthropologist and writer who had a big idea for a video game and taught herself skills like programming to bring her ideas to life. Only a few years later, she’s a game designer who’s being wooed by some of the largest game publishers in the world. She says she sees her game as “an interactive storytelling tool”, and her mission is to create gripping and enjoyable games with inclusive and empathetic meanings that touch players’ lives.
“Video games should be inherently founded on joy… That’s the fundamental spirit of what games are about,” Chantal says. “They’re not about the money, they’re not about the flashiness, they’re about that simple pleasure of sitting down with something and experiencing someone’s artwork and creativity. And being able to experience those things together.”
From dentist to developer
Another local game that fans are looking forward to is Fox and Shadow from Paper Cactus Games. It’s a dual deck-building roguelike (a style of role-playing game traditionally characterised by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated levels) designed for people who love strategic card games. During the game, players use two separate decks of on-screen cards to control their AI drone pilot’s actions as they fight battles and explore a broken city.
Video games and art have always been a big part of Paper Cactus Games founder Leo Cheung’s life, but recently he made his main money as a dentist. Leo founded his Adelaide game studio in 2021 with his friend Jackson Michael, after a health scare convinced him life was too short not to follow his passions. His development team has now expanded to seven, and Fox and Shadow is approaching completion. “It’s something we’re very proud of,” Leo says.
The importance of games
Chantal says video games are now the most influential cultural medium of our time: “Gaming is where new generations go to receive their stories and be exposed to different perspectives, viewpoints and cultures,” she says. “They’re what the new generation is thinking about and what they are bonding over, so it’s really important that we be paying attention to them.”
Leo agrees with Chantal that video games are “very powerful”. “Games can challenge you, comfort you, teach you skills and even show you something of yourself you didn’t know about,” he says. “The developers have crafted a piece of art for you to experience over time using multiple senses and thought processes.”
“The overall intent is still to entertain, but we are being shown this means so much more than before. Playing games can help improve our cognitive abilities, create new ways for people to engage with one another, provide stress relief and they even help fuel technological advancements.”
Supporting our game developers
State and federal government grants have been critical to the development of Fox and Shadow – and important proof that others believed in what Paper Cactus Games was creating. Leo says that funding for indie developers is also an investment in our state’s culture: “It allows our government to promote the development of enriching interactive experiences as seen through the perspective of South Australians.”
The SAFC supports our indie studios through a whole range of grants, funding and events. These include the annual South Australian Game Exhibition (SAGE), Adelaide’s biggest gathering of games studios and game enthusiasts, which attracted more than 2000 people this year.
Then there’s the Export Market Travel Fund, which allows South Australian game developers to take projects ready to be financed to some of the world’s biggest gaming events, such as Gamescom in Germany. Both Chantal and Leo have attended Gamescom thanks to the fund, and Chantal says that without the funding for Gamescom she wouldn’t be where she is today. “Words can’t describe having that ability to show up in a room and walk away knowing a whole lot of really well-connected people in the international industry. That is the difference between life or death for a game.”
Find out more about SA-made video games and our local industry here.
Chantal Ryan was honoured as one of South Australia’s 40 Under 40 in 2023. Find out more here.