Home > Surveys > Right now, are there skills shortages in Australia’s digital games industry?

Right now, are there skills shortages in Australia’s digital games industry?

Categories: Surveys
  1. December 14, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    I asked members of GamesDev on LinkedIn to comment on the posts in this site. An Operations Manager – Digital at MTV Networks International from New York, and a Total Developer at Infusible Brain Soft., Brescia Area in Italy responded to this post as follows:

    1) Not based in Australia, but we hire people in Australia because they state the market for the skills is small.

    2) Quality must be researched as pioneers did with gold, as always.

  2. December 15, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Another comment from a LinkedIn member who is a Business Development Manager at Tantalus Interactive:

    There is no skills shortage. There’s a shortage of work in the industry. Recently a design position came up at Firemint, I heard, and they had well over a hundred people apply. Entire studios have gone to the wall, other studios have had to let people go. Let good people go.

    In terms of skills, graduates can’t compete with that. However graduates might just have that spark of creativity and lack those years of boring fee-for-hire game dev that have beat all enthusiasm from them. On that basis there’s still nothing to stop any small group of people from creating a great little game and being very successful at it. So that is what they should be aiming for.

    If nothing else, just having produced a little game is about the single best thing anyone can do to get a job in games in the new age.

  3. December 15, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Mixed results so far (as at 15 December 09) about whether or not there are skill shortages in Australia’s games industry. Early results from the workers survey show that almost two-thirds of respondents ‘highly disagree’ or ‘disagree’ with the statement ‘Australia’s Digital Games Industry is growing rapidly’. Yet the majority of respondents indicated it was hard to recruit skilled workers in certain occupations, such as:

    1) Programmers/interface programmers/systems programmers

    2) 3d Artists/3D CG Artists

    3) Concept artists

    4) Technical artists

    5) Animators

    6) Workers with experience on consoles and AAA titles across all disciplines

  4. Blake Mizzi
    December 15, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Right now in the current climate there isn’t a shortage of skilled game-developers. As stated in a previous post, allot of good talent has been let go from current studios or has moved into other fields until the tide returns. If you’re new to the industry, fresh out of school you’ll find it incredibly tough competing against individuals with 3 titles and 4 years under their belt or more.

    For the future we certainly do have a skills shortage, I’m going to be very unpopular for saying this but the Australian industry isn’t very good at making games, we’re not well regarded internationally and we have too few super talent(s). What top talent we do have is spread thin across our studios, or escapes overseas.

    The biggest failing in our industry now and the same factor which jeopardises the future of the Australian Games Industry is from a production, planning, design and business perspective. We need professional help at the top end of the business, our studios need to be profitable, self supportive, aggressive, innovative and importantly professional – we’re still playing in the amateur league.

  5. December 16, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I guess, size does matter. As the big cities are all 1000+ km apart, the situation is more like having 3, 4 countries with about 4M people, resulting in a scattered development community, every major centre having maybe one or two reasonably sized studios, no vibrant exchange of employees.

    For me, I live rural, 900km from the big city, so it’s for me no advantage to collaborate with aussie developers against with overseas developers (as I come from overseas, my network is more extensive in the Netherlands and USA). Haven’t found a good platform here to bridge to distances (I use linkedin, and I’m also on linkme but to be honest, that’s just a waste of time, all discussion groups there are beyond dead).

    In short, think the australian game industry will be a small player unless it manages to focus on one location or manage to bridge the vast distances somehow.

  6. December 16, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    The LinkedIn group called GameDev (short for Games Developers) has an interesting post called “Too many designers”. The creator asked “Holy cow I see a lot of designers out there hustling for work. Are there too many of us? Is the market saturated?”. Here are some of the responses:

    “From a certain point of view the whole technology market is saturated, but very few people have actual talent to develop stuff.”

    “It is difficult to stand out with so many sound designers out there.
    there are a lot of designers out there but true talent remains hard to find and hard to develop.”

    “For people without experience in game audio specifically it’s tough I know, but talented teams will continue to do well, it just might be a little bumpier than usual.”

    P.S. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest joining the GameDev group. Lots of different topics and members from everywhere.

  7. December 18, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Confused about the current state of the Australian industry? Here are some 2009 articles that probably make it difficult to make a call on whether or not there are skills shortages.

    7 May 2009, The Future of the Games Industry, Internode

    Australia’s game industry is moving from strength to strength. Despite mass layoffs in many of the big name game developers and publishers overseas coming as a result of the global economic downturn, Australia’s game development industry is continuing to expand, and as we’ll see today, there’s plenty to look forward to coming from our local talent. Keep in mind that this is only a small sample of what’s on the way – there’s games such as Heroes Over Europe, AFL Challenge, Rugby League Challenge, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and more coming over the next few months. Many studios also have games which haven’t yet been revealed, or aren’t in a state to show off just yet.

    16 October 2009, How Aussie developers are faring, GameIndustry.biz

    Tom Crago, CEO of Tantalus said:

    “ We’ve been relatively resilient – certainly we’ve felt the effects of the downturn, and I’m sure most Australian companies are finding it more difficult to procure pay-for-service work than in the past. But we’re weathering the storm – with the exception of Pandemic closing, there have been no casualties in the Australian market.”

    23 October 2009, Australian video game developer collapses, industry in crisis, Smart Company

    The Australian video game industry is in crisis, with one development company falling into liquidation and another reportedly laying off approximately 30 staff.
    But the company has clearly been struggling. Earlier this month it laid off about 30 staff, due to the cancellation of a potential title with George Lucas’s entertainment company Lucas Arts.

    Transmission, which developed for the Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC platforms, created titles including Ashes Cricket 2009 and WWII game Heroes Over Europe. It also gained recognition for its popular AFL titles and became one of the larger Melbourne studios with over 135 employees at its peak late last year.

    4 November 2009, Transmission ends: reflections on the Australian games industry, The Age

    There’s no doubting Thuyen Nguyen’s passion for games. His love letter to video games, The Most Powerful Person in the World, has received 100,000 views on YouTube, and he has spent the last seven years working in the games development industry. But now Thuyen finds himself working in telecommunications, forced out of the games industry that he loves because of a lack of local opportunities. The recent closure of Transmission Games, Thuyen’s last employer, has prompted him to write a sobering personal account of the state of the local games development industry and an impassioned plea to keep striving to make world-class games:

    “Having spent almost three months looking for work in Melbourne, I found nothing despite seven years experience and eleven published titles under my belt. Of course, I was surprised and frustrated – the former especially so, because I kept on getting the same reason for rejection: “Not enough experience.” No senior roles, no designer roles”.

    “The global financial crisis forced me to leave the industry I started my working life in, and one which I still adore. Though I must admit, having taken a job in the “real world,” I’m glad I don’t have to compete with the newly-retrenched game developers who are now fighting for the small number of jobs available at this time”.

    5 November 2009, Australian Interactive Games industry nudges $2 billion, IT Wire

    Recession proof? Not quite, whilst numbers announced today show green upward arrows across the board for the videogame industry, there were some shaky moments through 2009 for Australians in the business of bringing consumers living room fun.

    The iGEA (interactive Games and Entertainment Association) in Australia is a collective of local publishers involved in the video game market place. Today saw the IGEA release an analysis of the sector as provided by the independent market research firm GfK.

    According to GfK this year sees the industry tracking 8.3 percent higher than for the same time in 2008. This puts the interactive entertainment market on track to record retail sales of AU$1.96 billion for the year.

    Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association said:

    ”The rise of family entertainment as a genre continues to underpin much of the industry’s growth, family console games now account for 32 percent of all games sold, followed by action (13.2%).”

    “Australia’s interactive games industry continues to see healthy growth now that video and computer gaming has become as mainstream in popularity, as watching television or surfing the net,” Mr Curry said.

  8. December 21, 2009 at 10:59 am

    A computer games professional who responded to our discussion board in LinkedIn’s GameDev group wrote the following:

    I can most certainly see where the confusion may arise, studio closures, mass layoffs but record profits.

    Being an Australian game developer myself my story reads much the same as Thuyen Nguyen’s quoted above but from an Artist perspective. Despite several years experience in a senior/lead capacity, several shipped titles etc I was caught up in the Pandemic closure almost a year ago and like many of my colleagues I am still seeking work.

    I would go so far as to say the Australian industry has shrunk by 50% over the last few years, my guess is you will not see that reflected in profits until at least a few cycles from now and even then a few select runaway hits could help smooth out that dip.

    On a positive note this has seen several start ups blink into existence, which speaks highly of the resilience of the Australian industry. What i would like to see is the government offering initiatives and support for new and existing Australian based studios, in what i believe is a critical time for the Australian industry as a whole.

  9. December 21, 2009 at 11:44 am

    In July, we interviewed a representative from a peak body in Australia about his views on the state of the games industry as part of our investigation into whether or not their are skills shortages given the global financial crisis. Here are the key points from the interview:

    1) By the end of 2008, the writing was on the wall that some projects would not go ahead, and there was a perception that things could get really bad.

    2) First half of 2009, people were optimistically cautious, making pitches, utilising networks, consolidating what they have and seeking new projects. Some struggled. Publishers held back awhile, put things on a technical hold. Projects were still being greenlighted but not as many.

    3) Companies still hiring, but more senior positions mainly. Some start-ups. There have been redundancies and cutbacks. Studios tried desperately to hang on to staff because once they get a team, they try to hang on to them because when new projects come in they have the resources.

    Here is what the peak body rep said about “nature” of skills shortages, which suggests a pattern regardless of the state of the industry:

    At this moment (July 2009), I am not aware of any company that has ongoing vacancies because they can’t find people. They might not find them at the time they are looking for them as the industry tends to have projects and therefore need people pretty quickly and getting someone quickly might be difficult. There might be some positions that are difficult to fill because of the timing and there is nobody at that particular time. They look in other States or who they can bring in from overseas on a 457 visa but that is a time constraint as well. So there are issues with certain labour shortages than there are skills shortages. I don’t have stats on for the jobs they are hiring. I think there are a lot of people in related industries that are transitioning from different sectors.

  10. December 22, 2009 at 11:51 am


    Speaking to people about what is meant by “skills shortages”, “skills gaps”, “skills deficiencies” etc. suggests a level of confusion about these terms. Here are some definitions that may help to reduce this confusion:

    1) Skills shortages – areas where the supply of skills to the industry falls short of demand, usually visible as recruitment difficulties in the market or the lack of the required skilled, experienced or qualified people or when not enough people respond to a surge of demand in the market. Thus, the definition refers to more generic difficulties in recruiting suitable candidates than just hard to fill vacancies. It should capture challenges in informal recruiting and internal recruiting.

    2) Skills gaps – areas where the current skills in the labour force fall short of what is actually required, usually measured by the number of staff not proficient at their duties or roles. This would signal such issues as underemployment and inadequate employment in the industry. The need to anticipate rapid market changes, compete on a global scale and determine the extent of skills challenges necessitates a thorough analysis of adequate skills levels not just defined as the absolute requirements of an employee’s job as set by the employer but also as benchmarked against staff with world-leading competitors.

    3) Skills deficiencies: Skill shortages + skill gaps

    Another useful definition is:

    4) Emerging skills needs – areas of employment where new specialisations and skills sets are expected to be created that did not exist before, due often to innovation, technological progress or changes in the regulatory environment.

    It would be great to hear from people with views about what these definitions/concepts mean for the games industry e.g. is the industry experiencing more of a skills gap as opposed to a skill shortage? What new specialisations and skills sets in the industry are emerging?

  11. January 3, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    In response to the poll results, a Business Development Manager of a leading Australian developer made the following comments via a couple of emails:

    1) Given the industry has faced the largest ever contraction in jobs in its entire industry with many hundreds of positions lost, it’s really hard to see how the above [the poll] is remotely reflecting the reality. We’re one of Australia’s largest game developers and I can emphatically tell you that we have no problem hiring anyone of any calibre or skillset at present. On the contrary we’ve got a lot of star talent which we’d love to be able to hire if we were able.

    2) The industry is cyclical due to hardware cycles anyway so it will spring back to some degree, but my advice for people studying to gain skills for this industry is the same as it was even when it was healthy. Do general applicable degrees and do games specific stuff off your own bat. Then if games don’t work out, there’s no jobs, or you realise that actually the working conditions really aren’t tenable, at least you have options.

    3) For my part in this, I think the industry is facing a fundamental change which means that spill-capacity work-for-hire, which is 90% of the Australian games industry, wont rebound in 2010. Which puts most developers in the position of adapt or die. It’s really quite amazing how fast this happened, at GCAP in 2008 it was all upbeat, all about recruitment. GCAP 2009 and it was a ghost town, it was hard to be positive to the students about their prospects when most people there were worried about their own.

  12. January 5, 2010 at 7:34 am

    A Senior Sound Designer from Austin Texas who emailed us via LinkedIn, responded to the above comment as follows:

    “We’re one of Australia’s largest game developers and I can emphatically tell you that we have no problem hiring anyone of any calibre or skillset at present. On the contrary we’ve got a lot of star talent which we’d love to be able to hire if we were able. ”

    So what he is saying is that there is plenty of good star talent out there, he’s just not hiring any. So who is? And who is staffing his studio right now?

    I think the poll is reflecting a general displeasure with the industry’s tendency to hire multiple under-skilled personnel instead of “star” talent. When “hitting the date” becomes the primary scheduling factor – warm bodies are seen as more valuable than a skilled pro. So skilled pros have to take a pay cut to work, OR, they are passed on and younger hungrier developers are brought in. Of course, this leaves nowhere for the young dev to go, and they are eventually let go to make room for the NEXT wave of young developer… wash, rinse, repeat.

  13. January 5, 2010 at 7:43 am

    On the 23 December 2009, I scanned LinkedIn GameDev group for other discussions about skills that game developers may be interested in checking out. You will need to join the group to check them out. These discussions were:

    1) Too Many Sound Designers? (as at 23 December, the discussion was 9-15 days ago).

    2) What characteristics push a game designer from good to greatness? (3 months ago)

    3) Whats the most desired qualification and/or experience sought by employers of Game Audio Designers? (4-5 months ago).

    4) The keys to win acceptance and approve as a game designer (7-8 months ago).

    A Senior Sound Designer from Austin Texas (same person as above) who emailed us via LinkedIn, responded to this comment as follows:

    1) Too Many Sound Designers?

    As a Sound Designer of 20 years or so, I’d say it depends on what your context is. The way I look at it, there’s not enough sound designers – but that’s because there are not enough stable sound design positions, and working as a “sound designer” without also being a “composer” is financially very difficult.

    The core problem is that there is that our industry is graphics oriented. And because of that, games programs are programming and graphics oriented. Audio is practically ignored completely. I’ve checked into multiple programs, partly to see what they were offering, but also looking for an opportunity to share my experience. However, game audio tracks in game development programs just don’t exist. This is a reflection of the industry essentially ignoring the growing technical and artistic needs of a critical part of their development that accounts for 50% (or more, depending on who you quote) of the end user experience.

    In my own experience, senior decision makers don’t have a real understanding of what is involved in a complex audio implementation – but they THINK they do, so even when someone senior comes along and tells them what they are missing, they don’t seem to believe him. Or at least, no real action is taken. So – the result is they have 1 or 2 sound “designers”, who are really no more than audio engineers, delivering lists of .wav files to programmers who do all the real design work.

    This leads us to audio departments who are understaffed with under-skilled people. So I’d say there are not ENOUGH sound Designers out there. However, in order to get enough, the importance of real sound DESIGN needs to be elevated and funded – and we really need to get a REAL sound design track in games development programs.

    2) What characteristics push a game designer from good to greatness?

    Interesting question, and again – the answer depends on who you are asking. 🙂 I think the game design team that this person is working with will give you a different answer than a senior game development decision maker.

    From a company level, “great” game designers are those people with financially successful games to their credit. This is highly unfortunate, as financial success of a title doesn’t indicate that the game designer(s) attached to that title are high quality. (This general perception is true for all areas of expertise, and is responsible for some really dreadful games)

    3) Whats the most desired qualification and/or experience sought by employers of Game Audio Designers?

    Another pet peeve of mine – there is no agreed upon standard for this. What one developer wants is fairly unique to that developer and their workflow. However, most developers (in my experience) are looking for someone with a few years of experience, maybe 2 titles, and actually experience using the tools/consoles/tech that the hiring development team is using. People with more experience are more than often passed over as being “too expensive” to hire and keep, in favor of a young person with fewer skills but a lower salary requirement. And, since most developers don’t plan on an extensive (or, I would argue, appropriate) sound design for their titles, the young designer seems “good enough”.

    Of course, since most development teams also outsource their audio (after all, when you are merely asking for a list of assets – whether it’s .wav files or FMOD events, you don’t need an internal full-timer to do that) – then experience (even minor) with the tools, and cost will be the determining factor.

    Composers have managed to break this mold, and most command a good price for their efforts – the downside for US is that since there is no real SOUND designer (usually a junior game designer takes on the role of audio scripter, and the lead designers decide what should sound like what) the music that developers pay big bucks for is standard linear “movie” type fare, which the marketing types think is more saleable. Unfortunately, this keeps the game industry in a state of retarded development, since very little innovation can occur. We are now seeing some changes in the right direction – although the music is still linear and playing on top of representational sound effects – which is completely NOT a cinematic experience, but those kinds of preconceived ideas are very hard to change.

    • shaun sethram
      January 5, 2010 at 8:58 am

      As a senior artist who has left game development in Australia due to the current state of the industry there, I find the comment from ‘Business Development Manager’ about ‘no problem hiring anyone of any calibre or skillset’ very concerning and questionable.

      I personally know of studios in Australia desperately recruiting O/S because they can not hire ‘SKILLED’ staff. Just look at Transmission Games. They were advertising positions right till the end and failing to attract suitable applicants.

      As an Australian it saddens me to see the industry in the mess its currently in, and from personnel experience and comments like those above I can only say that the upper management of these studios are a large part of the problem.

      Hiring teams of junior staff and setting unreasonable milestones is not helping your company, your staff or your industry in general.

      Studios need to realize that its QUALITY that wins them more work and not QUANTITY.

  14. January 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

    There are many facets to the game industry’s troubles in Australia and the skills shortage is only one of them. I have tried to point to one of the more significant aspects of the problems I think the industry is experiencing.

    As much as I like the idea of and see the necessity for external or government funding, I also think that incorrectly applied funding is damaging and can create an unrealistic commercial environment. Transmission Games provides a perfect example. It is my understanding that Transmission Games received a very significant amount of money and assistance from the Victorian government. Clearly, the fact that Transmission Games is no longer in business is a complicated issue which requires further consideration and I hope that someone will give that issue the attention it deserves. However, the fact remains that funding can have an adverse effect.

    The creation of competitive, original and internationally successful games or intellectual properties will come from innovative people. Often, these innovators have poor marketing or business awareness and their ideas never make it to the pre-production stage. The Australian game industry needs to create a realistic commercial environment of the interactive entertainment market and the Australian game industry’s place within it. Only then can funding or any kind of aid be effectively applied.

    We need proper market place objectivity. The sales figures of games and associated merchandise are higher in Los Angeles than in Australia and New Zealand combined. I think the Australian game industry needs to focus on international channels and think globally. A pragmatic consideration of international sales figures would go a long way to painting a truer picture of the Australian industry’s place on the international market.

    The reality is that local Australian sales alone cannot possibly support all the national developers. This fact has a major impact on skills and projects shortages. In contrast to other industries, the Australia game industry simply cannot provide adequate incomes to Australian game developers. I have a friend who is a plumber and he makes twice my yearly income.

    The Australian game industry faces many problems. I think people involved in the Australian game industry need to become smarter at cross-marketing and embracing the global economy.

  15. January 22, 2010 at 11:31 am

    We’ve just received a couple of responses to the above topic on our discussion board in LinkedIn.

    Independent computer software professional, San Franscisco Bay area:

    If people cannot compete with scale, they could build unique values. Uniqueness is a key to win in free trading. Since the main functionality of governments is to provide public services, if some local governments could offer some special public services to strategic sectors, or give some supports to sectors which help to form a good ecosystem, it would be great.

    Business Development Manager, Melbourne, Australia:

    “I think the Australian game industry needs to focus on international channels and think globally.”

    Heh, there’s almost no game developers that don’t do this. There’s no publishers in Australia to speak of. All work for hire is done for large International publishers with product sold world-wide and sold in Australia as an afterthought.

    “The reality is that local Australian sales alone cannot possibly support all the national developers”

    Gosh really? What does this chap think we do, make games like Bogan V8 Ute Rock-Up or something? 🙂

    It might be nice to substantiate that claim about Transmission receiving Victorian government funding. That’s news to me and I’m at a bit of a loss as to what scheme that could be under exactly.

  16. February 17, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Interesting findings from the worker survey about skills shortages:

    1) Occupations experiencing shortages – programmers and artists, particularly 3D artists

    2) 78.6% of workers ‘highly disagreed’ or ‘disagreed’ with the statement that “finding work in the games industry was easy”.

    3) 64.3% of workers ‘highly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ with the statement that “employers are finding it hard to recruit skilled workers.”

    4) Two-thirds of workers ‘highly disagreed’ or ‘disagreed’ with the statement “Australia’s Digital Games Industry is growing rapidly.”

    These findings suggest that the overall supply of workers in the games industry is sufficient, however employers are not satisfied with the skills of workers and/or are unable to fill positions for particular occupations – despite the slowdown in the industry in 2009. We are currently surveying employers to find out their views about skills shortages, including their views about whether games education and training are producing industry-ready graduates (80% of poll respondents indicated games education and training was ‘highly ineffective’ or ‘ineffective’).

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