AIT Melbourne’s inaugural Games Mastermind event a great start for grads

Independent game developers in Australia, particularly those at the beginning of their careers, find themselves stuck for ways to connect and network. In a games industry as small and tight-knit as Australia’s, connections are the best step a person can take toward landing a job in the local dev scene.

Networking events are a semi-regular occurrence in Melbourne, the city where much of the nation’s game dev industry is concentrated. The thing about these events is that you don’t know the people involved, you might not find out when or where they’re happening at all. The aim of AIT’s Games Mastermind event was to help game dev graduates and industry newcomers make important connections as they begin the often arduous process of finding relevant work.

The crowd was certainly well served with some important names in Australian indie and mobile games dev on hand to tell their stories and offer advice. What follows is a fast run down on the content of the evening for those curious about networking events like these.

Many speakers on the night had stories of starting their own studios after working in AAA — Tin Man Games’ Neil Rennison recounted his long career working on different racing games before breaking off the create Tin Man and focus on word and language games. A recent coup has seen him land the license to produce games based on the classic Fighting Fantasy RPG adventure books.

Mighty Games’ Charlie Francis spoke with just the right mix of enthusiasm and exhaustion about the realities of indie development, particularly as relates to the hiring process. Charlie also highlighted the importance of passion projects outside of any commercial or freelance work you might pick up to pay the bills, a sentiment echoed by many in the room. Charlie’s own gaming projects are focused on queer, trans and mental health experiences.

Firemonkeys’ Aspen Forster was a trove of information for those looking to get in on the artistic side of the industry moreso than design or coding. Having worked previously in marketing and for EA on Need For Speed: No Limits and The Sims Freeplay (where, by the team’s own admission, she made the dopest rugs), these days she works as a 3D artist on Real Racing 3.

Kip Brennan, Genevieve Rothgeber and Stephen Scoglio from Glitch Crab Studios were on hand to demo their student game LVL² and speak about their rather abrupt moment in the spotlight. After entering on a whim, LVL² went on to win Best Student Game at The Game Awards 2017. Now on track to a full release later this year, the team spoke about the trials and tribulations of finding yourself at the doors to the industry with a game that is generating lots of interest and wondering “what the hell do we do now?”

AIT games lecturer and Toy Box Games dev Tyler Butler-Boschma, along with company director and animator Billy Moutafis spoke about their upcoming action-adventure title Primordials: Fireborn and the process of getting approved for government funding — something that has been of concern in the industry of late.

Elsewhere, speakers Damian Moratti from Liminal VR, Nick Osbourne from Harvey Norman and Unity evangelist John Sietsma spoke about non-gaming platforms, the retail side of the industry and the tools you can use to create your games.

For those nervous about the prospect of mingling in a room of industry-types without really knowing any of them beforehand, relax — the atmosphere was welcoming and everyone was there for the same reason, to meet like-minded people and share their experiences. Broken up into networking, short talks and industry panels, the event was done and dusted by 9pm and everyone had new contacts and fresh perspectives to take away.

Speaking to Melbourne Academic Manager Dr. Colin Perry, the indication is clear that nights just like Games Mastermind are something the school looks to pursue regularly throughout the year. The first of these events was held in Sydney but AIT is bringing it to Melbourne thanks to the city’s robust games development scene.

These kinds of events are so important, now more than ever in a climate where it seems the federal government wants as little to do with the local games industry as possible. Opportunities are scarce, funding even moreso. The victories are small and hard-won and the losses can be brutal but carry important lessons. The ability to connect with like minds is a reminder that you’re not weathering the storm on your own.

As the evening wound down, a handful of excited students, smuggling free beers in their backpacks as is the grand uni tradition, beckoned me over to their elevator. Energised, they enthused about their various projects on the way down to the ground floor. We stood out on the street chatting about them a while longer as AIT locked up for the night. Emboldened by what they’d heard, a few of them were heading home to redesign their whole portfolio, others to attack projects from a new angle.

If a first-time networking event can hope to have any result, I suspect this is it.

We recommend keeping an eye on the AIT Creative Facebook page for future event announcements.