Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Q & A Interview with industry veteran, Morgan Jaffit

Morgan Jaffit has a wealth of development experience, both in Australia and overseas. Having worked for such studios as Irrational Games and Pandemic in Australia, and Relic and Ubisoft overseas, he has since formed his own developer – Defiant Development, based in Brisbane.

Jaffit recently sat down to answer some questions on his view of the current development environment in Australia

You've had development experience, both here and overseas. What would you say are the main differences in the local environment compared to overseas?

MJ: Honestly, there's more variation studio to studio than there is Aus/US. For example, someone like Pandemic Australia ran very much like Ubisoft Montreal, whereas a studio like Krome is very similar to A2M. It all comes down to the types of games you make and the size of your teams, more than anything else. People who've never worked on a big (100+) person team simply don't understand what's involved in making big games.There are a bunch of approaches that work fine when you're dealing with 20 person teams that completely fall apart as you get bigger. Basically, big Australian teams work pretty much the same as big international teams. The biggest deficit is our distance from the major publishers - that hurts us a lot, by comparison to other locations.

Both Team Bondi (L.A Noire) and Krome Studios has reported news of late that could be interpreted as both organisations struggling in the local market. Is this a sign that it is difficult for local developers to produce A-list retail titles?

MJ: I wouldn't interpret Team Bondi's delays as an indication they're struggling, in fact I'd say that Rockstar's faith in them is a sign they're headed towards delivering an AAA Australian title. Time will tell on that one. We also have 2K Australia building XCom after their success working on both iterations of Bioshock, so I don't think there's any doubt that Australia can build world class products.  We've always punched well above our weight in the games field, given the size of the local market.

On the other hand, I think the strength of the Australian dollar spells the death knell for work-for-hire, and that's the transition that's hurting companies like Krome at the moment. That simply means moving into other domains, like training and simulation, in order to remain viable.  

For Defiant, we're just focused on making good stuff no matter where it lands. We don't mind making iPhone games, web games, serious games, or big AAA games - so long as what we work on is good, we're happy. I'm a strong believer that if you follow that ethos through everything you do, you're unlikely to go far wrong.

How do you see the local development scene evolving over the next 12 months?

MJ: I hope we see a boom in smaller teams doing good, profitable work over the next year. The seeds are there, and we're trying to support that with our incubation program at the moment. There are a lot of professional developers out of work at the moment, and that pool of talent is ideally placed to start making great stuff.

What could the broader industry do to better encourage the growth of the local games industry?

MJ: How to encourage the development of the local industry? It's hard at the moment, because there's very little infrastructure in place. I'd recommend that traditional companies think about how interactivity is changing the market at the moment, and consider hiring some interactivity experts to help build the future of your business. Of course, I'm a big believer that games people do interactivity better than pretty much anyone else, so hire some game developers!

Are there any up-and-coming Australian developers to keep an eye on at the moment?

MJ: Halfbrick are obviously doing fantastically at the moment, just going from strength to strength. Brawsome have released Jolly Rover to great acclaim, and have a really bright future ahead of them. Strange Loop aren't an Australian company per se (they're split between Australia and the US) but their game Vessel is headed towards great things. That's only the tip of the iceberg!

What about young talent - do you think there's enough in terms of education and opportunities for aspiring game developers to break into the industry? If this can be improved, how?

MJ: Too much education, too few opportunities, if by opportunities we mean jobs. There's a woeful shortage of employment options at the moment. To my mind, that means the courses should be focused on how to make a living as an independent developer, rather than on how to get a job in the industry. 

Jaffit also maintains his own blog, which can be found here.


  1. It just sounds like the Games Industry is finally headed for the same model as Film.. (i.e. Mostly made up of freelancers/contractors). I've been saying it for years. It's amazing the industry has survived this long under its current/past model.

    Anyhoo, it's a good thing. It means a competitive market and will push the quality and skill level of teams. It was all too easy for people to fall into jobs whereever they please in the past. Now it's competitive; that means workers having to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. This in turn will drive up quality and so forth. :)

    Courses should also show how skills learned in games can be used in other industries, not just as indie game developers.

  2. Hi Aquamango, thanks for the input.

    Do you think this transition is exclusive to the Australian landscape, or is this a global trend that is being reflected in the local environment?