IG Biz Dev guru, Joe McDonagh speaks about life and game

I should really call this one "This Week at Irrational with Joe". He wrote the whole thing and gives some fantastic insight into the life of a game developer in Australia. Frankly, it sounds nice. Really, really nice?:

--- Meredith Levine

I had the most terrific shock the other day. I switched on the TV and saw a weatherman announce, with considerable glee, that it was going to rain tomorrow. It doesn't happen very often you see. I'm English and I know I've got a hang-up about the weather, but this isn't first time that I've thought that Australia is more than just geographically upside down.

I used to be a game developer in Camden Town in London for five years. As the second most expensive city in the world, London is best enjoyed with a fat wallet, which isn't something you associate with game development. After one crunch too many, I jacked in the job, packed up my bags and went to Australia for six months to watch cricket and drink beer.

I had modest expectations of what I might find in Australia. I expected sunshine of course, a welcome antidote to London's unremittingly grey skies. I wanted to find a lot of sport. As for the people, I had low expectations. You see I was slightly prejudiced in this respect. My only previous experience of Australians had been with the half a million young Australians who visit London every year and see it, not unreasonably, as a twenty first century walkabout, complete with booze, birds and bad behavior. Don't get me wrong, I'm no shrinking violet myself, but as a foreigner with limited exposure, it's easy to dismiss Aussies as a crude and unsophisticated bunch

(Age old Anglo-Australian rivalry dictates that I must perpetuate this stereotype, of course, but please don't tell them that).

Why? It's very simple: my life is overwhelmingly better here than it was in England. Firstly the people: Australians are a cheerful, funny and unfailingly generous and supportive bunch. It's impossible not to like them, and believe me I try, particularly when they beat England at sport (which is all the time). Secondly, it's not very different from home. I once lived in sub arctic Northern Japan, where it snowed for six months, in a town closer to Vladivostock then to Tokyo. Oh, and there was only one other person in town who spoke English. Having been there, I appreciate how much easier the shared language and cultural values have made my life here.

There are some important differences though, particularly over colloquial use of expressions like 'root' and 'fag' but - somewhat miraculously - I've managed to overcome these without a visit to the local infirmary. Thirdly, the weather is outrageously good. Canberra has a reasonably temperate climate by Australia's standards but it's still like living in Hawaii as far as I'm concerned. I acknowledge that as a prisoner of 30 years of London's soul-sapping drizzle I may have a particularly skewed view on this. All I know is that 300 days a year of sunshine has done wonders for my world view, and I no longer have "Falling Down" style fantasies about gunning people down because you're sniffing someone's arm pit on a crowded tube train on a humid summer's day in London.

Oops. That didn't mean to come out.

Of course, this would all be the stuff of fantasy if I couldn't earn a living. The fact is, I like making games and I didn't want to do anything else with my life, no matter how good the lifestyle might be. After a lot of graft, cold calling and contract work, I got a job at a leading Australian games company. This is what I've learnt since I've been here:

The industry is tremendously well organized down here. The GDAA (Game Development Association of Australia) has done a remarkable job of lobbying state and federal government for support. Australian developers enjoy significant tax subsidies and grants, allowing the industry to compete effectively against US and European competitors. My previous company received a $4 million technology grant which it successfully turned into a leading piece of middleware. British developers can only dream of such largesse, as studio after studio disappear into oblivion.

But what about Australian game developers themselves? Are the working conditions different? How is it different? Pleasingly, it isn't. I remember walking into a studio here and feeling instantly at home, aware that I could be in a games studio anywhere in the world, complete with action figures, dusty copies of the Monster Manual and the wardrobe malfunctions masquerading as programmers.

There are some differences of course. One is that Australians still cling to baffling idea that work is a means of economic subsistence. Luckily the Anglo-American live-to-work virus hasn't infected them yet. Coming from London, I found this refreshing to say the least. It also made me look like a human dynamo, a Pommie Stakhanovite, frothing at the mouth for more, yes please more crunch. I soon had that beaten out of me. Australians have a healthy respect for the importance of real life, wives, kids and other trivial stuff like that and are happy to communicate this to you in no uncertain (usually expletive ridden) terms. Aussies, I salute you.

Am I going home? No. I've discovered food that hasn't been cooked for ten hours, chucked in a pie and served with gravy and chips. I have a healthy color in my skin. I drink cold beer. I celebrate Christmas on the beach. My mother now thinks I'm great because she only sees me once a year. The people I work with are earthy, cheerful and talented and we're working on a next generation console title. An American publisher who recently visited us really hit the nail on the head when he described Australia as "California done by the British." As long they don't elect the Crocodile Hunter as ACT state governor, I think I'll be staying here.

--- Joe McDonagh