We speak with Bill McIntosh, owner and founder of Torus Games, which turns 20 this year and is one of Australia's oldest dev studios.
To further illustrate the antipodean developers' journey, we'll be running a series of dev profiles on studios of all shapes and sizes from the region.
Kicking things off is a stalwart studio based in Melbourne: Torus Games is a studio with over 100 titles under its belt, starting life in 1994 and boasting some 11 spinoff studios which formed from employees leaving its ranks.
As Tsumea reported in a great article back in 2008, (with an infographic to help) however, Torus is part of a long lineage of studios emerging from other studios, having itself spawned from within the ranks of Beam Software and Melbourne House when founder Bill McIntosh broke away and started taking jobs developing titles to Game Boy and Game Gear (in line with his experience within Beam).
It wasn't until the 3DO days that the studio branched out into major consoles, porting a game called Killing Time to the original Playstation and Sega Saturn.
The studio grew from that point from something of a handheld to a cross-platform specialist, powering its games using a versatile engine and continuing to get contract work based on its ability to hit multiple platforms with high efficiency.
Meanwhile, studios including Wicked Witch and Firemint broke away and started up.
McIntosh sees the number of studios which sprang from Torus as a mark of pride. "Lots of people leave companies," says McIntosh. "But not very often to go and start their own. "
Indeed, Firemint went on to create the iOS hit Flight Control and merge with fellow Melbourne developer Iron Monkeys to form the EA-owned Firemonkeys, now one of Australia's largest studios.
Like many larger local developers, Torus took a hit in the crash of 2008-2009, losing about half their staff, but crucially managing to remain open and developing.
"It’s been a struggle," McIntosh continues. "The problem with business is that you go down at the BURN rate, but you come back up at the profit rate, so if the profit isn’t that high it’s going to take you a long time to climb back up. And the Global Financial Crisis is still pretty active - it’s not exactly cleared off yet."
McIntosh has his own theories about the shifts which occurred during the GFC.
"At the same time when the GFC started, I had a suspicion that it was masking a paradigm shift as well, and I was absolutely dead right about that because that’s when a lot of the development studios closed down in favour of a lot of people jumping in to doing indie stuff. All of a sudden the whole barrier to entry for any man and his dog to have a go and in some cases make huge fortunes opened up."
While going indie suited many a person in the firing line during the hard times, Torus levereged its multi-platform capabilities to make it a more attractive proposition for quick turnaround games. Budgets and timelines shrank, and McIntosh made a point of not setting terms in order that Torus would weather the storm.
"One of the theories we had was that while everybody was jumping ship, maybe we should stay onboard," explains McIntosh. "The ideas was that with fewer developers doing mid-range console games, we'd become more of a commodity for the last few publishers that want to play in that space. And it’s kind of paying off because publishers that we’ve never really spoken to have been ringing the phone."
Large scale titles may have been Torus' bread and butter for the bulk of its twenty year existence, but that doesn't mean it's resting on its laurels. As one of the recipients of the Enterprise Fund from the now defunct Australian Interactive Games Fund, Torus has big plans to branch out into its own IP.
Within the next 18 months, Torus plans to release six new IPs across various digital platforms, a new adjunct to its proven business model and a way to rapidly push into new markets - the sort of major push that required a decent sized investment like that which the AIGF formerly provided.