11 Dec 2020

Acclaimed developer Sledgehammer Games has chosen Australia to set up its only development studio outside its US home. The studio is one of the developers behind the blockbuster Call of Duty franchise. In just over a year since its launch in 2019, the company has grown from six people to over 80—a feat made possible due to the large number of talented developers and creative talent in Australia.

‘Australia is a great place to make video games,’ says Andy Wilson, Sledgehammer Games’ Chief Operating Officer. ‘We are extremely happy with the growth we’ve seen over the last year and are ahead of the targets we set ourselves against several measures. The talent, the support and the general attitude towards new entrants have all exceeded our expectations.’

A new home in Australia

Australia is a familiar market for Wilson, who had connections with a Canberra-based studio. He was struck by the amount of talent in Australia and saw an opportunity to establish a new studio in a relatively untapped market, strengthening the US team in the process.

‘We felt that if we came to Australia with the firm intent of establishing a new AAA team that we would find great talent – and we’ve been proven right time after time,’ says Wilson.

Sledgehammer Games had operated as a small engineering team in Melbourne, Victoria for a number of years before its official launch in October 2019, when it received a warm welcome from the Australian games community.

Sledgehammer Games operates out of two primary locations: Melbourne and its original studio in Foster City, California, where it has over 200 developers.

‘We operate with a “one team, multiple locations” philosophy. For any game that Sledgehammer Games works on, people from both locations will contribute to all aspects of the production,’ says Wilson.

‘Coverage over more than one time zone allows us to establish continuous development. If we find ourselves challenged in one location due to local market or economic headwinds, then our other location can provide vital support.’

The development team will be split roughly 2:1 between Foster City and Melbourne respectively by the middle of 2021. The Melbourne team is expected to make a substantial contribution to Sledgehammer Games’ current projects.

‘Our new projects are still under wraps at the moment, but when we do announce what we’re working on it will be a big, positive moment for the Australian games industry,’ says Wilson.

An abundance of talent

Access to multiple labour markets has enabled Sledgehammer Games to grow rapidly while maintaining its high standards. According to Wilson, Australia offers a depth and breadth of talent that would be extremely difficult to match elsewhere.

‘Australia is a melting pot of cultures and industries,’ says Wilson. ‘It’s also a market unto itself because of its geographical location. It offers us the possibility of finding talent that we would not otherwise have access to.’

Sledgehammer Games has not had any issues finding people with the specific skillsets it needs. ‘For example, we have managed to find an incredible number of skilled engineers very quickly in Australia. For our industry, this is not very common. There’s also a lot of movie industry talent in and around Melbourne so

we’re seeing success with some disciplines such as visual effects, where there’s often a transferable skill set.

‘Australian developers also have a broader skillset as many have worked in parallel industries such as mobile development,’ adds Wilson. ‘Australian developers are very good at wearing many hats.’

From an initial team of six, Sledgehammer Games has grown to over 80 developers in just over a year. The company plans to take the Melbourne team to just over 100 people by the first quarter of 2021. It will also move into its permanent studio facility in South Melbourne in mid-2021.

‘The sheer number of experienced, talented developers we’ve been able to attract would be very difficult on this timeline in many other markets,’ says Wilson.

‘We’re also very happy with our location – Melbourne is globally recognised as a destination city. That means we’ve been able to attract talent from other countries, expanding the local industry. As a place to live and put down roots, Australia sells itself.’

Support for the local industry

While it’s early days for Sledgehammer Games, the company is determined to make a contribution to the local games industry. It has reached out to local universities and plans to offer internships and mentoring opportunities over the coming years.

‘The university programs that are geared towards games are extremely strong in Australia and specifically Melbourne,’ says Wilson. ‘Several are world-class and that bodes extremely well for the next generation of developers. This is particularly exciting as it means we can directly help nurture and grow a whole new generation of game developers.’

Sledgehammer Games has also built relationships with industry and government bodies with a view to supporting and championing games development in Australia.

‘We have been really heartened by the support we’ve received since announcing Sledgehammer Games Melbourne, from industry bodies such as the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association and from government, both federal and state in Victoria,’ says Wilson.

‘There seems to be a realisation at all levels that the games industry could be huge in Australia with the right kind of support, so the conversations we’ve been part of have been forward thinking and productive,’ says Wilson. ‘There seems to be a very strong can-do attitude and an appetite for growth, which is very exciting for us as we continue to build our team.

‘We see an extremely bright future for Sledgehammer Games in Australia,’ says Wilson. ‘We will continue to grow our team, while helping to build the industry through initiatives such as our university outreach programs. We intend to build the very best games in existence, and our Melbourne team will have a large role to play in meeting that objective.’

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