Read the full interview transcript here:

Holly Shields  0:12  

Good afternoon and thanks for joining us. Holly Shields here for Kalkine TV, welcoming you all to another edition of executive corner Expert Talks. In this show we bring to you industry leaders, successful business owners and market experts all under one roof to help me discover the latest economic insights. 

On today's show we're joined by Nico King, Executive Creative Director of Chaos Theory, Sydney's leading game and app studio. Welcome to the show Nico, it's a pleasure to have you on. 

Nico King  0:43

Hi Holly, thanks for having me. 

Holly Shields  0:46  

Great to have you with us. First of all, I've got to say the name Chaos Theory for a game development company is pretty awesome. Where is that inspiration from?

Nico King  0:56  

I founded the company with my two business partners when we were about 12 years old, and we had the name back when we were 12. It's essentially the ripple effect or the butterfly effect where a small change in initial conditions can lead to a drastically different result. So our belief is that we can create beautiful, inspiring games that change people's lives and inspire a better future, just through this little drop in the bucket that will have big ripple effects.

Holly Shields  1:26  

That is very cool indeed. And well thought out, I must say, especially for 12. 

Nico King  1:32

Yeah, indeed. 

Holly Shields  1:35

Well, to kick things off, Chaos Theory specialises in not only games for fun, but also in serious games and marketing games too. How does the game development process differ between these types?

Nico King  0:56  

So the game development process itself is very similar, it's mainly a difference in the objective. So with an entertainment game, the objective is to make a fun game and there are multiple different types of fun that you can focus on.

Whereas a serious game might have an objective, such as education, or marketing or behaviour change. So with a serious game, you'd really start with researching the subject matter, what's the education content that you're looking to teach people, and getting a really fundamental understanding of that. And then from there, you would come up with a game design framework and figure out ways to fit that content into the game design framework. 

An entertainment game might start with a creative concept, or just a moment of inspiration. Or it might start with wanting to simulate something or capture a particular type of fun. And then usually, that's really honed through prototyping, and play testing, and finding what that core fun element is. And then the game development process itself is similar from then on. Where you're doing software development, you're doing creative development, you're creating art to go into it, you're doing playtesting, getting feedback, looking at your results, looking at your metrics, and you're really trying to refine it and make it the best game that it can be.

Holly Shields  3:16  

Right, it sounds like a lot goes into those games, regardless of their type.

Nico King  3:22  

Definitely, it's a very interesting blend between different disciplines where you've got the technical side of things, which is very logical, it's software development, and it's programming. And then there's the creative side of things, which is blue skies, a very different mindset that you bring in. So the collaboration between those two disciplines sometimes causes a bit of friction. But you end up with a pretty incredible end result.

Holly Shields  3:51  

Right, and now, many might think that “serious games” is an oxymoron. But your company Chaos Theory proves this isn't really the case. What kinds of impacts can these games achieve?

Nico King  4:03  

I think I'd agree that “serious games” is a bit of an oxymoron, I don't think it's the best term for what they are. I like the term applied games or games for good or games for change. 

Serious games was coined quite a while ago and stuck around just because that's what everybody keeps on referring to it as. So yeah, I like to think of them as any game with a primary purpose that lies outside of pure entertainment. 

My preference is definitely for games to change, that would be any game that has a social message or looking to change people's behaviour, anything that's educational focused. I think some of the best examples in my opinion of games for change are games that started out as an entertainment focus. 

So Minecraft is an example, very entertainment focused but at the same time, teaches people very fundamental logic skills, and they ended up making the Minecraft Educational Edition in order to really fully capitalise on that. People can do computing and hardware design in Minecraft and create elaborate contraptions. People have created things like a fully functional Gameboy colour, playing Pokémon, all in a Minecraft environment. So those sorts of fundamental logic skills are similar to what we would have originally liked from something like LEGO, that can really be captured in a gaming environment or interactive digital format. That's not to say that serious games or games that are built for the purpose can't also be equally successful. But yeah, I think the mass market appeal and the wide impact of those other games, those entertainment-focus games can be really powerful.

Holly Shields  6:01  

Right, and those kinds of skills are really key to the development of young minds, wouldn't you say?

Nico King  6:09  

Definitely. And I think one of the things that really inspired myself to get into game development was the impact that games had on my own life. I played a lot of games when I was growing up and they taught me a lot of fundamental logic and problem solving skills. 

One of the real benefits of games is that you essentially make a contract or pact with a game that if I try hard enough, I can overcome any challenge or any obstacle in this game. And then I can win, which is just a really good fundamental life skill to have, where you've got a very tenacious approach to problem solving. 

And sometimes life isn't that fair, sometimes there isn't a good solution or a way to win. But I think people that play games have been shown to have more determination and try again and again and again.

Holly Shields  7:01  

Right, another useful skill to have definitely. And now you've created marketing games for big names like Samsung and M&Ms, could you maybe shed some light on your current client base?

Nico King  7:14  

Sure. We're currently working with the United Nations World Food Programme on a large scale, applied game project that's focused on changing behaviour around protection and accountability risk management, if that means anything to you.

We recently developed a game for the Australian Government, for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Which was looking to raise awareness for education or trying to attract international students to learn biology and science subjects in Australia. We also work with some local government bodies. 

We also do pure entertainment focused work. So we're working with mobile game publishers to create games in the casual and hyper casual space that have tens of millions of downloads for the successful titles. 

And then we also work with a lot of universities and various agencies, from marketing agencies to learning content agencies. So definitely a very eclectic mix of different clients. I think that games and especially applied games is still quite an emerging field. And there tends to be a small group from within an organisation that will do some research, see the benefits of games and really reach out and pioneer the use of games within their organisation.

Holly Shields  8:49  

Absolutely, and you know, some of the things you mentioned, I think, are absolutely crucial for us at the moment, especially attracting international students. That's something we could really use here in Australia, in light of the pandemic.

Nico King  9:03  

Yeah, definitely. And we're also working with an immersive 3D video conferencing company. Essentially, for them we have created an immersive 3D world using a game engine where you can walk around using your keyboard and mouse. 

You have a little screen with your head on it. And you can group up with different people in a learning environment. It has a lot of the benefits of teleconferencing, but also the benefits of an in-person education environment where you can break out into different groups and speak to the people around you. 

There's lots of digital billboards or digital workspaces that are around the environment that you can walk up to, you can project your screen to it, and multiple different environments that you can go to. So that's an Australian company called iSeeVC. They've seen a lot of growth because of the pandemic. So I think, from both angles, attracting international students and providing distance education and facilitating the process of remote learning is something that games can be really beneficial to and help out.

Holly Shields  10:23  

Absolutely, I absolutely agree. And just to touch on the funding issue, you're obviously aware of the 30% digital games tax offset that was announced in this year's budget. What do you think the impact will be for our game development industry?

Nico King  10:40  

I think that it's obviously going to lead to growth. In my personal opinion, it's a really wise move from the Australian Government. Globally the video game industry is bigger than the movie industry, and the music industry combined.

It's growing at a rapid pace, it's growing at an incredible pace. I think for comparison, Canada is a really good comparison to Australia. Canada has supported the games industry for quite a while now. And they've got a similar population to Australia, both former British colonies. Similar population, but their games industry is about five times as large as ours. So seeing what a strong games industry can look like, is really something that we can use news to model our own system on. 

I believe they have a similar tax offset,  I believe it's a production tax offset. So hopefully, we can replicate some of that success. And I think it can go down to multiple different levels. There was a visa scheme that was just announced for a permanent path to residency in Australia, through game development. So that's one thing that the IGEA, which is the Australian body for video game developers, has been lobbying for for a very long time, because attracting talent to Australia is one of the biggest challenges that we've faced and currently face.

A lot of our senior talent has previously gone overseas, and getting them back is one thing. But if we want to grow the industry, we need talented people. So when talented people can choose to live anywhere in the world and they're considering Australia, a path to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship is definitely something that is a big plus in their books. 

The tax office offset itself should really help to attract some of the larger studios and bring them to Australia. And then that will have ripple down effects for the large, the medium and the small size studios, where that senior talent is going to come to Australia. It's going to create an ecosystem, there are going to be other businesses that pop up to support those larger studios via offering services such as outsourced art, and programming and sound design. So I think getting those large studios is definitely one of the focuses of this tax offset. And it's definitely a massive, positive step in the right direction.

Holly Shields  13:30  

That's really good to hear. I mean, it seems like we could use all the help we get.

Nico King  13:35  

Yeah, definitely. I think the Australian games industry has been great. It doesn't feel very competitive between myself and the other studios that I speak to, it feels like we're playing on an international stage - we're all helping each other out. Australian games are quite renowned for being high quality and for punching above their weight. There have been some massive hits that have come out of Australia, both console and mobile games. 

We're not necessarily struggling, but I think encouraging the growth of the videogame industry is a positive step for the Australian Government. It's a positive step for Australian game developers. And hopefully, it's a positive step for everybody in the world because they'll get to enjoy great cultural pieces of work that we create, that we export all around the world. It's a weightless product, it's a digital product, so once we develop it once, it doesn't really cost anything to manufacture it. It's just a really, really good market for the Australian Government to be investing in growing.

Holly Shields  14:55  

Definitely, and that'll be good to see in the future. Hopefully we get the best outcome possible for our industry. And before we close, what is next for Chaos Theory? Is there anything on the horizon that we should keep an eye out for?

Nico King  15:09  

The work that we're doing for the United Nations World Food Programme should be released in the next few months. So if you're interested in serious games, or what a large NGO producing a serious game would look like, it's definitely something to keep an eye out for. We definitely want to continue working with similar organisations with government organisations, basically, championing applied games, games of change, and showing all the good that they can do in the world. 

I think the term “games” sometimes has some stigma around it being only for play or only for leisure. But really, they're just interactive experiences that leverage human psychology to get us to do things, including change of behaviour. So the future of games, I think, is much broader than only play.

And we're actually helping put together a festival or conference called Games For Change Asia Pacific, which is all about the games for change, games for good, applied games, serious games, and how to use them, how to design them and what other people are doing. So that's coming up in October. So if you're interested in that, just look for Games For Change Asia Pacific, and there's a website, we're on social media. 

So that's going to be exciting. It started in and its headquarters is in the USA so we’re holding the inaugural Asia Pacific festival in October.

Holly Shields  16:44  

Well, that is very good to hear. We’ll be keeping an eye on that festival and anyone who wants to check it out can do so. And with that it is just about time to wrap up. But thanks so much for joining us today, Niko, your insights have been invaluable. 

Nico King 17:00

Thank you very much, Holly. 

Holly Shields 17:02

And thanks so much for your time as well viewers. Stay tuned for more live market updates. As we say here, stay apprised and invest wise with Kalkine.