Cult of the Lamb’s Worldwide Success Showcases Australian Talent in Game Development | Games

There is a whole marketing industry trying to persuade the world to buy Australian lamb. But our latest international success story is a bit more digital, not to mention mysterious, than meaty.

Cult of the Lamb, a video game about indoctrinating cute animals into your dark sect and then sacrificing them for greater power, has topped the sales charts at launch (temporarily unseating the latest Spider-Man game on PC) and has reached more than one million units sold in one week, according to its publisher.

“It’s been pretty crazy!” says Julian Wilton, one of the three core members of Melbourne and UK-based game developer Massive Monster. Wilton met fellow founders Jay Armstrong and James Pearmain at a forum dedicated to Internet-based flash games more than a decade ago.

“Since we started this project we have been blown away,” he says. “We’d be like… what the hell is going on? Is that number real?

Game developer Julian Wilton at ACMI in Melbourne.
Game developer Julian Wilton at ACMI in Melbourne. “I hope we can keep the indie spirit strong.” Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP

Although less popular for larger developers like Sony, Rockstar or Ubisoft, Australia is home to some of the most successful independent game studios in the world, with a string of international hits from smaller teams in recent years. Melbourne, in particular, has a thriving game developer scene, thanks to a mix of state government funding, tax incentives, and a generally friendlier environment for creators. Over 44% of studios are based in Victoria, according to a 2021 survey by the Independent Gaming and Entertainment Association, as is over 57% of the workforce.

“There’s such a creative energy, there are so many great studios,” says Wilton. “I think having that community of developers who are on a similar level to you is a huge inspiration; you can talk business, compare contacts, they can help you, you can help them. It’s very communal.”

Like many Australian game developers, Massive Monster credits their state’s investment in the industry with helping them achieve international success, with the team receiving $40,000 in funding from VicScreen and Creative Victoria to polish a demo to the point where they could present it to their publisher. , Return Digital.

“Australia is a really small segment of the market,” says Wilton, “so having publishers is really very helpful for Australian developers.”

“Given the relative size of the population, I think targeting the international market is inevitable,” says Tim Dawson, one of the Brisbane-based developers behind last year’s hit Unpacking.

A room from Unpacking, a video game from Brisbane-based developers Witch Beam.
A room from Unpacking, a video game from Brisbane-based developers Witch Beam. Photograph: Patrick Lum/THE GUARDIAN

“One of the great things about digital releases is that we can sell our games all over the world, so it would be a waste not to take advantage of that.”

It’s hard to pin down why precisely the Australian Games are succeeding internationally, says Wilton, though he attributes some of it to “strange ideas” born from smaller teams.

“I hope we can keep the indie spirit strong,” he says, “because that’s where [Australia] thrives… I feel like that’s where we can compete.

“By having these smaller teams, you really have to think about these ideas that are so important, that resonate with people. Whereas if you have a really big team, ideas can be watered down or standardized.”

Dawson agrees. “Because we share culture with North America and the UK [and] although they are also outsiders, Australian and New Zealand developers are well positioned to come up with concepts in fresh and eccentric ways that can be an effective way to cut through the noise,” he says.

Successful ideas so far include the goose-simulating slapstick of Untitled Goose Game, the meditative zen of sorting and moving house in Dawson’s Unpacking, and the brutal and challenging exploration of a dead world devoid of insects in Hollow Knight. Not to mention Cult of the Lamb’s weird, cute, yet creepy mix of community management and vengeful crusade.

Cult of the Lamb could reach more than a million units sold this month, according to its developers.
Cult of the Lamb could reach more than a million units sold this month, according to its developers. Photograph: Massive Monster

Dr Marcus Carter, director of the University of Sydney Games and Games Laboratory, believes the success of Australian games internationally is the result of a “strong foundation of talent and creativity”.

“It’s clear that Australian games are imagining a much broader audience of gamers with a much broader conceptualization of what the game can be like,” he says. “Who would have thought moving house would be so much fun?”

Recent announcements in game finance have focused on tax breaks at the federal level for international companies that spend big money, but Carter and his colleague Dr Mark Johnson, also of the University of Sydney, think that many successful games now come “from smaller companies”. large-scale, bottom-up productions” with roots in “quality of Australian game development education”.

“To the extent that the Australian games industry is doing well, it is doing so thanks to independents and creatives, rather than huge investment or state support,” says Johnson, “but the hope is always that the first thing comes. may lead to the latter, by testing the feasibility of the field.”

“Financial support and government interest are important, but other facets (cultural rather than economic) take time to evolve and develop slowly. It’s an Australian game-making culture that really needs to start developing.”

Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game Photography: PR Brochure

Dawson is cautiously optimistic about the likelihood of more government investment in the sector.

“I think the states that have effectively invested in video game development are reaping the benefits and other states are catching on,” he says. “It looks like there are more conversations going on.”

“The dismantling of the Screen Australia federal fund when the previous government came to power was a huge blow, but with its recent return, I am hopeful for the future of Australian indie games.”

Carter agrees with this assessment. “I think these recent successes show that Australia’s game development industry is worth investing in,” he says, “and the investments being made by state and federal governments are worth it.”

However, despite the success of his own game, Wilton has one major regret.

“I’m upset, I’m upset,” he laughs. “I can’t believe we shipped without a koala skin!” she says, referring to a dropbear-themed cosmetic option for the game’s extremely adorable animal followers.

“We’ll have to patch it up,” he says. “It’s definitely on the list.”

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