Big Ant Studios turbocharges plans to become the world’s largest sport games developer

27 April 2022

Founded by Ross Symons in 2000, Big Ant Studios is now one of Australia’s largest games developers. The studio’s specialty is sport games, including cricket, rugby and tennis.

Even after 20+ years, Symons has big ambitions for his studio. ‘I want to grow Big Ant Studios into the largest developer of sports entertainment software in the world,’ he says.

That’s exactly what he’s doing today. Big Ant Studios’ creative content, expertise in sports games and top talent has attracted an investor that’s helping accelerate Symons’ growth plans.

Acquisition turbocharges next growth stage

In 2020 Big Ant Studios partnered with French digital gaming giant Nacon to develop the Tennis World Tour Game. When Nacon approached Symons about a possible acquisition, he accepted, won over by Nacon’s hands-off approach.

The acquisition was formalised in 2021, with Nacon acquiring Big Ant Studios for €35 million (A$55 million). The deal allows both to focus on what they do best: Big Ant Studios on games development, and Nacon on publishing and distribution.

‘I could have grown Big Ant to be the world’s largest sports game developer in 10 years,’ says Symons. ‘With Nacon’s resources, I could do it in less than half that time.’ His growth plan includes increasing staff numbers from 66 currently to 200.

Big Ant Studios has already felt the benefit of Nacon’s support. The studio has two new major sports games in development. Symons has also negotiated licensing contracts with 104 nations for the 2023 Rugby World Cup game. He notes Nacon’s backing has made licensing negotiations ‘much easier’.

Australia’s got passionate talent

Australia’s stellar reputation in the global digital games industry is due in large part to its talent. Australian developers created global blockbusters like Fruit Ninja and Crossy Road. The developers of those games are former Big Ant contractors and staff, notes Symons. Other Big Ant staff have gone on to work for Google, SpaceX and Tesla.

‘It’s hard to define what makes Australian games developers unique,’ says Symons. ‘We’ve got our own identity that is a mix of different cultures and experiences. I think that helps us make games that are universally appealing and not specific to a country.

‘Many Australian developers have been playing and writing games since they were kids,’ adds Symons. ‘I knew at the age of 10 I wanted to make games for a living. It’s their drive and passion that make our people as good as they are.

‘Globally, Australia has a fantastic pedigree and people recognise it,’ says Symons. ‘There’s a huge appetite for our games, and an appreciation for our capabilities overseas.’

Grants and tax incentives to spur investment

With digital games booming worldwide, Australia offers several grants and tax incentives to spur investment in the industry. These grants and incentives help reduce development and hiring costs.

Big Ant Studios received the Research and Development Tax Incentive from the Australian Government about 5 years ago.

‘New consoles were coming on the market at that time,’ says Symons. ‘There’s a fair amount of R&D required to make old code work on new consoles. The incentive underwrote the cost of developing code for the new consoles. It meant we didn’t have to pay a premium to buy an off-the-shelf games engine. We could keep and reuse the IP we developed.

‘More importantly, the code development process gave our engineers an opportunity to learn how the consoles worked. It was a great training ground for them.’

Symons is enthusiastic about the Digital Games Tax Offset (DGTO), due to come into effect on 1 July 2022. The DGTO is a 30% refundable tax offset on eligible expenditure for businesses that spend a minimum of A$500,000 on games development.

‘The DGTO will make a huge difference,’ he says. ‘For us, it means we can hire more junior staff and grow them. More broadly, the DGTO will attract large studios and publishers to Australia. This will help keep talent here and attract expats to come home. It will certainly grow the digital games ecosystem in Australia.’

Go further, faster with Austrade

International games companies are investing in the Australian games industry.

To find out more – including state and federal tax concessions – please contact the Austrade Digital Games team, on digitalgames@Austrade.gov.au