Phantom Abyss signals rise of Australian indies

12 May 2022

Brisbane-based game development studio Team WIBY is the brains behind the hugely successful Phantom Abyss. The asynchronous multiplayer game was launched in partnership with leading US publisher Devolver Digital in June 2021.

The global popularity of Phantom Abyss shows the amazing vitality of Australia’s indie games-developer ecosystem. In four short years, Team WIBY has gone from a 3-person startup to the producer of an over $3 million game.

Grants and offsets fire up new gaming companies

Established in 2018, Team WIBY is the brainchild of Ben Marrinan, Motze Asher and Joshua Sanderson. It’s first major game – Phantom Abyss – sees players navigate Indiana Jones-style temples to retrieve mysterious relics.

The game was quickly embraced by the global digital gaming community in its first year of release.

Success is partly due to government support. In 2018, Team WIBY received a Screen Queensland Games Grant. The grant aims to fosters gaming industry growth in Queensland by supporting local developers and studios.

‘The grant was immensely helpful,’ says Sanderson, who is now Technical Director. ‘It supplemented our own finances and enabled us to attract publishers with a demo.’

Team WIBY eagerly awaits the Digital Games Tax Offset (DGTO), which comes 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. ‘We will certainly be making use of this,’ says Sanderson.

Fertile ground for indie games ideas

Sanderson says that Australia is a great place for creatives to start independent gaming companies.

‘There’s so much talent here,’ he says. ‘So many great people have started their own businesses since the dip that followed the global financial crisis. These entrepreneurs inspire people to start indie companies. That’s really unleashed a lot of Aussie creativity.

‘We punch well above our weight here. We make international hits with just two or three people. It’s inspiring to see this kind of thing happening regularly.’

Sanderson also loves the highly collaborative nature of the Australian games industry.

‘There’s a lot of mutual support, especially in the indie scene,’ he says. ‘We all want to see each other succeed, and that makes Australia a great place to make games.’

He also points to Australia as a great place to live, as well as work. ‘The climate is amazing, and Australia is just a wonderful place to live,’ he says. ‘All of those lifestyle factors pull people in from overseas – and they also pull experienced expats back home.’

Australian colleges develop top tech talent

Sanderson also speaks to the quality of tertiary education for game development here in Australia. He says there is sufficient talent to hire and support local people.

‘The technology moves very quickly,’ he says. ‘The techniques we used to make digital art 10 or 15 years ago just can’t compete with the new tools out there now. And Australian education institutions are teaching people how to use those tools.

‘Our colleges produce excellent graduates with all the necessary skills to make great games. There is even space for recent students to teach some of the older people!’

Go further, faster with Austrade

International investors are buying into the Australian games industry. The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) is committed to helping international investors find opportunities.

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