Perth’s Black Lab Games is probably WA’s most successful game studio. Last year, the studio released Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock. As a game based on a rather popular Universal Television franchise, it was kind of a big deal to have the game produced in Western Australia.
So how did this boutique video game studio from Perth land such a big opportunity?
Path to success
Like every success that seems to have happened overnight, Black Lab’s journey involved lots of talent and hard work, with a bit of luck and some government funding thrown in for good measure.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock, of course, wasn’t Black Lab’s first rodeo. The game came about thanks to strategic leveraging of the studio’s first two spaceship battle games. Not only is their story inspiring, but for aspiring game makers, Black Lab’s path is also quite instructive.
In 2012, Black Lab released Star Hammer: Tactics. When Black Lab Founder Paul Turbett started working on the studio’s second game, Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy, he had to bootstrap by working another job to support the game’s development.
However, he was able to leverage his first title to apply for a $50,000 development grant through Screen Australia’s Australian Interactive Game Fund.
The grant allowed him to quit his job to focus entirely on the game as well as hiring additional staff.
The subsequent success of Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy meant that, when Universal Television went looking for a studio to develop a spaceship battle game for their Battlestar franchise, Black Lab was a natural choice.
As a sad addendum to this story, Paul was one of the last to receive the Screen Australia funding as it was discontinued in 2014. With no sign of the fund being reinstated, other WA developers are left with no other option than to keep bootstrapping, extending the time it will take them to get their games to market. It may even lose them opportunities with huge international franchises like this one!
Though one bit of good news is the McGowan Government just launched a games industry pilot program to invest in the WA games industry. So far $50,000 worth of travel grants have been announced, which is hopefully just the start with more to come.
This need to bootstrap and be commercially smart is yet another reason game developers also need to be entrepreneurs. As Paul told me, “I’ve heard the games industry described as the startup scene of the entertainment industry.”
Entrepreneurialism is also another secret to Black Lab’s success. “[Games are] the most innovative sector of the global entertainment landscape, meaning constant change,” Paul told me. And this change happens across the board, from the hardware and software being used to the business model.
The Broken Alliance
Following the success of Deadlock, Black Lab released two DLCs, most recently with The Broken Alliance DLC pack at the end of May. For the uninitiated, DLC, or downloadable content, is gamer speak for add-on content that extends the story and experiences of the game.
Paul told me that The Broken Alliance “adds eight new missions to the story and brings in a new element of political intrigue to the conflict between the Colonies and the Cylons”.
“Politics and power was a significant theme in the 2004 Battlestar Galactica TV show, and we wanted to explore that area a bit in the game,” he said.
What’s next for Black Lab Games?
“With the successful launch of The Broken Alliance, we’ll take some time to regroup and look at what’s next,” Paul told me.
“We’ve had plenty of suggestions from the players for what they would like to see added to the game. One of the great things about games in the digital environment is that we can get feedback and make changes and additions to make the game better … We should probably start thinking about new games soon too.”
I have a feeling they already have something pretty exciting up their sleeves.