Brisbane-based indie studio Witch Beam created a global sensation with its engaging, house-moving game ‘Unpacking’.
This is only the company’s second ever game. But it gained global recognition in 2022. Unpacking won EE ‘Game of the Year’ at the BAFTA awards in London.
The win shows how small studios in Australia can stay creatively independent – and still make global blockbusters.
Unpacking recognised at the 2022 BAFTA Game Awards
Witch Beam was established in 2013 by Sega Studios alumni Tim Dawson, Sanatana Mishra and Jeff van Dyck. The studio debuted with the critically acclaimed arcade-style game ‘Assault Android Cactus’. Its sophomore game ‘Unpacking’ – released in 2021 – found the fun in moving house.
The game is part block-fitting puzzle, part home decoration game. It sees players sort through boxes filled with sentimental possessions. As they create a satisfying living space, they also learn about the life they’re unpacking.
Lead developer Tim Dawson and Witch Beam collaborator Wren Brier say the game is based on their own experience of moving in together. But the game quickly ‘caught fire’ with the public eye in 2019, says Mishra.
‘We put up a Twitter account for it and put out GIFs of people unpacking and placing objects,’ he says. ‘It went viral, with people arguing about how to organise houses. There was a meme-like element to the game that really attracted people.’
Unpacking is a global success. The game won Best Narrative and Game of the Year at the 2022 BAFTA Game Awards, and Game of the Year at the Australian Game Developer Awards. It won the Best Audio Award at GDC and the 2022 DICE Award for Outstanding Achievement for an Independent Game.
Grants and partnership power global game success
Grants from the studio’s state government helped Witch Beam to develop Unpacking. But the grants have also helped Witch Beam stay independent.
Initially, development was self-funded. But Witch Beam also received around $60,000 from Screen Queensland. This helped with development costs and some travel costs.
US indie gaming giant, Humble Games came on board halfway through the project. ‘They have really helped us to extend our reach,’ says Mishra. ‘They’ve offered marketing support with different platforms like Nintendo and Xbox.’
Australia is an indie enabler
Mishra notes that there is space in Australia for small game developers like Witch Beam to flourish.
‘Culturally in Australia we have a more relaxed atmosphere, and that helps us to be more creative,’ he says.
Witchbeam’s success shows the vibrancy of the independent studio scene in Australia, claims Mishra.
‘We want to be in control of our own games and our own destiny, and so we want to stay a micro-studio,’ he says. ‘That gives us complete creative control and remain really individual.
‘The indie scene that has grown here in the past decade is phenomenal. We have incredible local talent. Today, there are great people coming to Australia to start studios.
‘I feel we have a lot of advantages. One of those is a unique gaming culture.’
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.