Gamers are flocking to online farms — what does this mean for agriculture?
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When James Bendon started developing a video game about farming in Australia, complete with giant wombats and fire-breathing Tasmanian devils, he never dreamt it would be so successful.
"It's sold over 250,000 copies [since July], which is above and beyond my expectation, I still can't believe it," Mr Bendon said.
"I always enjoyed farming games and I wanted to make one that felt like the little bush town I grew up in … and, yeah, the response has been amazing."
Not bad for a game that hasn't been officially released and is only available via early access — a funding model that allows consumers to pay and play a game while it's being developed.
Founder of Larrikin Interactive Dylan Bennett said the video games industry in Australia was "blossoming" in terms of its creativity and global reach.
"There's a lot of great games being released right now, and people don't often realise they've been made in Australia," Mr Bennett said.
"A great example of this is Dinkum. It was made by one person and has pulled in ridiculous amounts of money and has done phenomenally well since its [early access] release."
In Australia, about 17 million people engage with gaming content, according to the Bond University Digital Australia Report 2022.
Globally, it's an industry that's now worth more than $475 billion ($US300 billion).
Mr Bendon said Dinkum was not "super-realistic" in terms of farming in Australia (remember, this is a game that involves milking giant wombats).
But he said it was hopefully tapping into a wider trend among gamers.
"There is a boom happening where there are a lot more games now [that are] less about shooting people and more about growing things," he said.
In the Northern Territory, game developer Nathan Groves is creating a game inspired by the NT's cattle industry.
It is called Pasture: The Livestock Simulator and involves managing cattle stations, building infrastructure, helicopter mustering, improving herd genetics, and plenty more as gamers "build a cattle empire".
Born in the Top End town of Katherine and the son of a livestock agent, Mr Groves said the NT had something unique to offer the growing genre of farming games.
"I remember downloading a game called Farming Simulator and was surprised I liked it, and it made me more interested in all of the farming equipment I saw around Katherine," he said.
Microsoft's US$68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard will see it take on iconic franchises and make it the third-largest gaming company in the world.
"I thought, there's something to these games and why couldn't we do one about the NT's cattle industry?
"I think it's the most exciting farming environment in the world and the perfect setting for a computer game."
It is still early days for Mr Groves's game, which he plans to release onto early access PC next year before targeting opportunities on Xbox and PlayStation.
Mr Groves said he was aware of someone working in the NT's cattle industry who was inspired to seek out the job after enjoying a game about America's wild west.
"Games can influence people and we're intending to make this game a fun way for people around the world to experience the NT's cattle industry," he said.
Dylan Bennett said farming simulator games had become "hugely popular" and those within agriculture should take notice.
"I think organisations are starting to recognise how impactful video games can be as a mechanism to tell different stories and how powerful they can be to engage with this generation and future generations," he said.
"People who haven't yet understood video games and what it's all about should see them as a means to capture a new audience and share experiences with them in a medium they're comfortable with."
He said not only could the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry play a role in inspiring more people to get involved in agriculture, but it was also becoming an obvious place for agribusinesses to advertise.
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