“We punch above our weight”: Aussie games developer Big Ant acquired in $55 million deal

Big Ant CEO Ross Symons

Big Ant Studios CEO Ross Symons.

Aussie game designer Big Ant Studios has been acquired by French gaming publisher Nacon, in a whopping $55 million (€35 million) deal that founder Ross Symons says could put the Aussie industry on the map.

Founded in 2001, Melbourne-based Big Ant is one of Australia’s oldest independent game developers, best known for its sports games, including those featuring tennis, cricket, the AFL and rugby league.

After the acquisition, Symons will stay on as chief executive. Speaking to SmartCompany, he says he’s not going to take much time out to rest and reflect on his success.

In fact, he’s going to be working harder than ever to make Melbourne “the sports capital of the planet when it comes to video games”.

Big Ant has been growing organically for the past 20 years or so, Symons explains. He was targeting reaching 120 employees in the near future, but doing that quickly meant either listing the business, or being acquired by a business “that could take us to that next level”.

Things almost went the other way, he says, with Symons and the Big Ant leadership team seriously considering going public. It was only the strength of Nacon as a potential parent company that swayed the decision.

The two businesses have already been working together, and where Big Ant makes its games well, Nacon’s strengths are in distributing and publishing sports games.

If it had been any other publisher, Symons muses, we would likely be reporting on an IPO, not an acquisition.

“Combining what they’ve already got as a sports games distribution business and what we have making sports games means we can dominate,” he says.

Symons now has his sights on increasing Big Ant’s headcount to 200 people and getting licenses for as many sports as possible.

The Nacon acquisition is a significant investment in terms of dollar figures, and that’s something that has the capacity to boost the whole video game sector in Australia, says Symons.

“It’s a great sign post to other developers here as to what they can achieve, and that we are valuable.”

It also acts as a signal to the federal government that this is a valuable industry; that international investors are interested in Australian studios, he says.

To the layman, Australia isn’t necessarily a region known for its game development industry. But, to those in the know, Symons says Aussie developers are known for the quality of their products, if not the quantity they produce.

“We punch above our weight, that’s what we’re known for,” he says.

However, while governments in other Western nations offer incentives and support to their games industry, Australia’s doesn’t. That’s something Symons hopes to change.

“We’re not asking for a handout at all, we’re just asking that the offers that are given in every other nation are matched, so it’s level,” he explains.

“We would gain so much investment, and so much growth.”

Symons has a personal dream of making Melbourne a global hub of video game development, particularly when it comes to sport — something the city is already firmly on the map for.

So, rather than taking some downtime, or reflecting on his success so far, he’s doubling down.

“I’m now going to work harder than I’ve ever worked,” he says.

“I’m here for the long haul.”

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