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Big Ant CEO Commits to Including Women in All Future Sport Games

July 18,2016 14:34

By Luke Reilly Great sports moments are born from amazing stories. These moments are why people are drawn to the unscripted drama of live competition. Those who continue to insist on using the word sportsball in the pejorative sense may scoff, but it's ...and more »



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Anything else is just not cricket.

By Luke Reilly

Great sports moments are born from amazing stories. These moments are why people are drawn to the unscripted drama of live competition. Those who continue to insist on using the word sportsball in the pejorative sense may scoff, but it’s true. It’s why folks sat, jaws agape, watching LeBron James defy gravity to deny the Golden State Warriors the lead in the dying moments of game seven in this year’s NBA Finals. It’s why the unprecedented tale of how Leicester City was able to defy 5000-1 odds to win the English Premier League made headlines all over the globe. “ While the whole club – men and women – posed for one big photo... Adam Gilchrist remarked the moment was unique in any sport around the world. Earlier this year the Melbourne Cricket Ground played host to its own story; the dramatic fairy-tale finale of a truly fascinating saga of Australian cricket. There are many who remain cynical of the T20 format’s upstart brand of cricket, and I also imagine there are plenty who may still regard the Australian Big Bash League’s brightly-coloured and pre-packaged parochialism as a bit on the silly side. There’s also no argument, however, that in January 2016 – just five seasons into the men’s competition and in the inaugural year of the women’s comp – the BBL and the WBBL suddenly had a genuine story. The Sydney Thunder had clinched both comps in tense, final over victories. The men (cellar dwellers who had never finished better than last or second last) and the women (nabbing the win in their first year as a team in a league that has triggered a new explosion of interest in Australian women’s cricket). Two teams, two finals, two trophies; same club, same ground, same day. While the whole club – men and women – posed for one big photo and hoisted their silverware for the crowd, commentator and former Australian wicketkeeper/batting juggernaut Adam Gilchrist remarked the moment was “unique in any sport around the world.” It was actually then I absently pondered whether we’d ever see the rise of the women’s game reflected in cricket video games. Turns out one developer was already several steps ahead of me. Melbourne-based independent developer Big Ant understands cricket. Its 2014 game Don Bradman Cricket 14, first released on PS3 and Xbox 360 and later available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, has been a great success. Unsurprisingly so, perhaps, considering it’s certainly the finest and most nuanced cricket game ever made. The first sequel, Don Bradman Cricket 17, is due out in December. Earlier this month Big Ant confirmed that women players and teams will feature in the game, which will be a first for cricket games. The Don Bradman Cricket Academy app, available via Steam, was updated to showcase the new female character customisation options. With almost no licensing whatsoever, Don Bradman Cricket 14 relied on its users to create players inside the customisation suite and share them to the community; DBC17 will be no different. Women cricketers can be created in earnest for the game already. We'll be able to see the game in action soon. And it’s not just a cosmetic thing, either. “ You can’t just say, ‘Yeah, okay, we’re just going to give them ponytails!’ “We’re actually getting WBBL players to do the mo-cap,” confirms Big Ant CEO Ross Symons as we discuss the 2016 BBL and WBBL finals. “There’ll be first-class women players doing the mo-cap because they actually are different.” “You can’t just say, ‘Yeah, okay, we’re just going to give them ponytails!’” Symons notes it’s an important distinction to craft because women cricketers have their own style. “They run differently,” explains Symons. “They’ve got a different gait; a different style.” “They bowl incredibly differently.” Handily the Big Ant team now has its own, in-house motion capture facility, which Symons stresses will be a huge benefit for the studio. “I think that’s going to allow us, in all our sports, to bring far, far greater detail because basically the guys go out the back and just mo-cap whenever they feel like it,” he says. “We’ve basically spent millions of bucks in the last few months putting in technology for image capture and for motion capture and we’ve purchased new premises, so it’s been a big few months.” It’s the many years and many dollars Big Ant has already invested in Don Bradman Cricket, however, that has given the studio the scope to now drill down into a specific area, like adding the women’s game. “It gives us an ability to not take away from the men’s game, and that’s always the thing [that’s mentioned],” says Symons. “It’s unfortunate, but you get that.” “If we didn’t have a reasonable cricket game already, then we’d have far more comments than we do where you get that feedback [like], ‘We want you to finish the men’s game first!’, ‘How about you fix the men’s game?’ and all that sort of stuff. “But we’re reasonably confident with the game that we have. We will tweak it – there’s a whole lot of stuff coming for it, for everybody – but it allows us to do the women’s game properly because the guys are spending a lot of time doing the women’s part of the game, and they’re able to do that because they don’t have to spend as much time on the men’s side.” Symons is keenly aware that there are plenty of women amongst the DBC audience, and one of the key reasons he was compelled to task the Big Ant crew with adding women’s cricket to the next game is that he discovered some of those women are, in fact, elite cricket players. “That’s one of the things that got me, when we heard that some of the first-class cricketers in Australia, in the women’s teams, are playing the game, and it made me feel ordinary,” he says. “That we forced them to play either as men, or as women created in a male character-creator, and in this day and age they deserve better.” Last year EA’s FIFA 16 acknowledged the increasing awareness of women’s football by including a selection of women’s national teams in the game, a first for the series. The move resulted in plenty of positive press for the world’s leading sports sim, though Symons is adamant that securing a bevy of equally glowing headlines is not Big Ant’s motivation. “I think the thing for us is more that it’s the right thing to do,” says Symons. “ It’s not going to bring us a lot of sales differential.... [but] it’s the right thing to do. “Unfortunately I seriously think that right now it’s not going to bring us a lot of sales differential. The amount of investment in putting the women in there will not equal the amount of sales difference for having done it, and look, it’s great to have good press for it – that is fantastic – but really it is because it’s the right thing to do.” Big Ant, with the likes of Don Bradman Cricket, Casey Powell Lacrosse, and its popular Rugby League Live series, continues to carve out a space in sports games for niche markets. Going forward Symons confirms Big Ant will be including women in all its future sports games, which include for now a new Casey Powell Lacrosse, plus a tennis game which Symons notes he’s teased previously and will discuss more in due course. “I think we’re buying real estate for time; I think that minds will change,” says Symons, adding that he’s eager to see women share the Australian rules football stage when the AFL’s women’s football league kicks off in February next year. “That’s going to be fantastic. I think we’re coming into an awesome age with the introduction of women; I think it’s going to be fantastic for all these sports.” There was a truly odd comment below last week’s article regarding DBC17 on IGN, with one reader noting he or she didn’t actually realise women’s cricket “was a thing.” This, despite the fact that the televised games of the 2015-2016 WBBL season saw considerably higher average ratings than Australia’s domestic A-League football (soccer) matches broadcast during the same period. This, despite the fact the Australian women’s T20 team has won the T20 World Cup final three times, and made the final four times (their last appearance was only a few months ago). This, despite the fact there’s been a Women’s One Day International World Cup for over 40 years, and Australia has won six of them. Odd, then. Sure, women’s cricket certainly gets far fewer column inches and drastically less airtime, but it’s hardly a national secret. Symons is probably right, though, and minds will probably change. But there’s no harm in a video game helping to make it happen a little faster. Luke is Games Editor at IGN's Sydney office and has (almost) forgotten all about the Sydney Thunder's previous 19-game, 750+ day losing streak. You can find him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.

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