Insight

Meet the former tax agent who teaches video game development

In a world where digital landscapes become the canvas for immersive storytelling, former Australian Tax Office (ATO) investigation officer, Kathy Smart, has bridged her passion for narratives through video game development. As a games lecturer at SAE University College, Kathy brings a wealth of experience from her career, where she now nurtures the next generation of game developers.

Looking back on her childhood, Kathy revealed that growing up on a farm instilled a set of values that have remained with her throughout her life.

KATHY’S CAREER PATHWAY TO GAMES

“Those formative years taught me the value of hard work and being resourceful,” Kathy said. “Harvesting clover instilled in me a sense of hands-on craftsmanship that I still carry with me today.”
Kathy’s career trajectory took an unexpected turn during her tenure at the ATO, where she spent over two decades navigating the intricacies of providing financial advice and managing debt collection.

“I’ve always been interested in writing and telling stories, but it wasn’t until I attended a talk by Professor Christy Dena on the emotional power of video games that I realised the potential for storytelling within it.”

The decision to transition from the ATO to game development was met with scepticism from colleagues, Kathy recalled. “I think they felt a bit sorry for me and thought it wouldn’t work out,” she laughed. “But I was determined to pursue my passion.”

"I've always been interested in writing and telling stories, but it wasn't until I attended a talk by Professor Christy Dena on the emotional power of video games that I realised the potential for storytelling within it."

KATHY’S GAME DEVELOPMENT CAREER

Armed with a diploma in game development, Kathy embarked on a new chapter, founding her own game studio, Joy Everafter Stories, and her debut game.

“Creating Frog’s Princess was a labour of love. I wanted to make a game that was accessible to all, particularly for blind and deaf children, and that allowed players to shape the narrative through their choices,” Kathy said.

Since joining SAE University College’s Adelaide campus as a lecturer, Kathy has found a sense of belonging within the supportive community.

“SAE has been like a second home to me. I’ve never worked in such a welcoming and warm environment – we accept all students for who they are, and their curiosity and creativity is very much encouraged by staff. I really love teaching there as the courses are well designed and tailored to the needs of industry.”

Kathy’s contributions extend beyond teaching and managing her studio; she is also a driving force within the Adelaide gaming community.

“I co-created the Adelaide Game Developers Discord because I noticed a lack of communication and collaboration within the local industry. It’s been incredible to see the community grow and thrive over the years to what it is today.”

"SAE has been like a second home to me. I’ve never worked in such a welcoming and warm environment - we accept all students for who they are, and their curiosity and creativity is very much encouraged by staff. I really love teaching there as the courses are well designed and tailored to the needs of industry.”

Drawing upon her expertise in finance, Kathy is a sought-after speaker at industry events, like the Australian Game Developers Conference, where she has shared insights on indie game development and studio management.

“It’s very important to me that developers understand their financial obligations and how to set up their indie studios. Having a solid understanding of the business side will help them when doing contract work.”

For aspiring game developers, Kathy offers words of wisdom gleaned from her own journey: “Don’t be afraid to take on small contract work to gain experience and build your portfolio. Every opportunity, no matter how small, can lead to something bigger and more fulfilling.”

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