We spoke to John Holden, Founder of Australian Football coach, to discuss his background, exciting news on his product and advice for anyone wanting to get involved in the industry. Check out the conversation below!
Tell us about your background and what you do for work
I’m a consultant who works a number of different projects, usually around data or software creation. For instance, I just released free and open source software to help redistrict or reapportion political districts, and will be starting a legal project in a month or so.
When did you start Australian Football Coach
In 2013, I set out to learn the popular programming language Python. I was working on a project which demanded a lot of hours, but occasionally had gaps between needing to accomplish tasks, and in the interim I built a little footy simulator. After that project was finished, I started messing around with code for a specific video game and created a little footy simulator there, which snowballed into the original Australian Football Coach. The 2020 version is a complete rewrite, as I didn’t have any sort of plan when I created the original version.
Tell us about the product
In Australian Football Coach 2020, you coach an Aussie Rules team. You manage contracts, sign free agents, pick the best players in the draft, select the way you want your team to play, and then watch as the players play the game out in front of you. I call it a sports narrative generator, though you get to have a role in how the narrative plays out.
What sets AFC apart in the market
There have been relatively few Aussie Rules simulators created, in part because it’s such a niche market. If you’ve ever had an interest in managing a footy club, it’s the most updated product on the market. For instance, the most recent one apart from AFC came out in 2011.
If you’ve ever had an interest in managing a footy club, it’s the most updated product on the market. For instance, the most recent one apart from AFC came out in 2011.
What have been the main challenges along the way
There’s just not quite enough money in the market to create an entirely well-rounded game, because of how specific it is to Australia and even though the sport is the most Australian sport Queensland and New South Wales don’t have it as their primary love. That, and learning how to code a proper user interface. The first AFC I learned as I went along and unfortunately I don’t think it worked very well. AFC2020 is much better but could still use a good graphics designer!
What impact will launching on Steam have for you and your users
The Steam platform is amazing for video game developers. When the original AFC launched on Steam, it doubled its sales in a week. As a developer, it takes out some of the work you have to do to launch a game successfully, including taxes. For the users, Steam means downloading and purchasing the game from anywhere in the world becomes very easy and there’s also another place for a community to form.
How does AFC fit into the sport-tech landscape in Australia
It’s really an indie game at it’s heart, so I don’t think it has a huge impact on the landscape and it’s also a labour of love more than a money-making venture. I think its biggest impact is that it’s an advertisement for footy. For instance, I played soccer growing up but it wasn’t televised much. Playing soccer video games really helped me learn to love the sport. The very fact AFC2020 gets promoted on sites such as gmgames.org means footy can reach new audiences, even if the readers don’t ultimately play the game.
Are you involved in other areas of sport-tech
I’ve written a few blog posts on baseball and footy statistics, mostly looking at leverage and winning percentage for football games. I’ve also written a couple betting models for personal use but haven’t gotten into betting very much.
What advice would you give sport fans who are looking to create their own products or do their own data analysis in this space but don’t know where to start
This is a bit of a difficult question for me personally as I’ve been doing sports statistics and writing sports simulations since Year 7 so I’ve always naturally gravitated to working on sports stats and sports games. I have two pieces of advice: be curious and value your time.
In terms of being curious, Australia’s actually a really good place to be doing sports analysis because fewer people watch the leagues, so the data world hasn’t quite caught up yet. If there’s something you can’t find the answer to, there’s a data project and blog post in there somewhere. You can always learn how to create a betting model and see how it does over time, and this doesn’t actually require you to spend any money, either! In terms of valuing your time, it’s very likely you won’t jump into a paid role in sports data analysis immediately unless you’ve previously done academic research or a specific quantitative field. If it’s something you want to do, carve out the time to get it done. I understand this can be hard if you’re surviving one or two jobs, but still make space for it – it could be very rewarding.