GDAA Prez Tom Crago Speaks On Classification, Tax Rebates & Game Connect

t_crago.jpgWho's the guy in the tiny picture on the left? It's Tom Crago of course, president of the Game Developers' Association of Australia and CEO of (the rather successful) Tantalus.

The GDAA has been very active of late, its most recent move an alliance with the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia on the issues of classification and tax consessions.

But that's not all the organisation has been up to, so I threw a few questions Crago's way. He was more than happy to fill in the blanks, and on a few occasions, colour the blanks with green and pink highlighter.Kotaku AU: Greg Bondar recently resigned as CEO of the GDAA. Who is currently handling CEO responsibilities, and when do you believe a permanent replacement will be found for the position? Tom Crago: For the past few months we've had Mike McNabb on board in a full time capacity as COO. Mike has absorbed all of the CEO's responsibilities, and of course the Board is working a little harder to ensure that the GDAA is flying the flag for the local industry. We will look at appointing a CEO later this year or early next year.

Kotaku AU: Is Game Connect still full steam ahead? Can you tell us what the GDAA has planned for the event? Tom Crago: Absolutely full steam ahead. There are some details up on the site at present (www.gameconnectap.com) with more to be announced soon. Primarily, this event is about bringing the local development community together. We also try to bring in a number of international speakers to talk about their experiences working on big titles. Another component is the annual GDAA Awards, which recognise the best and brightest from the Australian industry.

Kotaku AU: How will Game Connect 08 improve on last year's event? Tom Crago: Naturally we're hoping to make it bigger and better (as opposed to worse and smaller). I guess the key areas here are the speakers, in terms of both depth and quality. More details will be revealed in the next couple of months. We're calling for abstracts at present, in fact, and anyone interested should hit the website.

Kotaku AU: What are the GDAA's priorities at the moment? Tom Crago: We have six key priorities: • Promoting the Australian game development industry here and overseas • Running our national developer conference, Game Connect: Asia Pacific • Lobbying Federal and State Governments for a better deal for our industry • Addressing the skills shortage by working with industry and educational institutions • Providing a voice for our industry in the local and international media • Arranging for participation and representation at international trade shows

Kotaku AU: What has the GDAA achieved in the last 12 months? Tom Crago: I'd like to think we've kicked a couple of goals in each of those key strategic areas. Obviously the push for a better deal from the Federal Government has been a big priority, and we've seen some steady progress there. We also ran a very successful event at GDC in San Francisco. It really is the case that, internationally, Australian game developers are held in higher regard than ever before. That's a good indication that the GDAA is functioning well as the peak industry body.

Kotaku AU: What avenues do developers have to communicate with the GDAA? What issues does the organisation help with on a day-to-day basis? Tom Crago: Any member of the GDAA can call me any day of the week! We field a whole range of enquiries, and try to offer help and support both to developers, and to people outside the industry. In a typical week we will be contacted by media outlets, government, and educational institutions, in addition to game developers. There's a lot of interest in video games. We try to put up a wide array of relevant information on our website, which is a pretty good first port of call.

Kotaku AU: We recently heard that the IEAA and GDAA are working together on both tax and classification issues. How is the GDAA assisting the IEAA with classification, and the IEAA helping the GDAA with tax concessions? Tom Crago: We're really glad to be working with the IEAA on a bunch of issues that impact upon both developers and publishers. They support our call for the extension of the tax offset, and we're right behind their push for an overhaul of the classification system. Of course, we're both on the same page in terms of stamping out piracy.

Kotaku AU: What progress has been made on the tax concession front? Do you believe we'll see something put into effect before the end of the year? Tom Crago: Our goal is to make it into the next budget. We're sitting down with Government in August to take the next steps towards that goal. There is still a long way to go, but we're hopeful common sense will prevail, and that video games will take its place alongside film and television as a legitimate screen art.

Kotaku AU: What barriers have prevented the industry from receiving financial support from the government? Tom Crago: Well it's fair to say the previous government didn't have a lot of time for video games. I don't think they recognised just how many Australians were playing games, and just how mainstream an activity it had become. It seemed a fairly antiquated mentality, which is something we come up against a lot. I see a lot of jaws drop when I tell people that nearly 80% of Australian households have a device for playing games, and that the average age of Australian gamers is 28. And that's before you tell them that 41% of gamers are female. Gradually, these barriers are being broken down, and I'm hopeful the new Government will have a more up to date perspective. We have our fingers crossed.

Kotaku AU: Are there any issues facing the games industry in Australia at present that you feel haven't received enough attention, such as employment opportunities, skill demand, etc? Tom Crago: The skills shortage is the big one. All the major companies are looking for people, and we're just not finding enough of them in Australia. I'm really hoping that will change. The strong Australian dollar is also a curse for us, as an entirely export-focussed industry. Of course, a near total lack of support from the Federal Government is a factor, but we're doing what we can to address that. The games business is also intensely competitive and hit driven. To that end, the biggest challenge we all face is ensuring we continue to make games that sell well and that meet the quality standards that gamers demand.

Kotaku AU: Do you have any advice for games developers in Australia? For example, what they should be thinking about in the next 12 months? Tom Crago: I think all our developers are big and bad enough not to need to take advice from me ;) In terms of general trends, though... who knows? Will the Wii continue to dominate, or will it be Sony's Xmas? Will mobile finally hit its stride, and what will happen more generally in the handheld space? What about the rise of so called 'casual games'? So many possibilities, which of course is one of the cool things about being in such a dynamic industry.


Comments

    That was interesting, and I wish them luck with their lobbying of the Government for the same deal as Film and TV. I had something in the back of my mind the whole time I was reading that, though - Last week a friend from my uni course met some folks from Tantalus, who quickly pointed out that our course was useless and that they don't hire designers. So I don't know what the hell's going on with this industry in this country. Sometimes it's really depressing.

    Unfortunately it seems some companies run job ads permanently on there site, with no intention to hire. So I understand what your friend is talking about.

    Purplesfinx: I'm think your friend might have got the wrong end of the stick, I'm afraid - we definitely hire designers, and are actively looking for a new one at present... hence the ad on tsumea. I have a large number of applications already (that I'm only part way through reviewing) and the interview process begins later this week.

    It's true that we don't hire designers very often, compared to the rate at which programmers and artists are taken up, but to say that we don't hire them at all is an exaggeration. I was the sole designer at Tantalus when I started work here around six years ago, but we now require a permanent design team of around seven or eight. Some of the current team have come from within our QA department, and others have been external hires. There are definitely design opportunities here, and I'd encourage your friends to apply within the next week or so, if they're still interested. I'd love to speak to them.

    And cheer up! There's nothing depressing about the local industry at present, as far as I can tell - pretty much everyone I talk to is working on something exciting, and all the studios seem to be growing and taking on more talented people each year. As with everything else, it's the little bits of bad news that get passed around and talked about, but the honest, boring truth is that things are just fine for most of us, most of the time... and for many of us, including Tantalus, things are getting slowly and steadily better. Heartening, but not very newsworthy.

    Bluebell: It's possible that some job ads hang around after a position has been filled, but I promise you that we intend to hire someone every time we post one! This is a great opportunity for the right candidate, and an absolutely essential need for Tantalus.

    -David Hewitt
    Creative Director, Tantalus.

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