Post the State Government's recent budget, Victoria has removed funding to Film Victoria's funding of video game development — a fund which is partially responsible for Australian success stories such as Firemint and Iron Monkey. But is the damage as bad as initially feared? The message from Antony Reed, CEO of the Game Developers' Association of Australia is simple: don't panic.
"If it's true, it's just dreadful news," says Chris Wright. " Film Victoria has had such an impact. It's helped build some of the biggest success stories in Australia today — just look at Firemint and Iron Monkey. They got a lot of funding back in the day, and it helped grow the console development scene years ago."
That's Chris Wright, founder of Surprise Attack, and an ex-assessor for Film Victoria, he's reacting to the news, as reported by SMH, that the Baillieu Government has removed its funding for digital video games.
For years now the Film Victoria scheme has been one of the few organisations in Australia which has directly helped fund independent game development in Australia. Now, as part of the Baillieu government's recent budget, part of that funding has been removed.
But the message from Antony Reed from the GDAA is a little more optimistic. He's saying that no official decision has yet been made on funding.
"They've made no official announcements on the program itself," said Reed, "there is nothing official out there. The reality is Film Victoria hasn't made any decision on the games program at all."
So what are the facts? Funds for digital media programs have clearly been cut in some form, the question is whether or not funds will be made available via other means for the Film Victoria scheme.
"I think there's going to be a fair bit of negotiation and we'll be involved in that," said Reed. "We'll want fair treatment for the games industry. I don't think Film Victoria is going to run away from the games sector because that's been a very successful program for them. I think what will likely happen is we'll see more collaboration between the various entertainment sectors. I think what Film Victoria will do is get us all around the table and figure how best to neutralise the funding provisions made by the government. And that will be the best outcome for both parties.
As Antony Reed states — the Film Victoria fund has been a massive success. If Victoria was to lose this funding the implications could be severe and wide reaching.
"I think it could be a real problem," claimed Chris Wright. "Victoria has had the best game funding for a very long time, but now people might look and say, 'am I better off not going Indie? Am I better off going overseas?'
"The knock on effect of this is, with all the big studios closing in Melbourne, that there could be a talent drain. People are more likely to take their talent overseas instead of setting up studios here in Melbourne. That has a long term impact where the talent starts moving, and we want publishers to reinvest in studios here in Australia — but if the talent leaves then you don't get that investment from big companies — because they go where the talent is."
Antony Reed also stressed the importance of Film Victoria and other such schemes.
"These programs, both state and federal, are incredibly important," he said. "We have a large, growing, independent community that's grown through this transition period. What this fund allows developers to do is just offset certain costs. It's not a free ride — it's a loan, not a grant. It helps developers manage costs and allows them to be a little more innovative and take more risks.
"They are actually critical. If we went down the path of a more generic fund that didn't allow for that, we would get more generic product at the end of the day."
As a major export business, support for digital games development is an important issue.
"It brings in a lot of cash," explains Chris Wright, "because Australia only represents about 4% of the digital market. So if a game is successful that means that 96% of the money comes from overseas, which is obviously hugely beneficial. It's a huge shame and hopefully it's only a short term thing."
Antony Reed's message to those who could potentially be affected by any cuts the government might make is simple — hold off, the news might ultimately be positive.
"I say just wait until there are more official announcements," he said. "Once the various heads have gotten together and discussed what is going to happen, there's a chance that this might be a good thing — it might be a catalyst to bring the industry sectors together here in Victoria. I don't think it's the end of the world — we just have to work out how we manage through this."