On June 6, at the request of the Deputy Premier of NSW, upwards of 90 influential creatives — including a 10-person strong taskforce — met to discuss a ten year policy plan for Creative Industries in NSW. Not one member of the task force was from video games. And, of the other 80, only five people involved in creating video games — at most — were invited. Why wasn't the games industry involved in this meeting, and what can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again? We spoke to Epona Schweer, one of the few games industry attendees, and the Deputy Premier's office to find out.
Inside the room, the Deputy Premier of NSW and his hand-picked Creative Task Force: 10 men and women with one mission — developing the NSW government's 10 year action plan to grow and develop creative industries. Also inside — 90 others — 'movers and shakers' in various different industries. Their numbers include Dan Rosen, Chief Executive Officer of ARIA; Patrick McIntyre, General Manager at the Sydney Theatre Company; Robert Gorman, CEO of Allen and Unwin. People who 'matter'.
Epona Schweer walks in, surprised to be here, surprised to be invited. She looked at her name tag. On it is her name, of course; underneath her 'area of expertise', Game Development. She wanders around the room, does anyone else in there share that expertise? No. As far as she can tell, of the 90 people being tasked with building policy for creative industries in NSW for the next decade, she is the only person in this room officially representing video games.
She wonders to herself — why is that?
The Task Force
"The task force will develop a 10-year Industry Action Plan to deliver economic growth and support a sustainable and vibrant sector," said Andrew Stoner, Deputy Premier of NSW.
"The creative industries will be a key driver of growth, exports, productivity, innovation and competitiveness for the NSW economy over the next decade."
"Sydney and NSW are primed for growth in the expanding global digital economy, with the convergence of creative industries and information and communications technologies bringing together our leading strengths in fine arts and music, film, animation, new media and design."
An interesting description, but 'video games' are conspicuous by their absence, a dirty word — a word to be insinuated at best, not directly stated. Despite the fact that, of all creative industries represented in this room, digital video games arguably have the greatest potential to bring in overseas dollars.
Epona Schweer — as Community Developer at IGDA Sydney, and Producer at AIE Sydney — has quite the resume, but was invited to the taskforce meeting partly as a result of her work on NSW's Interactive Media Fund, a grant that enabled high profile Aussie developers like Halfbrick and Nnooo to fund projects in NSW. As she looked around the room, searching in vain for fellow developers, she was disappointed, but not surprised, at the games industry's absence from this soiree.
"I don’t think we were necessarily not invited to the party, I just think we've never been part of the party before, so it was almost a non-issue," says Epona. "It was almost as if it never really occurred to them that there should be someone from game development as part of the task force because it's never really happened before."
We asked Epona what the experience of being involved in the task force meeting, and representing games was like.
"I've never done anything like it before, and I think that's the case for a lot of the games industry, because there weren't a lot of us invited," she says. "At first it was extremely exciting, because you had all these intelligent, powerful people in one room, with the express mission of coming up with policies for the next ten years.
"I felt like I was part of something big and interesting. But as much as people were very open to what game development could do for creative industries — they were really open to the idea of digital distribution, they wanted to hear more about how we operated — I found that over the three hours folk eventually slipped back into territories they knew."
Lack Of Representation
Concerned about the lack of games representation in the Creative Industries Task Force, we asked the Deputy Premier for comment. Epona couldn't see anyone else, and believes maybe another one or two of the 90 participants were from the games industry, at most.
"NSW Trade and Investment worked hard to ensure there was a good mix of sub-sectors at the Creative Industries Think Tank," said a spokesperson from the Deputy Premier's office. Of the 80 people attending, there were around five people from the electronic games industry."
But even if five members of the games industry did attend this task force, is that really enough for a meeting where policy for the next ten years is being discussed? Not one single member of the 10 leaders in the task force have anything to do with games, and 'video games' don't even appear in the mission statement, buried like a black sheep — the industry that must not be named.
Epona is far more tactful, but worries about the missed opportunities. The task force doesn’t see the solutions game designers can bring to other creative industries, which is a pity, because when it comes to digital distribution and reach, the games industry is miles ahead.
"I tried to explain — this is something we're already doing, and it's not that difficult to expand the same idea to your industries; we would all benefit from working together. But they were genuinely surprised at the idea! It had never occurred to them.
"They saw what we were doing, and they wanted to be part of it, but it’s almost as if it never occurred to them to go to game developers for help."
Despite the strange reluctance of other creative industries to get involved with the games industry, Epona wants to make that leap. She sees opportunity, she wants to build those bridges.
"We're problem solvers by nature," she says enthusiastically. “We're system designers, we're technicians. We're artists... we're one of the few groups that have all bases covered. There are so many cool things we can do! Imagine what would happen if you approached a theatre troupe, and said 'I've got this beautiful networking tech working, and I want to see what would happen if we started doing improvisational plays digitally across continents, what can you come up with?'
"It just feels like an opportunity to see exactly what our medium can do once we start playing in these other creative spheres. We've touched into marketing, and advertising, and everyone knows that game designers can influence. Everyone knows that game designers can sell. But a lot of us aren't here to sell. We got into this business to create, share and explore experiences."
So why is the NSW government so reluctant to tap into that expertise?
Despite the fact that the games industry's presence was lacking, the Deputy Premier's office did pay tribute to the Australian games industry, and alluded to the lessons other creative industries could learn.
"There are many lessons to be learnt from the Australian electronic games sector," said the Spokesperson. "Some of these include how to successfully focus on exports, as well as the importance of working with the games community."
Still, it feels like lip service. Epona, to an extent, agrees.
"I think that, to be harsh," says Epona, "if we mattered to NSW in that way, there would have been someone on that task force from the games industry."
So how do we impress on the NSW government that games do matter? Isn't success on a global scale — the kind of success companies like Halfbrick have enjoyed on mobile devices — enough?
"I think the moment we start doing things the government can't ignore, that's when things will change," claims Epona. "I'll give you an example. The government was asking how we increase exports, how do we get people overseas looking to invest in Australia. I feel like they're not going to see games as integral to that until it's actually happening. Once 'made in Australia' becomes this powerful idea outside of Australia, then people will start to really support games."
Within the games industry, Australia has a great reputation for development, and is generally seen as a country that punches well above its weight, but that reputation has yet to make an impact in broader creative industries.
“When I went to the Games Developer Conference, and said I was from Australia, there was this huge positive reception to that,” says Epona, “because industry is looking to Australia and saying, 'what is this really cool place with great weather and great food and everyone making awesome games’!
“But that's within our industry, and to anyone outside the industry, whose whole world has been theatre, opera, art and museums — I don't know if we're even a blip on that radar. Maybe we're a tiny blip!”
A Tiny Blip
A small blip. A tiny blip. Not large enough to merit a sizeable place at the table. Not large enough to merit a place on the 10-strong Creative Industries Taskforce, barely large enough to be invited to the party.
Just a blip.
When the games industry is the one evolving most rapidly, the industry already implementing key strategies other creatives are only now beginning to discuss, is this satisfactory? We'd argue no.
Epona agrees. Something has to change.
"In a room full of a hundred people, with almost 100 people pleading their case, it didn't feel like the right time," says Epona. "What I want to do is I want to gather some developers, work with these traditional creative industries, become a huge blip on their radar, and then have that meeting."