Today the Federal Government announced it would be investing $20 million into the Australian games industry, but what does that mean for creatives in this country, and how will it impact industry in the long term? We spoke to the CEO of the Game Developers' Association of Australia Tony Reed about the effect of this new funding.
Funding on this level doesn't happen by accident.
"It was a long educational campaign," admits Tony, who was instrumental in helping convince Federal Government to invest in the Australian games industry. "Certainly in Canberra there were certain perceptions and this had a lot to do with mass media reporting."
"Whenever games hit the news it's bad news. So it was a long educational process about what games are, what their audience is and how they play — and certainly the commercial side of things, the economic benefit. It was really important to communicate that."
According to Tony, it was important to inform decision makers in Canberra that game development was an industry, not a hobby, that video games could genuinely contribute to the Australian economy. Big releases such as Fruit Ninja and L.A. Noire helped Tony make a compelling case.
"Being able to take these success stories to Canberra and say, 'here you go' was a really important part of this process. Look at the number of people that have downloaded Fruit Ninja. They became amazing tools to help educate the political sector."
Now that the government has been convinced of gaming's potential, the burden now falls on industry itself. Not only does the Australian games industry have to deliver on what Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean referred to as a 'downpayment', it has to actually help shape the fund itself. Both Canberra and Screen Australia — who will be administering the fund — have called on the industry itself for help. They want this fund to help spur long term development and are happy to admit that the games industry itself might have a better idea of how to distribute the resources.
"Industry is going to have a lot of input into what this fund will be and how we can grow from it," explains Tony. "We're putting out an industry consultation paper so everybody gets to feed their thoughts into this process.
"Screen Australia will be administering this fund, but they need our help and they've been open in saying they want the help of the industry. They want advice on how this fund should be implemented. We need to work out how to use this fund properly — not just throwing money at the industry. How do we use it so it will be effective over a long period of time."
Tony Reed would like to see some sort of balance.
"Business support is important to me," he says. "I'd like to see companies that are established get that level of support they need; to not worry about the commercial side of things too much, to focus on creating games. That's really important to me.
"There's nothing to stop us from utilising that fund, not in a tax incentive kind of way, but as a program that will allow developers — more established developers — to go out to publishers and say, 'we have a fund here that can help offset the cost of production, this might help out with the problems the exchange rate has imposed on us'. Maybe we can use the fund in some form to help secure those deals.
"We need a healthy balance of new creative IPs, but let's not discount those contract opportunities. Let's have a healthy balance of both."
Now that the Australian government has place faith in local industry, Tony believes that it's important to pay back that support with interest, with a self-sustaining games industry that can pay dividends on this initial bout of funding.
"The responsibility of the industry is to mature and grow," he says. "We don't want an industry that becomes reliant on government support. What we want is an industry that becomes self sufficient using this fund, but can feed back into the economy and support new companies in our space.
"Part and parcel of our responsibilities is showing the broader public what games can do. There are those perceptions, that games are toys — but we're so much more than that.
"We can do amazing things."
But Tony Reed wants to be clear — he hasn't asked for a "handout".
"We've never asked for that, our message has always been 'help us grow' — by doing this we can contribute to the Australian economy."
Tony Reed hopes this is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. This initial bout of funding is good for three years — $5 million for the first two years, $10 million for the third — but Tony expects to report back far sooner, and report back with a true success story.
"I'm confident enough in the industry that we won't be waiting three years," he says. "I think I might be back before that to say, 'here you go'. You put faith in us and we delivered.
"And then we'll present our next strategic plan."