Yesterday, as part of the budget the Federal Government pulled its $10 million of funding for the Australian Interactive Media Fund, meaning that the Government is no longer providing any funding for games in Australia. We spoke to some members of the local industry to get their reaction to the news.
Tony Reed, CEO, Game Developers' Association of Australia
It is frustrating that the decision to cut the AIGF funding was done with absolutely no industry consultation. It feels like someone in Canberra saw the word 'games' and figured that was enough to run a red line through the program. The Australian game development industry could be a significant contributor to the economic, cultural and creative economies of Australia, and surely the development of a knowledge economy, trusting Australian innovation and creativity, is what should be cultivated if we're to create a better future for our children, as the government is claiming to do?
The AIGF has only been around for a year. It has not had a chance to prove itself. Creating a game is labour-intensive, hard work and undertaken by highly skilled people. Game developers are the embodiment of a knowledge economy. Our sector is already producing creative content that Australians can be proud of and the AIGF encouraged that creativity as well as stable business practices.
Chris Wright, Managing Director, Surprise Attack
Cutting the Australian Interactive Games Fund might seem like a soft target for the Treasurer but it’s massively short-sighted. Games are a ridiculously large industry globally and Australian games developers make more than 90% of their revenue through exports, bringing money into the country to be taxed.
The Australian Interactive Games Fund was a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the support other countries such as Canada and the UK are putting behind their games development industries. However, it was a critical start to the government properly supporting the industry and should have been backed up by additional investment and tax rebates. Instead it’s being cut down as an easy $10 million short-term saving at the expense of much larger long-term returns.
We’ve helped many teams access both this fund and others such as Film Victoria and we see first-hand the impact it has. Just look at some upcoming Australian games such as Armello or Framed, both of which received support from Screen Australia that was critical to their development.
My hope is that this does not mean games will no longer receive any funding from Screen Australia as, prior to the introduction of the fund in 2012, games were eligible for other Screen Australia funds that applied to various types of digital projects.
Rebecca Fernandez, Director IGDA Sydney
The cut to the fund is a real blow to the Australian games industry. That money was needed to help bring us back out of the hole that we fell into during the global financial crisis. Suddenly the future for a lot of people and the industry as a whole is very uncertain. The progress and sustainable growth of the games industry in Australia that had been going so well in the last 12 months will now slow down quite significantly. The fund had been so carefully crafted in order to be helpful to individual studios, the industry and the economy. So much work was put into its creation that it is making me very angry that the money can be pulled without any notice or consultation. It sends a very clear message to me that the current government doesn't know or care about the games industry in the slightest. Australia can't survive on mining forever and there will need to be money-making industries to fill that void. The games industry last year made $70 billion worldwide - it would be nice to see Australia getting more of that money, but we need a bit of a helping hand in getting it.
Tonight's IGDA Sydney meeting will be very subdued. I want to do my best to keep people in Australia and keep people interested in making awesome games, but it will be hard for me to be positive for people tonight.
Joshua Boggs, Creator of Framed, Director At Loveshack
Dear Abbot Government,
Thank you for cutting funding to the arts. It’s a true sign of character that you would know better than to commit to the Games Investment Fund. Thank you for listening to reason and turning down a funding scheme that would make you money in the next year. I’m glad things in Australia will not move forward until you are eventually ousted from office, so that we may stick to our old ways and refuse a younger, brighter generation from emerging. I’m glad we will not be on the forefront of what the can be done in the interactive medium, and not have a say in what the future could hold had you committed to the promise of this funding scheme.
Trent Kusters, League of Geeks
Here at League of Geeks we just funded our game, Armello, on Kickstarter for $305,000.
These funds will see our ambitious debut game finished and released.
This success is the result of a lot of hard work. Over three years out of hours, in fact. Over 30 of us have been doing it unpaid. In fact, we’re paying for it out of our own back pocket.
Well, not all of it. We received government support.
So here’s the long and short of it… without funding bodies like Screen Australia, Film Victoria, and Multimedia Victoria, Armello would not exist, League of Geeks probably wouldn’t either and I’d likely be tweaking combat timings 17,000 kms away for a major American studio.
Through us, these funding bodies have touched and supported so many talented Australian practitioners and companies. For others following in our footsteps to now be denied those same opportunities is severely unfortunate.
But I guess when you’re dedicated to fucking the elderly, the disabled, students, the unemployed, education, families and Australia’s youth, destroying a $10m games fund is all just in a day’s work.
Hey! New jets though!
Morgan Jaffit, Founder of Defiant Development
The Interactive Games Fund was a triumph. The people who worked to make it happen, inside the GDAA and inside Screen Australia (and other orgs) brought a genuine change to the Australian development community at a time when it was desperately needed. It was a bold move, at exactly the right point.
US publishers pulled their interests out of Australia, leaving a huge number of talented developers with no jobs. The Games Fund allowed those developers to create IP, start businesses, and build an Australian game culture that was locally owned and locally built.
It lead to games like Framed, which has won an IGF Award for Excellence in Design (pretty much an Oscar for games). It lead to games like Armello, which just raised $300k on Kickstarter. It lead to companies like Uppercut and Defiant. It lead to a new wave of game development in Australia, supported by events like Freeplay, GCAP, and PAX.
Dr Adam Ruch, Department Coordinator, SAE Creative Media Institute
The federal budget outlines some cuts that are a double-blow for me. On one hand, I am a PhD-holding post-graduate. I'm now one of the last students who will have graduated without having to pay a HECS/HELP debt on my higher degree. Its baffling why the Abbott government would rather demand payment from the few people who seek to further their education to that level, rather than by leveraging higher taxes on those whose only goal is to turn a profit.
The second blow is the cut to Screen Australia and the Interactive Games Fund. I teach game development students. This is an incredible blow to a burgeoning knowledge-based and creative arts industry. What am I going to tell my students now? Why would anyone choose to stay in Australia to develop games after this? Why would I stay here to teach it?
Rohan Harris, Flat Earth Games
Grant funds like those offered by Screen Australia aren't just to prop up an inherently volatile industry like film or video games, they are also there to allow a full range of cultural expression.
One of the next games Flat Earth was working on was a piece of Australiana which would never make its money make due to its niche nature. It was going to be an open-world game set in the fascinating era of Sydney, 1931 - right before the bridge opened.
We will most likely have to go back the drawing board - and produce something more commercially marketable to the world at large instead.
Leigh Harris, Flat Earth Games
Our company exists and is self-sustaining as a result of having put in years of effort from our entire team onto a game with an uncertain future. Grant money isn't a free hand-out, it's an aid package for people who have already dedicated themselves to proving they can make great things.
And by every single metric I can think of, the Games Production Grant has been an unmitigated success. The government wants to announce cuts across the board, especially in the arts. It seems they care more about announcing cuts than about cutting things which have proven ineffective, because this grant program is the single reason the games industry in Australia survived all the closures of a few years ago.
Bruce Thomson, Nnooo
This is very disappointing news. We were expecting a reduction in funding in the spirit of "sharing the pain" but not an immediate cessation of this important initiative. The Interactive Games Fund represented an investment in the video game industry after large studio closures, a strong Australian Dollar and migration of experienced talent set the industry back. This investment was expected to be repaid many times over, helping to create employment, develop homegrown intellectual property and retain skilled and experienced professionals. Now we fear a further migration of business and talent to other countries like Canada who actively support their video game industry which, as a result, is thriving and creating significant wealth for the country.
Simon Joslin, The Voxel Agents
The Australian games industry, as small as it is, has consistently produced games with significant cultural impact, many of which have become artifacts of our time. We have proven that in our intensely competitive hit-driven environment we could succeed and bring home good news. The previous government's choice to fund the industry was an excellent boost for today's creative generation of developers, and it guaranteed growth creatively and financially. The funding was a huge building block of what we could become. The games market is huge, bigger than film, and our successes were taking bites out of that gigantic pie. The removal of funding will severely diminish further growth and strength building in our industry. Worst of all, much of the amazing talent to rise up in our country in recent years will likely find home abroad, and that's really sad.
Giselle Rosman, Director, IGDA Melbourne
Last night in Melbourne around 100 game developers took their time to learn about emerging games technologies and share games and knowledge with likeminded people. At the end of the evening, I then had to tell them, ‘you know that great games fund run by Screen Australia that can help your start up and development of quality games? Well, that’s gone.'
What is a small amount on the scale of a Federal budget can make such a difference for local game development growth and its place in the both the global market and cultural spaces. To hear it had been cut before its effectiveness can be assessed is hugely disappointing. The goal of the fund, which was to be self-sustaining over time, has not had time to be assessed and the government has failed to consult with industry on the matter.
To make it worse, at 7pm last night it was announced that applications had to be received by COB that day to be considered. Already I’ve heard of several developers who have been working on applications to be submitted by the end of the week. That’s heartbreaking.