In the most recent budget, the Australian Federal Government scrapped the Screen Australia Interactive Media fund, essentially taking $10 million from the hands of local developers. But before the door closed SMG, a four man team working out of Sydney, managed to receive a small amount of funding for their newly released game OTTTD (Over The Top Tower Defence). How does it feel to be the very last video game funded by the Australian Government?
Patrick Cook, the founder and lead developer at SMG, feels fortunate — but there is a certain amount of pressure.
"The pressure comes from the fact that we fail we're going to receive extra scrutiny from the industry and press because someone else could have been funded," he explains. "We had no warning is was about to disappear, and I was actually really looking forward to seeing what else would come from it in the future."
Available on PC, Mac and Linux OTTTD does exactly what it says on the tin and more. It's literally an over the top Tower Defence game — but it's also a well-made, highly polished experience that filters in RPG and RTS elements.
It was an ambitious project for a newly founded, relatively small studio. The funding, says Patrick, enabled OTTTD to be fast-tracked in terms of development. If it wasn't for the funding, he says, the game would be a long, long way from release.
"It'd be in a WIP state, probably a proof of concept," he says. "Without the pressure to perform for Screen Australia or the funding to dedicate staff to it full time it would still be a side project. Thanks to the funds we've since hired another developer full-time.
Studios without this kind of funding can look forward to a life of juggling work-for-hire with their own independent projects. Essentially this takes the power out of the hands of local developers.
"The funding essentially made it possible to release a game very close to our original vision within a 12 month time frame across multiple platforms," says Patrick.
"Previously we worked around "fee for service" projects with our own games on the side. This meant it took many years to release a small game because most of our time was taken up with paying the bills. The funding essentially gave us a financial runway to make it possible."
This type of funding enabled local developers to focus on creating their own intellectual property — the kind of intellectual property that brings money into the country and helps foster and grow a new industry, but for Patrick, it was the lack of consultation that stung. No-one was approached, no-one was warned, the money was just snatched from the local industry before anyone had the chance to lobby on its behalf.
"I feel like there's a widespread notion that the funding was cut without any real consultation with the industry itself, and that's really the worst aspect of it," he says. "It seems clear to me there's a huge opportunity for this kind of funding to do really great things for the industry long term and it was really disappointing to see that to see that swept aside."
But Patrick has a message for those disheartened by the Australian government's lack of faith in the local games industry.
"Prove them wrong."