While everyone else in the world is enthusiastically supporting their local game industries, Australia is doing the opposite. While the global market for games continues to grow each year, Australia’s game industry is actually shrinking. How can we change this?
As most working in the Australian games industry know, the federal government cut the Interactive Games Fund last year — a fund that was becoming self-sustaining and was helping Aussie developers get a piece of the $91.5 billion global game market. The decision has been in the news again recently, thanks to Greens Senator Scott Ludlum’s, who secured an inquiry into the shrinking Australian games industry, focusing in particular, on the decision to cut the Interactive Games fund . While lucky states like Victoria have access to state-level funding, the rest of us are stuck with little help from the government.
Right next door, putting us to further shame, New Zealand is aggressively supporting its games and tech sector. I was recently hosted by Grow Wellington, a government-supported body tasked with the city's economic development, to check out their local industry (full disclosure: they funded my visit). Wellington is home to about 100-150 full time game developers, including PikPok and Camshaft Software, who made the move across the ditch from Melbourne.
The entire country of New Zealand has about the same population as my hometown of Toronto, but despite this Wellington boasts an extensive and innovative support system for games and other tech startups. R&D funding of $566 million over four years has been used successfully by a number of game studios, four co-working spaces, and a government supported incubator/accelerator program called CreativeHQ which is currently incubating Gamestarter, a crowdsourced game design platform.
New Zealand has also legalised crowdfunding for equity, making it much easier for game startups to access much needed capital. In Australia, only "qualified" investors — i.e. people who already have lots of money — can currently invest this way in Australia, which severely limits things. The kiwis already have an equity crowdfunding platform too — PledgeMe. Overall, you get the sense that the kiwis want their tech and games industries to thrive and they are willing to do what it takes to make sure it happens.
My trip to Wellington was inspiring, but it was also incredibly frustrating to see the high level of support provided to our neighbours in comparison to at home.
I run Games We Play, which makes mixed platform games for social enterprise, non-profits and educators. I’m also the Director of the Games & Interactive program FTI in Western Australia, where my role is to offer support and advocate for WA game developers. Even though FTI offers the only games support and funding in available in WA, we too had our funding slashed by the federal government last year.
Being in these roles, I see an incredibly creative and talented group of people in Western Australia who feel very frustrated, myself included. The games being created in WA are quite incredible, especially considering the relative lack of government support we receive. Paradigm, a wacky and wonderful adventure game set in post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe, received no government support, but managed to raise $40,000 on Kickstarter and was featured on one of Pewdiepie’s let’s play videos. The award-winning Freedom Fall, an innovative platformer which also received no government help, launched last year on Steam where it enjoys a 91% positive rating. I’m proud of the programs we’ve been able to offer at FTI — such as OOMPF! Games, WA’s only games funding program — but there is so much more we could be doing, and I can only imagine what we’d be able to accomplish with the same government support that Wellington game developers receive.
More broadly, I see a huge economic opportunity (I mentioned the $91.5 billion consumers are spending on games this year on games, right?) being squandered, even in light of a looming recession and a critical need to diversify Australia's economy as the mining sector slows.
And guess what? Government support for games works. Victoria's support of its games industry has resulted in the state being responsible for 40% of Australia's game production. Canada has its highly successful Canadian Media Fund, which has helped to grow a vibrant Canadian games industry through its support of numerous studios and projects, such as Hinterland Studios’ The Long Dark (which is doing really well on Steam Early Access). The UK also seems to agree, as they’ve just invested nearly $18 million in their games industry.
So, Wellington's support of its industry is not only economically smart, but is a proven strategy to build a vibrant and innovative local games and technology industry that is being used globally. Australia can, and must, learn from them.
Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie is the Director of Games & Interactive at FTI in Western Australia and founder of Games We Play.