Where's The Government Support For Australian Video Games?

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Last week, the CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association Ron Curry penned a clearly frustrated open letter to the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Mitch Fifield, about his government’s stubborn persistence in ignoring the Australian game industry.

The letter was a direct response to the minister not mentioning games during a keynote address at the recent Australian content conversation held by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and other government bodies. But the frustration underpinning it is much deeper. It’s a response to years of struggle as the burgeoning local industry fights to be recognised as a significant creative force.

Indeed, the few times the current coalition government has recognised the existence of an Australian game industry have been nothing short of catastrophic. games were one of the many victims of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s brutal first budget in 2014, when the half-completed Australian Interactive Games Fund was stripped of its remaining A$10 million without any industry consultation. This left many small studios who were preparing for the next round of funding in the lurch.

Then, in 2015, when then-Arts Minister George Brandis proposed the National Program for Artistic Excellence (since rebranded as the Catalyst Fund) to replace existing Arts Council funding, “interactive games” were explicitly excluded.

Four hundred days ago, a senate inquiry handed down its findings on the future of Australia’s game industry, recommending that there be a funding body for games. Compared to its previous actions, it is almost a relief that the government’s response to this has been one of deafening silence.

games by numbers

It remains baffling that a government whose rhetorical posturing is all about innovation, the future, and exports, is so reluctant to support a local game development industry.

The numbers have been cited to death: globally the game industry is approaching a value of A$100 billion. In Australia alone the industry is worth nearly A$3 billion, except this number is primarily made up of overseas games sold in Australia, not games made here.

Obtaining an exact dollar value of the local development industry is more difficult (and, surely, less impressive sounding), but it probably employs nearly a thousand people, and with the right support could employ many more. games also drive innovation in a range of sectors, and stand ready to take advantage of virtual and augmented reality.

More importantly, about 70% of Australians play games, on computers, on TVs, on mobile phones - you probably have a few on the device you’re reading this on right now. Clearly a market exists for homegrown content.

Just citing the numbers, however, risks narrowing the much broader cultural significance of games to a simple dollar value. games aren’t just products. They are creative works.

games are a significant aspect of Australian culture and identity, and local practitioners should receive just as much support from arts funding bodies as artists working in any other medium. If nothing else, they shouldn’t be excluded simply for working with the medium of games.

Not just a boys’ club

What the lack of support really comes down to is an image problem. There is still a popular perception of games as just silly throwaway toys for teenage boys, despite the fact that players are on average 30-years-old and as likely to be women as men.

Image: Crossy Road

In part, this is the global game industry’s own fault. Through the latter decades of the 20th century, male teenagers were the dominant target audience. The most visible games were all schlocky action, racing cars and army soldiers.

But games are a form as diverse and eclectic as television. While massive blockbuster action games for teenage boys still exist, so do small mobile games for a more general audience, educational games for training and the classroom, and little personal games made by individuals more concerned with expressing an idea than making a huge profit.

Indeed, it’s the latter that the current Australian game development industry is excelling at. Government support or not, it is building a small and sustainable ecosystem in this area.

Australia has been a powerhouse of mobile game development for years, responsible for early international successes like Flight Control, where you play as an air traffic controller, and Fruit Ninja, where you slice fruit with a blade.

More recent successes include Crossy Road (the player has to dodge traffic), Framed (you have to rearrange comic book panels to avoid the police), and Jelly Juggle (a kind of circular ping-pong involving where a fish acts as the paddle, and the jelly is the ball).

Image: Fruit Ninja

Australia is also home to a vibrant scene where individual and part-time developers have created small games that receive international acclaim. House House’s Push Me Pull You sees you, as a two-headed person with a stretchy body, facing off against another two-headed foe to take control of the ball. Ian MacLarty’s Catacombs of Solaris is a psychedelic, never-ending labyrinth. Flat Earth Games’ Objects in Space is a space trading game where you must silently plot against space pirates and corrupt governments.

Sorath’s Devil Daggers is a twitchy love letter to late 1990s first-person shooters such as Quake. Grace Bruxner’s Alien Caseno is pun-filled alien casino. And Marbenx’s Shower With Your Dad Simulator is as bizarre as it sounds.

Each of these small Australian games have received international attention through the press or overseas exhibitions, yet their creators have access to precious few avenues of funding or support.

Supporting creators

Boasting about these successes risks sounding as though government support isn’t required, like things are already fine. But it’s no coincidence that the majority of these developers are located in Melbourne, where the state screen funding body, Film Victoria, has been actively funding and supporting game development for years.

The majority of these developers also do not currently make games full time. As Australia no longer has large game publishers, without government funding, few can afford to take the risk to leap into full-time game development.

During the senate inquiry, the games industry stated that over 5,000 students enrol in tertiary courses to study game development each year, while there are, at most, 1,000 people employed as “active participants” in the industry.

Some will no doubt join existing studios, and others will try to start their own. But without government support for games as either an industry or a creative form, many of these graduates will slip sideways into other industries, or join the countless other Australian developers that have moved to Europe or Canada to find greener pastures.

The government seems willing to be left behind in the last century, stubbornly looking to the past rather than the future, and not doing its part to support Australian creators.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Comments

    I guess it's in the cupboard, right next to their support for a decent broadband network infrastructure, and an up to date view on same sex relationships.

    I think the Government is too busy supporting giant coal corporations then to worry about the games industry in Australia.

    I've given up on games in Australia. The government is too short-sighted to see how the game industry can contribute to the local economy like it does in other countries. When they just pulled the funding for games out of the blue that time it was pretty clear what sort of idiots we're dealing with.

    I work in games myself, but honestly, I'd rather do what I do elsewhere. I'm about to form a business with a friend so we can release a game we've got greenlit on steam, and the issue was do we form it in the U.S where my friend is from, or here in Australia?

    Most likely it'll be the U.S. I see no reason at all to do it in Australia anymore. I don't want to contribute to an industry that benefits Australia when Australian government doesn't seem to give a fuck about us at all.

    Last edited 31/05/17 9:09 am

      Even if Labor was in with funding for the industry I'd be forming a company in the US if I was you.

      Both majors (and even the minors) treat anything that uses transistors with contempt.

      Even if there is funding, there is one element no-body wants to do anything about; the perception that Australia can be used as cheap labour for making games.

      When the Australian dollar broke above the US $1 mark, the foreign companies that were backing the local studios started to close shop.

      Their excuses was "labour costs were too high". The real reason, it would have killed them to pay fair wages. They want our quality but at third world prices.

      Even if the Coalition has a change of heart, I say get out of here as quickly as possible.

      I'm self employed and now only offer my services overseas because IT is not taken seriously by any party in Australia and has been that way for decades.

      The only local work I take is with those who I know and of former co-workers at my old work place.

        One last point I should make.

        Even if there is funding, one only has to look at the demise of our own automotive industry to see what can happen if funding is just handed out without checks and balances put in place as early as possible.

        Some blame the Coalition but the truth is many manufacturers had already bailed under Labor and it was when Joe Hockey tried to put conditions and business cases on requests for funding that the others just packed up and put their workers out in the cold.

        If there is to be funding for the game industry, any funding allocated must be backed with a strong business case and checks and balances in place to make sure we do not have a repeat of the automotive industry's final outcome.

        I'd like to also see the end of the contemptuous attitude foreign and political bodies have for our IT but like everyone else I live in the real world. And the real world sucks!

      Yes but you see, this is the problem.

      Game making as an industry supports only the creator their family and of course where they choose to spend the money they earn.

      Any game on Steam 30% straight to them, no contribution to Australia's​ gpd. All those expensive licenses for software? Overseas companies removing the money from Australia again.

      Where other industries employ many secondary and tertiary skills and people generating more for the country, this is why games miss out. The return on investment isn't there for the country.

      For the record I am not Australian

        Not exactly true, although I see the point you're making.

        If the game developer is successful then they've been taxed on their earnings as an Australian business, so the government wins there. A successful developer also rarely can continue to do it alone and usually has to grow so that's permanant employment for others, who in turn are now paying tax on their wages, so the government wins again.

        Support and funding from the government should be about supporting smaller indie studios and individuals so they can have a shot at success. From a government perspective it's about taking a gamble with a small amount of money in the hopes that the company you've helped grow ends up paying much more in return in tax / growth of industry.

        Last edited 31/05/17 1:50 pm

    You're talking about a Government that still wants to use coal for energy production and copper wires for internet infrastructure... They probably can't even comprehend these "new fangled video games" let alone the concept that there are people and companies in Australia that actually make them.

    Unless A Gina Rinehart, Twiggy Forrester or one of their kind open a game dev studio you could forget about the current variety of career politician lending any support to an industry fund.

    Unless you could make a game about demonising refugees, banning abortion and selling out everyday australians to corporate interests. If you could then negatively gear that investment you could probably get every LNP member in the country to open a studio.

    From what I've seen senator Scott Ludlum is the only person in parliament who even has any clue about the benefits of an Australian Games industry let alone fights for it.

      He may seem that way from a distance, but under examination he falls faster than even the majors.

      Call me unforgiving but I just don't trust the man. For him to go about saying "those who use the envelope analogy have no idea what they are talking about" is not only a clear indication he has no idea about IT himself (as with the other majors) but has also slapped in the face everyone who has worker in IT or has studied networks at university.

      The best Ludlam can do for this and anything IT related is to remove himself and put someone who actual does know IT in his place.

        Sorry, pressed the wrong key. To complete the last paragraph...

        The best Ludlam can do for this and anything IT related is to remove himself and put someone who actual does know IT in his place. As long as such moves are heads by one not in the know, the matter will not be looked into seriously because the judgement has already been made based on the figure head.

        IIRC you were that guy who really had it in for Ludlam every time his name comes up here in Kotaku au =P

        Now assuming that I do agree with your point of view and that Ludlam is terrible for IT. And he does us all a "favour" and leaves politics. Can you point me to any other politician out there that's remotely interested in backing/supporting IT in Australia?

        Yes he's not the best but at the moment who do we exactly have in the Australian political sphere who even remotely cares about IT/Games in Australia? Or is this a case of selective capitalist/market will provide argument that if it's too small we shouldn't bother and it will "organically" grow anyway..

          As someone who actually is of IT, I refuse to have him represent a field he knows nothing about. Like other Greens on other fields, he chases ideas but understand naught what they are nor their details.

          I don't have a thing against him, I just don't like the fantasy many put forward as fact that the Greens (in any capacity) are an option.

          but at the moment who do we exactly have in the Australian political sphere who even remotely cares about IT/Games in Australia?

          That's the worst part, we don't have anyone in the political sense but putting someone like Ludlam in that place makes the situation worse than going unrepresented.

            I've been pretty happy with what Ludlam has done so far, so will continue to vote for him when he comes up for re-election.

            If you're the kind of person who will never vote Green, then work to get a candidate you do approve of selected by the party you do support and then vote for them. If there are more tech savvy MPs and Senators in parliament, then there is less of a chance of any one of them being centre stage for all tech issues.

            If Ludlam stepped down it is likely that a different Green candidate would take his place, and it sounds like you wouldn't be happy with that either.

              I've been pretty happy with what Ludlam has done so far, so will continue to vote for him when he comes up for re-election.

              So you're happy about him mis-representing IT and being more dismissive than the majors?

              We Ludlam said at PAX "anyone using the envelope analogy does not know what they're talking about", Ludlum confirmed he is the worst choice to lead such charges.

              His statement contradicts at least six decades of computer science and networking. Message passing (a comparable analogy to the envelope) has been a corner stone in explaining, designing and implementing computer networks and the applications that run on top.

              I fail to see how this basic construct is dismissed by Ludlum because he is unwilling to learn himself yet he be given praise for basically thumbing his nose at academics and researchers past and present.

              Either way, this discussion has gone on long enough. The facts have been made bare.

              I can't change what you are happy with. But what I can do is make sure the facts remain lauder than the noice the Greens make, only to further the major by providing a vacuum instead of pressure against them.

                I haven't ever been to PAX, so don't know the context for the quote you've mentioned. But if you are describing metadata retention to non-technical people, there are serious qualitative issues with the envelope analogy.

                If I write a letter, I get to decide how much information to put on the envelope: at a minimum I only need the destination address. If I don't include a return address on the envelope, it is difficult to link it to me since it will be mixed in with all the other letters in the letter box, and the mail is only collected at certain times of day. Further more, most people wouldn't expect Australia Post to keep records of the letter past the point of delivery.

                And with modern smart phones periodically connecting to the Internet throughout the day, the metadata retention scheme effectively lets law enforcement retrospectively track your day to day movements. You're not going to get any across by talking about envelopes.

                Now do I agree with all of Ludlam's policies or think he is perfect? No, but he does seem to be interested in tech/privacy issues and does seem to consult with experts. But again: there is nothing that Ludlam is doing or taking interest in that any other senator could also do. If you want someone else to get involved in these issues, write to one of your senators.

                  I haven't ever been to PAX, so don't know the context for the quote you've mentioned.

                  It was covered in Kotaku a few years back. Google should unearth it for you. Due to troll in the past trying to demonise my sources I simply don't provide references anymore.

                  And with modern smart phones periodically connecting to the Internet throughout the day, the metadata retention scheme effectively lets law enforcement retrospectively track your day to day movements. You're not going to get any across by talking about envelopes.

                  I'm afraid you have stated the problem that is lost to the Greens. The meta-data tracks movements but not actions.

                  As they are not keeping the data itself (the data payload in the computer, letter in the envelope), none of the retained information is accurate.

                  The movement of messages can be seen but as the "envelope" can be forged (spoofed if it is a network message/datagram/frame/etc) it is easy to hide illegal activities from simple monitoring methods like this.

                  and does seem to consult with experts.

                  He wouldn't have made his PAX comment if he did.

                  Enough is enough. I think we can agree to disagree and just move on.

    Dear god the cliches in these comments are predictable and boring.

      Some just simply do not wish to let go. It is interesting of there are some that claim illegal entrants claiming asylum are being demonised yet those same people are themselves doing the bulk of demonising at the parties they feel have done them wrong.

      I do not what is sadder; that they have to feel they need to demonise to make their own preference look artificially better or they are watering down serious terms and past situations so they can be fitted to their views of the world.

      Back in 2013, their comments might have fit into satire with some work but it's 2017 and some are still in denial over Labor being voted out by people in a propaganda free environment.

      Personally, I'd like to save the term propaganda for real cases like what came out of Stalinist Russia and the Third Riche but that is just me.

        It all coals fault apparently..... oh Gina Reinhart and Twiggy Forrester.... with a dash of SSM, refugees and of course only LNP voters negatively gear properties.... Apparently.

        "Propaganda Free Environment"

        I truly wish I could believe that phrase. But only a completely blind person or someone utterly naive would believe any form of election would be free of *any* form of propaganda.

        Elections have been a populist propaganda makers wet dream in the last few years of elections we've had. It's not a matter of which side... but how you manage to send your propaganda to the voters. BOTH sides enjoy the use of election propaganda and slogans. It's just a matter of tapping into which one the current populace are more susceptible to leaning towards.

          I truly wish I could believe that phrase. But only a completely blind person or someone utterly naive would believe any form of election would be free of *any* form of propaganda.

          It's not a case of could; you choose not to. I refuse to have the term watered down to describe the name calling and hissy fits and (dare I mention it) salacious gossip that comes from all forms of our own media on elections.

          When people say propaganda I immediately think of the pictures the Nazis put out. Which out of respect and to keep with the guidelines I will not detail here (I think we can agree both agree that is a smart move).

          We are propaganda free. It's the realisation that we are as such that scares people more because many don't want to admit that the current senate makeup and the elect representatives are our own conscious choosing.

          Not blind nor naive; just telling it like is.

            Yeah, that's why people take things like the Daily Telegraph content as facts when it has front pages saying "AUSTRALIA NEEDS TONY". News Corp is so rabidly and unabashedly pro-Liberal it's not funny. Fairfax are biased towards Labor, though it is marginally better in terms of overall bias. The ongoing war on the ABC is just a disgraceful symptom of how people no longer have a concept of what balance actually is.

            No, we don't have propaganda of the level of WW2 Germany, or North Korea, or even China or Russia. Bias isn't propaganda, but the bias in our media is pretty goddamn awful.

            All that said, the Government support of the Australian Gaming Industry - or rather the lack of it - as an absolute bloody disgrace. The blame for that falls on the Coalition Government headed by Tony Abbott for axing it, and now Malcolm Turnbull for failing to reinstate it. Investing in outdated technology in lieu of a demonstrated industry that is only increasing is size is nothing else but short-sighted and the mark of a luddite.

            Similarly, Tony Abbott's war on the NBN was for no other reason than to play partisan politics - and it has equally led to Australia being behind the 8 ball in a world economy that will only becoming increasingly reliant on Internet accessibility. Regardless of which party you vote for, Tony Abbott's anti-technology legacy is a shit one, and the rest of the party apparently lacks the foresight or the courage to invest appropriately in an industry where we would actually compete in terms of skills and talent if only our Government would bother to support them even a fraction as much as it does other industries.

              The ongoing war on the ABC is just a disgraceful symptom of how people no longer have a concept of what balance actually is.

              Actually people do have a sense on what balance is. The ABC just doesn't show it anymore.

              But I'm not opening that can again. The facts are there, the ABC has fluid bias and no about of defence will change that.

              Topic over. Take the 2013 calendar off the wall already and move on.

                Yeah, nah, mate. The ABC sticks it to whomever is in Government - because that's the job of the media - to hold the Government to the account. Accusation of bias are streaming from loudmouth morons like Andrew Bolt who can't stand any criticism of their chosen political party or its agendas. It's just "fake news" rubbish non-stop.

                Also, the only person bringing up the 2013 election is YOU. I don't give a shit about the election - I care about the policies and actions taken by successive Governments that are having and will continue to have effects on Australia's economy given the increasing importance of technology. Labor's NBN plans were a clusterfuck in that they took ages to figure how to get the ball rolling, but throwing all that work away to start on something that pretty much every IT expert said was an inferior and shortsighted solution was moronic and nothing short of a F U to Labor to undo their actions. It's kicking down someone else's sandcastle just because you want to look like you can build a better sandcastle (but you know you can't).

                Because of that, now we'll remain the laughing stock of the Internet world for decades to come rather than getting that network infrastructure that would have serviced the needs of the nation both now and into the future. If you don't think that's stupid and that people shouldn't be outraged by it and the Government perpetrating those actions, then you're believing in party politics over the country, and that's just dumb.

            The biggest problem with propaganda is not because it is obvious but it is subtle.

            The nazi propaganda worked because it was a populist tool for its time. It is very easy for us looking in to say "no, this is propaganda" mostly because most of us are looking from outside with a different frame of reference. And the most obvious examples we point to are already when the subtle part of the program has already finished.

            That's not how propaganda works. Propaganda works because it first reinforces stereotypes and/or personal opinions and frame of mind of the current populace at the time and then form said opinions into an end. Salacious gossip and name calling is the bottom barrel of propaganda. It's the most obvious because it's meant to be obvious. But it works because it causes a clear divide of "you are wrong, they are right" and it becomes much easier to create narratives of your own choosing come election time.

            The difference is how much you can influence the populace to say your stance is "correct" or how "incorrect" the other side is just before the election to get a win. And this is something done by ALL parties it's just that with 2 Major parties the huge bulk of media content will be based around those 2 main parties.

            Btw... this is not to say that I'm personally above being controlled by such tactics btw. I am very well aware that my own personal political biases and leanings means I am more susceptible to a specific parties tactics/messages and more likely to reject any messages from the other party diametrically opposed to my personal leanings. That however doesn't mean I don't understand what they are trying to do here whenever an election scare tactic comes along =P

            Last edited 01/06/17 6:52 pm

              WiseHacker doesn't actually appear to have any points apart from "2013 election is over" aka "Libs are in power, stop whinging".

              Any criticisms of them and this Government's shortsighted approach to Internet and the gaming industry is apparently irrelevant.

    Yeah I'd rather not have my taxes contribute to this thanks.

    Last edited 01/06/17 9:41 am

      I wouldn't mind my taxes going to gaming. As long as it's going for the right reasons and with the right measures to prevent another outcome like we saw with the automotive industry.

      First, there needs to be clear cases and details provided by the companies seeking funding and penalties if the funding is not effectively used.

      Second, the finding to be handed out should be only to help those starting out. Again, I don't mind if my tax dollar goes to gaming but if any is going to the likes of EA (a large company that doesn't need financial help) there clearly something is wrong.

      And finally, there needs to be a transition plan to make sure that once a company receives support it starts itself on the path of self-sustainability. It cannot see the funding as a infinitely running tab. It must be used to get those starting up on their feet and then weaned off once the ball is rolling.

        Fair enough. I don't think any tax should ever be put into any of the arts, but that's a story for another time.
        If you want to learn to play an instrument and make a career out of it despite the relative minuscule chance of success, I shouldn't have to pay for that.
        /endrant.

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