Naturally, The Federal Government Forgot The Local Video Game Industry

Image: AAP (Dan Himbrechts)

"More opportunities for Australia’s world-class screen industry," boasted the headline from a press release issued on 11 April, from the office of Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield. “Well this is promising,” thought Australia’s game development industry. After all, the local industry produces, develops and distributes world class content on screens. "Fingers crossed," we all said.

Then we read the opening paragraph, ‘Australia's screen production industry will be boosted with television series and mini- series distributed through online platforms now able to claim refundable tax offsets if they meet the other eligibility requirements.’

Just one paragraph into the press release and it’s unfortunately an all too familiar story the Australian game development industry.

Familiar in the sense that the content Australia’s game developers create are distributed on global, well-known, online platforms. Names such as Apple, Google, Playstation Network, Xbox Live, Steam and Epic would be as familiar to many Australian households as the names Netflix and Stan. Unfortunately, the press release was also way too familiar in the sense that the Minister ‘forgot’ to include the word game when talking about Australia’s screen industry and has (again) limited additional industry support to one type of content creation only, despite the similarities between games and films in reaching large, global audiences.

Determined to read on, we encouragingly we see the ‘g’ word, that’s right, ‘game’, in the second paragraph, which sadly is unusual for our industry. ‘The Morrison Government announced the game-changing decision that will make Australia an even more attractive environment for screen production and provide more opportunities for the thousands of highly-skilled Australian professionals working in the industry.’

So, when he says "game changing," the game is actually staying the same - nothing changes for the highly skilled Australians working in the games industry locally and abroad who are already creating high demand content for screens.

Expectations appropriately lowered, we read on, learning that the government is committed to ensuring the industry can ‘capitalise on opportunities and attract more investment in Australian screen production’.

“Ah, excellent," we think, we know a growing industry, ripe with opportunity...

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Now is probably the time to remind the government that the global games industry is estimated to be worth in excess of $AUD200 billion annually, continues to grow and mature and is bigger than films, music and books. Is this not an opportunity that Australia could and should absolutely capitalise on?

We could do this by simply extending Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) and location offsets offered to other screen sectors, to the Australian games development industry. A global consumer market of $200 billion isn’t insignificant after all and allows us to also ‘capitalise on opportunities’.

Now that would be truly game-changing.

We celebrate the fact that ‘The Australian Screen industry is performing strongly and matching it with the best in the world.’ For the Australian film sector, this is certainly well deserved and expected after years of support and funding across all levels of government. In turn, the success of the film industry is (rightly so) celebrated with further government funding.

Our experience couldn’t be further diametrically opposed. The message we get back from government when talking about successful, Australian-made games is “Games are doing well, you don’t need our help”.

Globally, maybe true, but we Australian companies need to be able to compete on the global stage, as do our friends in the film sector.

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We reach the end of the release and the government acknowledges, ‘Increased demand for our screen skills is essential to developing a sustainable sector. Large budget productions strengthen Australia's capacity to produce high quality stories for Australian and international audiences by providing skills development and training opportunities that go significantly beyond what can be achieved on smaller budget productions.’

They hear us, they use our arguments, but they don’t acknowledge and recognise us.

So, here is another reminder. Game development is an industry of the future that will provide highly skilled employees, high paying jobs and the creation of digital exports in one of the fastest growing creative, technology driven sectors within the global economy. Australia’s game development industry is a sleeping giant and with the right support it can employ thousands of people and add hundreds of millions of dollars to Australia’s GDP.

In particular, it can help to build a whole new generation of Australians with vital digital skills. This is not a hypothetical scenario, with Canada and the United Kingdom providing proven and concrete examples of what can be achieved.

We sit in frustration and watch Australians disappear to work in large games studios overseas and accordingly contribute to the export dollars of other countries. We watch the big game development studios enter successful discussions with governments around the world to establish studios in their respective cities/provinces as so many world leaders recognise the contribution that the game development industry provides can make to their national economies.

Importantly, the big thinkers also realise that when these big studios set a base in your country/state/province – real bricks and mortar, they don’t tend to disappear after only one production. These countries/states/provinces are at the forefront of developing long term, skilled, innovative industries.

We often hear that international studios have Australia on their list of ‘preferred places to do business’. Not only does Australia have liveable cities and infrastructure, we have skilled and talented employees, preferred time zones and we are situated very closely to the largest global games markets in Asia, making us look very attractive on paper.

However, we quickly fall of these ‘preferred lists’ when studios are not offered the same incentives provided in other areas around the world. It could cost a minimum of 30% more to run a studio in Australia. We lose out to cities like Winnepago, which seems kind of ridiculous ... no offence to Winnepago.

It just makes no sense, economic or otherwise. The Australian film sector has done incredibly well and absolutely deserves continued government support. It is not in the games industry’s interest to take any of this support away from film. In fact, many of the skills employed by game and film makers are actually cross-disciplinary and allow for the development and growth of both mediums.

Surely that makes economic sense if not common sense?

It is in our national interest to see the Australian game development industry provided with a level playing field both domestically and internationally to grow the sector in a sustainable and permanent way. It all starts with games being considered and recognised as part of the screen industry.

The original headline for the Minister’s press release offered us hope, although we were brought back to earth quickly! In supporting the games industry, the Minister probably won’t get a photo op with a Hemsworth or a Kidman (even though they probably play games), but can take pride in the fact that the government has laid the foundations in providing a digitally focused, future facing, highly skilled, weightless export industry for a global market that shows no signs of slowing down. Now that would be a game-changer.


Ron Curry is the chief executive of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. The full press release from the Minister can be read here.


Comments

    boomers

      More and more are Gen X though. ScoMo was born in 1968 for example, which makes him an X. Shorten's only a year older. They would have been teens when the C64, SNES, etc started to truly be relevant.

      I'm only a couple of years younger than them and have been playing games pretty much my entire life, starting with Apple's in the 1970's.

        yeh but they are politicians not normal humans, don't they grow up at private boarding schools with no women and plenty of buggery?

        pretty sure a politician born last year will grow up into a boomer =P

          Yeah, more just pointing out they aren't as old as people think. Don't have the figures, but most of them aren't boomers. Doesn't mean they don't do the typical strange stuff we associate with boomers, just that they aren't collectively as old as people think.

          I'm also a career public servant (until 3pm today), so can relate to them a little more than most. We kinda sit somewhere between them and your typical employee.

          Being a politician means making strange compromises and decisions. Pretty much all of which are going to piss off one group or another. So yeah, they probably do all morph into a boomer :)

            What happens at 3pm today? Are you applying for the job of Prime Minister?

              Will no longer be a public servant. For a range of lucky reasons spread over the last 30 years, I effectively get to retire early.

                well good luck with your retirement hope you have fun.

                "morph into a boomer" anyone else thinking of a power rangers satirical spin off here?

                  I'm thinking boomers from Bubblegum Crisis - especially with how they either seem to be dull robots or go off on mad rampages

        Would've been teens when the SNES was relevant? They would've been in their early twenties when the SNES came out. And I have a feeling they didn't spend their early twenties smashing out Super Mario Kart for some reason.

        Yeah but us 70's xer's were always the cool ones

    Nothing like enbracing the future economy and innovation by using last centuries paradigms... mining investment, trains, roads and them ye old moving pictures.

    ICT is the largest employer and source of communication snd entertainment... and they are so far behind they prefer the country be left behind the rest of the world.

    Old farts in power, out of touch with the current world don't understand how things actually work and how the worlds landscape has changed, leaving them behind. No surprise there.

    I'm sure our Wise Hacking companion will be here soon to remind us that no party actually gives a shit about the game development industry and any appearance to the contrary is just pandering for votes.

      The Greens actually do have policy around the gaming industry and are strong supporters. They see the economic and cultural sense of a healthy games industry.

        Yeah. I really miss Scott Ludlum. Such a champion for our industry

      Grow up. There are enough immature individuals in Canberra. You don't need to add to it.

      And if you have a problem with me pointing out that both side couldn't care less about IT, then take it up with Labor and the Coalition.

      I'm just the messenger. Shooting me changes nothing.

    If only we could have some sort of vote to let them know what we think of this sort of short sightedness. Oh wait...

      Because the public at large care more about practical things like healthcare, social welfare, government services, and employment for the general public. In other words - things that affect them directly. I'd like to see more invested into local game development but single issue voting is a shit way to vote. Most voters don't know or care about Australian game development studios, and it won't win more votes than any of the other issues... Even if investing in the IT sector is needed so we don't get left behind.

        This. I'd love to see someone come out with a policy to support The Australian game development industry, but there are vastly more important issues at this election to worry about (climate change, health, taxation and welfare, refugees). Let's get the important stuff right and then we can see what can be done about helping Aussie game development.

    As much as I love lots of forms of art, in particular video games, the lack of any specific funding doesn't worry me.
    The industry will live, probably thrive without government assistance.
    If anything technology related, keep our internet modern and competitive and industry will grow around it.
    My 2 cents.

      It will survive (and I guess thrive in some respects) but it certainly will never be a major industry until the government support it.

      For a comparison, look at the film industry, there was a time where our industry was just small locals (basically what games is now) but now Australia (mostly Queensland) is a major player throughout the world with a hand in tons of blockbuster films.

      Meanwhile every major game company abandoned Australia years ago, even EA Firemonkeys are struggling. Soon Big Ant will probably be the biggest studio in the country and I doubt half the people here have even heard of them.

      The industry will and has grown. The company I work for has gone from 10-60 people in about 5 years. The issue is the speed at which it grows and our level of competitiveness. We have hundreds of skilled applicants coming out of Uni and game courses ready to work but we can only hire a few. With proper government investment there'd be many more companies and thousands more jobs. We'd be able to retain our skilled workers and build long lasting businesses here in Australia generating tax

    At this point it seems willfully ignorant. I mean, if it makes simple economic sense to support a growing industry then why not do it?

    I'm guessing because it conflicts with someone else's agenda. The gambling industry? Sports? Film, tv and streaming? These industries all have an established political foothold in this country, if they see games as a threat to their bottom lines then that would be the answer.

    I mean we need to face facts.

    Our game industry is tiny compared to other industries in Australia who have huge lobbying power.

    The Video game industry has that same lobbying power but it's in the EU and US instead and they really don't care about investing in the game industry here. As much as id love our game industry to flourish, Capitalism is king.

      It's a bit of a downward spiral, the government ignore it because it's small but it will always be small until they stop ignoring it.

      That sounds a bit defeatist. Capitalism is king yes so we should be hoping for policy making (like that for the film industry) that encourages companies to produce here. Capitalism is no boundary, it's actually a great reason to have incentives in place.

      Also if we are at the point where only lobbyists can get any policies pushed through then we may as well just give up and not bother voting.

    This is my surprised face. Looks remarkably like my not-surprised face.

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