Late last week, the Federal Government pledged $400 million worth of extra funding to Australia’s entertainment industry for jobs, tourism and foreign investment. It’ll undoubtedly help an industry battered by enormous losses from to the coronavirus pandemic, but once again the government has excluded the lucrative and incredibly talented Australian video games industry.
Video games are an important cultural export but they also boost the local economy by creating new, highly-skilled jobs and a form of entertainment enjoyed by global mainstream audiences. In neighbouring New Zealand, the local video games industry is worth $195 million ($NZ203.4 million).
With support from the government, New Zealand has created a thriving industry that supports new jobs and contributes greatly to the local economy. Australia is yet to follow suit, offering no federal funding schemes for video games despite the huge success of the Australian Interactive Games Fund.
Instead, funding is mostly addressed on an ad-hoc state-by-state basis with organisations like Screen Queensland and Film Victoria providing options for their local industries.
The continued lack of federal funding for Australia’s video games sector is baffling and creates a massive disparity in Australia’s entertainment sector. While film and TV can encourage economic growth, tourism and foreign investment, video games have this same power. It’s only the lack of appropriate and meaningful funding holding the sector back.
To get to the heart of the matter and understand why funding for Australian video games is so essential, Kotaku Australia spoke to politicians, funding bodies and developers working in Australia’s local video games scene. Here’s what they had to say.
Ron Curry, CEO, IGEA
Australian-made video games are not only stories told by Australians, they are creative products made by Australians, that provide a true entertainment experience for consumers all over the world. Australian developed video games have the potential to be of economic benefit to the entire Australian economy not just the wider entertainment industry.
While many companies in the entertainment industry have been impacted severely by COVID restrictions, video games have been far less affected due to not only increasing consumer demand, but the nature of the creative and development cycle. The skills required to make a video game are highly transferable between a number of industries.
The creation of video games is a multi-disciplined activity. It requires many of the same skills that apply to wider entertainment industry, including producers, writers, musicians, artists, animators, engineers and marketers.
If the federal government chooses to fund video games, our sector will become Australia’s biggest creative industry and the biggest new export industry of any kind. However, until the government provides our sector with equitable access to policies like tax offsets that are available to the rest of the screen industry, the billions of dollars that are invested in making games every year will keep going to other countries like the UK and Canada who want that revenue more.
Video games are high value goods. Unlike other exports, video games are aren’t just used once, they continue to generate income after the initial sale; income that flows back into Australia. Being largely digital, games don’t necessarily need to be shipped to reach a global audience. Video games are a diverse export and where we see the global trade environment looking increasingly fragile, it’s hard to think of many industries as resilient as ours.
Video games allows Australia to build a workforce geared for the future.
We believe that with the appropriate levers, we can transform our industry from one that employs 1275 full time workers, to one who employees 10,000. Further, over the next ten years we could see a move from $144m to $1billion a year in revenue.
Adam Bandt, Leader of the Australian Greens
At last count, a third of Australia’s video game development happened right here in Melbourne. It employs hundreds of programmers, artists, and writers, contributing almost $150 million to the national economy each year.
We may be small, but we punch above our weight. Untitled Goose Game from Melbourne’s own House House easily honked its way to international acclaim, taking home the DICE Game of the Year despite having a tiny development team and shoestring budget. It gives me pride that the world’s premiere cantankerous goose simulator was built just a stones throw from my electorate office – and I’m thrilled that it’s touched millions of people around the world.
Our huge propensity for indie arts doesn’t discount the fact that game development typically requires funding support to get off the ground – and often lots of it.
It should sadly come as no surprise that the Federal Government’s arts package forgets the Australian Games industry. As a whole, it is too little, and very late – arriving months after the Melbourne arts industry was decimated by venue closures in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
This demonstrates the Australian Government’s complete lack of regard for interactive mediums, with little attention paid to the sector since the Australian Interactive Games Fund expired in 2014.
We took a $100 million Games Investment and Enterprise Fund to the last election, urging the government to invest in our rapidly growing local games industry. $5 million of that fund would support the creation of shared development spaces, which we know from local experience provides a valuable knowledge sharing and ideas creation space.
With a 21% growth from 2017-2018/19, it’s clear that this industry is here to stay, and will succeed despite the neglect from the Federal Government. However, we should give Australian studios the best chance to succeed, and that starts with providing adequate funding.
Funding for all of the arts is important not just to ensure that small developers are able to make the most of this rapidly growing industry, but to ensure that Australia’s stories are being told. Stories told through video games help shape young minds, become part of our cultural fabric, and tell Australian stories like no other medium.
Failing to elevate Australian voices doesn’t just do our artists a disservice, it risks silencing us on the international stage. Our government should be funding the arts properly, and no arts funding is complete without recognising the important role interactive mediums play in storytelling today.
Penny Kyburz, Senior Lecturer, Research School of Computer Science, ANU / Greens Senate Candidate
Video games are having a widespread and influential impact in Australia and globally. Games are the largest and most rapidly expanding entertainment industry, worth over USD 150 Billion in 2019. But the impact is not just financial, games are a big part of the everyday lives of many Australians. Many people play for enjoyment and social interaction, but there are also educational, health, and societal benefits.
We’ve seen these benefits becoming more prominent and important during the events of this year. Many of the children who were sent home to learn during COVID-19 lockdown were given lists of educational games to play. Many families, friends, and co-workers are connecting through games, while separated by distance or health restrictions. Also, playing games is a great way to relax and de-stress, which is important for everyone’s mental health at the moment.
Should the federal government fund video games?
Absolutely, there’s no question about it. Our Australian games industry generated $143.5 Million in income in 2018-19, with 83% of that income coming from overseas sources (see here). Every dollar that we spend on employing people to develop games in Australia brings much more into Australia in international sales and we are only capturing a very small piece of the international market. From a financial perspective alone, it’s a very easy answer – yes.
Once we consider the broader benefits of employing and upskilling people to develop creative-technical products, the ability to tell Australian stories and share our culture through the biggest entertainment medium, and the benefits to education, health, and society – it’s really just an outrage that the Federal government won’t support our industry. Video games are an enormous growth opportunity at the moment, with people staying home and looking for engaging things to do and ways to connect with family and friends. Now is the time that the government should be investing in the video games industry – to create jobs and to build a sustainable industry that is robust to the ongoing pandemic.
Liam Esler, Managing Director, Summerfall Studios
Broadly, as one of the biggest, most successful and sustainable entertainment industries in the world, videogames has significant value to the wider entertainment industry. From its constant innovation in digital distribution techniques to the creation of other industries like e-sports and streaming, videogames has throughout its history explored and pushed the thresholds of what people thought was possible. It has made massive contributions to the fields of post-production and VFX through engines like Unreal and Unity as well as pioneering new methodologies and pipelines for content creation. The tools developed by and for the videogames industry are now pushing the boundaries of what is possible in film and television as well.
To speak more specifically about Australia, one of the key metrics government investment is predicated on is jobs. From an employment perspective, videogames are a more stable bet for government investment than film or television. Sustainable employment is not a strength of film nor television, where productions are made up of crew brought together specifically for single projects, working as contractors before moving on to the next.
These employment opportunities are often short-term, contributing to unstable careers. VFX and post-production work much the same way, with companies that need to rapidly scale through use of contractors. Stable employment should be a priority for the government, bolstering careers, not singular projects. Those who get to work on multiple series of a show, or work full-time for a production company ongoing are becoming less and less common.
Videogame companies work on consecutive titles, often with more than one project in development at once to reduce risk. We value extended employment, recognising that the growth of individuals within an organisation and their institutional knowledge are crucial to success. This is extremely difficult to do within film and television due to the way those industries are structured.
In a time when film and television are virtually impossible to produce, crippling those industries and leaving thousands jobless, the videogames industry continues to thrive and create projects and jobs. We can help to support those working in film and television. There are so many transferrable skills between videogames and film and television, and during crises such as these, or even just between those projects, the videogame industry can employ professionals and bolster stability in those industries as well.
Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications, Australian Labor Party
Labor has long recognised the key strategic value of video games to the Australian economy as well as to our nation’s culture and wellbeing. Games are played by kids, adults and the elderly, at home and in the workplace, for everything from entertainment and recreation to education, training and health rehabilitation. We want people playing Australian games, made by Australians for Australians and the world.
The Government’s failure to support the sector adequately means Australia is missing out on thousands of jobs, vital skills development and hundreds of millions of dollars in GDP.
Interactive games are integral to Australia’s creative economy, which Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has publicly recognised as an opportunity for jobs growth. The interactive games sector is an ongoing focus for Labor and will feature at our Creative Economy Summit, to be held later this year.
Australia’s video game scene is filled with talent. Not only are games a fantastic way to share Australian culture, they also provide entertainment and joy to countless people around the world. It’s time the federal Australian government sits up and recognises the value and talent driving the steady growth of Australia’s video game industry.