Despite the historical success of the Australian Interactive Games Fund and the continued success of state-backed development, and lobbying from within their own party, the Federal Budget was another squandered opportunity to support one of the country’s most burgeoning and COVID-resistant industries: the local video game sector.
The 2020 Budget was one of the biggest and most consequential in modern times, given the impact of the coronavirus and its throttling of national growth. The inability to trade, or survive, has forced governments worldwide to change their approaches towards supporting small and medium-sized businesses. So there was hope that the Federal Government might be more forthcoming to the screen industries this time around, particularly given the lack of support in the most recent entertainment package.
But despite a budget that included $10 million for internet access on a train line, funds to roll out biometric verification for MyGov, $6.9 million to support “industry-led pilots” for blockchain technology, around $50 million to help businesses affected by the downturn in conventions and trade shows, $15.5 million for COVID-safe Australia Day events next year, a $1.3 billion package to support long-term manufacturing projects and helping research become commercially viable, the government couldn’t find any money — none at all — to re-establish one of the most successful screen industry ventures of the last decade. Even potential programs that could assist game development, like a wage subsidy program for new trainees and apprentices, isn’t applicable to local video game development.
Understandably, the local video game industry — and those closest to the sector — had a few choice words.
Angharad Yeo, host of ABC’s Good Game: Spawn Point
Australia’s video game industry has long been left behind when it comes to government support, which can be frustrating because it feels like it should be a no-brainer. It’s a $200 billion industry that outstrips music and film, but is undervalued as a growth area.
We have the talent, the ideas, and the hunger, but making games is a long and expensive process that could greatly benefit from this support. It seems a great shame not to invest in Australia’s standing in this highly lucrative industry which intersects cutting edge technology with creative products in a way no other medium does. It’s hard not to see it as a disservice to the future of Australia’s economy and cultural output.
Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA)
We, alongside our members and friends in the Australian video games sector, were hoping that the Australian Government would use last night’s Budget to finally recognise the profound impact that supporting Australian game development would have on our country’s export growth, global inward investment, digitalisation of the workforce, and cultural output.
With so much talk from government around forging a path to economic recovery and supporting high growth potential sectors, we strongly believed games would finally be provided a much-deserved seat at the table. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Despite the Government recently announcing a range of screen policy reforms, including significantly increasing its funding of film and TV production and equalising the Producer Offset for film and TV at 30%, video game developers remain locked out of all federal screen funding and tax incentives, even though we create screen content.
In fact, of the roughly $1 billion that the Australian Government will be providing Australia’s creative and cultural sector this year, pretty much none of this is available to game developers. This means that despite video games being the most valuable and fastest-growing creative industry in the world, it remains the least supported creative industry in Australia. This is why our game development industry, despite its resilience and ability to punch above its weight, is less than even a tenth of the size of the same industries in the UK or Canada, which together employ tens of thousands and generates billions in exports annually.
So where do we go from here?
While we are disappointed that there were no announcements last night, we know the Government’s policies are not just made during Budget. And we are absolutely confident that the Government will eventually see the light, because while it may not always seem like it, there are many supporters of our industry within their ranks.
They include Parliamentarians like the LNP Senator for Queensland James McGrath, who gave a speech to Parliament just last month calling for game production incentives, and all the Government members of the Coalition-chaired Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, which in June handed down a report recommending the Government introduce a game development tax offset. There are also government agencies like Austrade who are unwavering advocates of our industry and are doing everything they can to prevent a future-focussed, high-growth export industry from slipping away.
We also believe that the economic potential of our industry – which Australia needs now more than ever – has been dawning across the Government’s senior decision-makers. Over the past year, we and our members have had many meetings with Government Ministers and senior policy advisors, and despite the lack of policies to date, we are confident of this.
They know Australian game developers are among the most talented and creative in the world.
They know our games businesses create highly skilled full-time jobs, and they were hiring, not firing, during COVID.
They know video games are a well over $200 billion export market, and it exists right here on our digital doorstep.
They know global AAA companies are ready to commit hundreds of millions of dollars, and eventually billions, to build studios here.
And they know our local game developers really need access to existing screen support or would achieve so much more with it.
We remind the Government that supporting game development is not a partisan issue, and we’ve just seen the Liberal South Australian Government double-down on our sector by introducing Australia’s first ever rebate for game development. We also remind the Government that as it has already announced changes to the Australian Screen Production Incentive, which will require amending tax legislation, there is no reason why a further change to accommodate game development cannot also be made.
Support policies weren’t created in the UK and Canada overnight, but eventually they simply could not ignore our industry. We believe that it’s just a matter of time until this happens in Australia. And until then, we will continue to fight for our industry’s equitable access to screen funding and incentives.
Ashley Ringrose, SMG Studio Founder
There’s only a few industries that are "COVID proof” and games are one. So yes, very short-sighted and ignorant to what’s happening to not look at supporting industries that have survived in this pandemic and are keen to grow further.
We don’t need billions too. We just need something -- the last fund, which we spawned from was just $10 million which is tiny. It’d be the cheapest good headline the government can buy!
I see potential for game dev via the apprenticeship/trainee hiring scheme where 50% is offset. I feel it’ll encourage more studios to hire juniors, which in tern builds the next generation of seniors. There’s so few junior positions available.
Ron Curry, IGEA CEO
To say IGEA is disappointed that games were ignored in the Federal Budget last night is an understatement. Given the much needed focus on economic recovery, a federal tax incentive or a grant provided to the game development industry would have provided an easy solution to the government, having a multiplier effect on jobs and growth.
Both IGEA and other forward thinking international jurisdictions have proven this time and time again. We won’t give up on the path to recognition and we know our members and the industry will keep on producing great content and telling Australian stories for hundreds of millions of consumers around the world to enjoy.
David J Ross, Creative Supervisor/Head Writer, 15BiT Games
The arts have been gutted, changes to education will push the industry backward and emergent media has all but been ignored for a decade.
We are flailing, when compared to incentives available to the sector in both Canada and NZ. Luckily, there are plenty of collaborative opportunities overseas that will likely result in revenue circulating back to AU, but our production costs are disappearing offshore. The LNP is no friend of ours.
Tim Watts MP, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications, Assistant Minister for Cyber Security
The Liberals have been ignoring the video game industry since they were elected in 2013 so the lack of support in the Budget is no surprise, but it is a missed opportunity. Labor sees the creative economy, including video games, as a key priority for job creation. This is even more important as we enter the first recession in nearly three decades.
We're likely to hear more on this topic from federal politicians later today. The Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security, Tim Watts, is giving a talk this afternoon as part of Game Asia-Connect Pacific (GCAP) alongside the CEO and MD of IGEA and Koch Media. The Labor MP has been a strong advocate of video games in the past, and I'd expect him to make some remarks on the Coalition's approach.
Funding local video games is one of the easiest wins the Coalition could have had. As pointed out by industry when the fund was originally cut, video games are a weightless export. They bring in a huge amount of export revenue that can help grow the country's taxation base. As the then-director of IGDA Melbourne said at the time, the federal support for the video game sector was "a small amount on the scale of a Federal Budget".
Video games are one of the biggest, most successful and most COVID-resistant entertainment industries in the world. It's a shame that in a time when everyone needs support, the government couldn't see the wisdom in supporting the future.