The lack of support for video game development at the federal level is well known, but step by step things are starting to change.
Last year we saw the foundation of a bipartisan parliamentary friend group for video games, which wouldn’t ordinarily lead to any meaningful change in policy. But the group’s presence at least has helped increase the amount of noise around support for the sector, judging by some of the speeches given in the Federation Chamber on Monday.
The Federation Chamber is basically a debating committee that’s designed to allow debate on a limited range of matters, and any decisions it makes on motions, private Members’ bills and other matters generally have to be confirmed by the House of Representatives.
So the movement of a motion from Tim Watts, Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security and one of the most vocal advocates for Animal Crossing and federal video game support, won’t automatically result in new grants, tax breaks, or the other kinds of measures that video game development enjoys in other countries.
But the increased noise and support, particularly from Labor MPs Susan Templeman, Josh Burns and Watts, is at least an encouraging sign. Watts’ support for the sector is well pronounced, but the other members have interesting touchpoints with the video game industry as well.
Burns’ electorate of Macnamara, for instance, covers large parts of South Melbourne, Port Melbourne, the Melbourne CBD, Southbank, St Kilda, and Caulfield. There’s a significant amount of video game development within that region, including Cricket 19 and AO Tennis developers Big Ant Studios.
Labor’s Susan Templeman spent more time tackling the classic image of who plays video games. “Nearly 40 per cent of people [playing video games] are over 65, so get rid of the idea that this is just kids, in their rooms, avoiding doing their homework,” Templeman said.
A lot of the stats in Templeman’s speech supporting the motion were things we’ve reported on before, although Templeman added some interesting anecdotes. One included the story of a 80-year-old voter in her electorate that plays video games, not only to keep their mind active but also to stay connected after the loss of his wife.
“Let’s be clear about the sector we’re talking about … it has huge potential for our market, not as players but as developers,” Templeman added, noting that a parliamentary study trip in 2019 to Scandinavia, Estonia and Finland showed how other developed nations had established support packages for game development.
“In Estonia between 2014 and 2018, the number of game developers businesses in this tiny country grew from 15 to 83 companies, and they began hosting major international game conferences, including Game Dev Day … they built a community that supports novice developers, something we haven’t nailed in Australia,” Templeman said.
The discussion around public funding bases and support especially from smaller Eastern European nations is interesting historically. It helps move the conversation away from the people who play video games, and more towards countries of the size of Australia and the benefits they can recoup from supporting the industry.
Here’s the full text of the motion moved in the Federation Chamber yesterday:
MR WATTS : To move—That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) video games are a large and growing market—Australians spent $3.6 billion on games in 2019, more than double the amount they spent in 2012;
(b) video gaming is a mainstream activity—two thirds of Australians play video games with an average age of 37; and
(c) globally, the video game industry generates more than double the revenue of the music and film industries combined; and
(2) recognises that:
(a) Australia is home to a talented community of game developers and publishers, but proportionately the Australian industry is much smaller than its peers in New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom;
(b) video game development provides remote working opportunities and jobs for the regions—in the UK, 55 per cent of video game industry employment is outside of London and the south-east;
(c) the video game industry provides a variety of jobs—in Australia, 34 per cent are software programmers, 19 per cent are artists and 11 per cent are business or marketing professionals;
(d) the skills developed in our domestic video game industry are transferrable into roles in adjacent innovative and growth industries like cyber security, software engineering and data analytics; and
(e) video games could help drive the post-COVID economic recovery in Australia, creating jobs and expanding a significant export market.
According to IGEA, the motion was also met with support from Liberal and National MPs James Stevens and Pat Conaghan, which is an encouraging sign for bipartisan support. Watts’ motion doesn’t necessarily solidify any support for video games at this stage, although it’s worth noting that pre-submissions for the 2021 Federal Budget closed at the end of January.
The Federal Budget is typically handed down on the second Tuesday of May every year, although with COVID delaying the 2021 budget into October, this year’s Budget could also be pushed back a few months. Either way, if there’s any support for the video game sector within it, we’ll keep you posted.