South Australia Is Ready To Be Our Next Major Games Development Hub

South Australia Is Ready To Be Our Next Major Games Development Hub

I confess: SAGE, the South Australian Games Expo, was way bigger than I expected it to be.

I’ve attended my fair share of events just like it — always small spaces, and a handful of developers trying to create an awful lot of video game with vanishingly little funding. I confess I let my assumptions get the better of me. SAGE was like someone had carved a large chunk of the Indie stand right off the PAX Aus show floor, and it had the exact same buzz about it. All of the games on display had been created and developed in South Australia — some already available, others still on the way.

Allow me a moment to quickly rattle off the games that were on show:

  • Brief Battles by Juicy Cupcake
  • Belt It Out by Ortum Games
  • Box Knight by We Made A Thing Studios
  • darkwebSTREAMER by We Have Always Lived in the Forest
  • Fox & Shadow by Paper Cactus Games
  • Idle Gangs by Mini Mammoth Games
  • The Lifetime by Orchid of Redemption
  • Lucie’s Potager by Stellar Advent
  • Lure by Blue Moon Games
  • Noodle Samurai from Planet Pumpkin
  • Rite by Pond Games
  • Rooftop Renegade by Melonhead Games
  • The Sacred Acorn by A Few Dragons
  • Super Auto Battlemon by Dino Rocket
  • Tech Hunter by Split Symmetry
  • Tinker & Spell by Golden Age Studios
  • Space Invaders by Next Dimension, Voxon Photonics
  • Star Trek Lower Decks by Mighty Kingdom

darkwebSTREAMER, as it was at PAX, remains a standout title for its unique pitch and approach.

Chantal Ryan of We Have Always Lived in the Forest with her game darkwebSTREAMER at SAGE Image: Naomi Jellicoe

The SAGE event was held at Adelaide Studios in Glenside, the film and television production facility owned by the South Australian Film Corporation. I did not expect them to turn an entire soundstage into an event space, and then fill that sizeable space not just with local games and studios, but with people. SAGE takes the prize for the most well-attended independent games showcase organised by a government body I’ve ever attended. More than 800 punters — some developers themselves, some media, some politicians, and a lot of them the general public — streamed in to see the best of what South Australian developers had to offer. They even brought in a busload of school students as a career pathway exercise. The whole space was packed, people flitting from station to station, excited to play each game and speak to the developers.

Games funding in South Australia has come and gone under different parties and state leaderships. Despite some of Australia’s premiere developer talent hailing from the region — Hollow Knight creators Team Cherry being perhaps the best-known example — South Australia has only recently begun to consider its place in the nation’s growing video game industry. For years, South Australia, like so many other states, has lost its best and brightest minds to Victoria or Western Australia, where government support programs were more robust, and somewhat easier to get involved in. As Queensland and New South Wales create attractive developer incentives of their own, South Australia knows it needs more than lip service to keep talent at home.

If SAGE is anything to go by, it’s path is clear. The SA government doesn’t just want to get in on the video game industry, it wants to make Adelaide the next major games hub in Australia.

South Australian Minister for Arts Andrea Michaels was on hand to open the event, and affirmed Adelaide’s desire to compete with more established game development hubs like Melbourne and Perth. This wasn’t just nice words from a politician sent over to speak her piece and leave — there was a commitment and an admiration for what had already been created in their own backyard. Minister Michaels also noted the surprising number of other politicians in attendance. “When you get this many MPs in one room, you know it’s important,” she remarked. It was heartening to see. After so many years of trying to convince previous governments at the state and federal level there was a huge market in games that we could be tapping into nationally, it seems the phrase “$250 billion a year industry” has finally caused a few ears to prick up.

But it wasn’t just the politicians with a clear interest in South Australian games and their economic potential. South Australian Film Corporation CEO Kate Croser delivered a sincere opening keynote, in which she stressed an appreciation for the state’s game developer talent and delight that the SAFC was in a greater position than ever to offer meaningful assistance.

SA Minister for Arts Andrew Michaels opens SAGE Image: Naomi Jellicoe

South Australia’s new push for video game funding comes on the back of Federal Labor’s announcement of the Revive arts funding program only a few weeks ago. A portion of the money from that program will be delivered to developers in South Australia to fund projects now and into the future. The South Australian state government, led by Labor premier Peter Malinauskas, plans to back its devs as well. South Australia’s Video Game Development (VGD) Rebate remains in place until the end of June 2023. There is every expectation it will be renewed or expanded.

The South Australian VGD Rebate was instituted on July 1, 2020. Eligible game development studios that operate in South Australia can apply for a rebate equivalent to 10% of Eligible Expenditure on game development work undertaken in South Australia on an eligible project. What’s Eligible Expenditure? It’s the minimum amount you’ll need to spend and retain in South Australia across the project. Like a lot of government rebates around game development, the details are complicated but the goal is clear: keep developers where the money is. Where there’s money, there’s security. Where there’s security, there’s room for inspiration to grow.

Image: Naomi Jellicoe

In his Welcome to Country, Uncle Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien, on hand to welcome visitors to Kaurna land, invoked a word the Kaurna people had invented to describe the computer. The word he used was mukarndo. It means, quite literally, “lightning brain”. It struck me as doubly appropriate, an electric sense of inspiration having permeated the entire room. May that inspiration stay with the MPs that made the trip over on the day. May the games they played, and the huge potential they must have felt, stay with them too.

When SAGE put out the call, the South Australian game dev community showed up for each other. Based on this alone, the state’s video game future is bright indeed. With a community spirit that strong, and with state and federal funding behind their efforts, I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.

If you’d like to find out more about the developers working in South Australia right now, the SAFC has released its SA Video Game Creatives e-booklet which introduces some of the major players in the space. We watch them all with interest.

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