Australia’s games industry is looking for government funding to not only keep the sector alive, but to create more jobs.
In 2012, the Rudd government announced a $20 million package for video game creation, called The Australian Interactive Games Fund but this disappeared in the Abbott government’s first budget, handed down two years later.
Since then, the games development industry in Australia has experienced significant turbulence – studios have closed and developers have moved offshore.
Of those who remain, some have produced games that millions of users have paid to download. Some have also won international awards, such as “Florence” by the Melbourne-based Mountains Studio, and the crowd-funded “Hollow Knight” by South Australia’s Team Cherry.
In 2016, an inquiry into Video Games Development in Australia called for the funding program to be reinstated. The government only responded last year, rejecting all eight of the inquiry’s recommendations.
Instead, it deferred to state-supported programs and private enterprise involvement.
“The government will continue to explore mechanisms that will assist games businesses and demonstrate to the private sector the potential of this sector to drive innovation.”
— Australian Government Response to “Game on: more than playing around.”
According to the Department of Communications and the Arts, the domestic games industry employs 928 full-time workers and generates $118.5 million a year.
Felicia McEntire is an organiser for Game Workers Unite Australia (GWUA) and a game developer. She says it’s expensive to employ developers here, unless there is government support.
“A lot of [developers] hang around in Victoria, in Melbourne… because [the state government’s] arts funding can be stretched to include game development,” she said.
The Victorian Government has helped fund video game production since 2015 – as long as the game is developed in the state.
Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) Policies Manager Ben Au, says a major part of this support comes through two funding streams administered by Film Victoria.
“Another Victorian Government agency, Creative Victoria, also provides funding to game developers,” he said.
“Many other states and territories also provide varying degrees of funding for game developers, although none to the extent of Victoria.
“[It] recognises what a vital, visionary and long-term investment that supporting games development provides.”
However, the industry – worldwide – remains turbulent.
Earlier this year, global games giant Activision-Blizzard announced a massive 800 layoffs; ArenaNet, the company behind Guild Wars 2, also announced redundancies; while Melbourne-based studio “Firemonkeys”, funded by Electronic Arts, announced 40-50 layoffs in February.
Industry veteran Megan Summers, co-founder of Screwtape Studios in Queensland, says not everyone can come straight out of university, start making games and then also run a company.
“Having those bigger studios allows people to join as a junior, build up for a few years, learn from people who have been doing it longer.. and then be able to move out on your own if you want to,” she said.
QUT Research Fellow Brendan Keogh is investigating media and the video-game industry in Australia.
He believes the Federal Government must look to the success of countries, like Canada.
“Ubisoft’s Montreal campus… is 3000 people, and there are about 10,000 game developers all up in just Montreal, across different teams,” he said.
“There’s definitely advantages to try to get Australia to copy what Canada’s doing in terms of tax breaks for large companies, to try to bring those large companies here.
“Before the Global Financial Crisis, we had a whole lot of relatively big… “work for hire” studios [in Australia] that did a lot of work on… licensed games made by overseas publishers,” he said. “So it employed quite a few people and it went really well.”
Mr Keogh believes that attracting big publishers to Australia through tax incentives wouldn’t just pay off financially, it would also bolster the skills of Australian games workers.
Larger development teams would allow graduates to: “sharpen their teeth, get some experience,” he said.
Megan Summers agrees, and says it would encourage those who left during the GFC, to return.
“I truly do believe that they will come back, but there are a number of elements I think really need to be there to encourage them,” she said.
Felicia McEntire says there are other factors that would influence a developer’s decision to return.
“Anything like residential benefits, if you could partner with a building… for offices, that kind of thing.” she said.
These are precisely the sorts of incentives the industry will be hoping to see in Tuesday’s (April 2’s) Federal Budget.
– Zachariah Kelly