MDIA2003_19 Media Technology Wed9.00 (2019)

Government’s next call of duty – subsidising the Australian games industry.

Video games are played by 70% of Australians and are worth $3 billion to the economy, so why has the government refused to subsidise the industry?

Representatives for the games industry have become fed up with the lack of government support and have pointed to the generous subsidies provided to the film and television industries. 

CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA) Ron Curry, says that the Coalition needs to start regarding games as a serious form of entertainment. 

“In Australia we’re just not seeing a recognition by the government of the importance of video games culturally, as an art form, as an economic contributor, and I think we’ve seen that there is a lot of focus and attention given to what we call traditional media.”

Mr Curry says the Coalition has held the industry back, highlighting how they slashed the Gillard government’s Interactive Games Fund.

“We know that the Coalition have done nothing for games, the only thing they’ve done is get rid of the games fund. The last number of years it has almost been impossible to get any conversation or traction with them”. 

The Interactive Games Fund would have provided $20 million to the games industry, with the aim of assisting the industry to grow and contribute more to game production. 

It took the Coalition over six hundred days to respond to the senate enquiry into the future of Australia’s video game development industry. 

Whilst the value of gaming to the economy dwarfs that of both film and television combined, the government ruled out subsidising the industry in their response. 

The film and television industries both enjoy tax rebates and funding from the government.

The Australian Screen Production Incentive offers studios generous rebates of over 10 per cent to shoot their movies and shows in Australian locations. 

In 2019 alone, Screen Australia, funded by the Australian government, offers $300,000 in development funding for new feature films, television dramas and online series.  

Australia is one of the biggest markets for games, but the domestic industry contributes little to global games production. 

“…if you look at a global industry that is moving towards $200 billion and you say Australians are consuming $3-4 billion a year, but what are we making” said Curry, “The content we’re creating is less than 1% of that. And what we’re saying is there’s a huge opportunity for Australia to create a lot more content.”

Mr Curry pointed to other countries whose governments have supported their games industry and the numerous benefits.

“When you look at places like Canada, UK, North America and Poland, the government has realised that game development is a leading industry, it’s a weightless export, its innovation led, its well paid, it encourages young people to study STEM subjects.”

Poland in particular provides a case study into how government grants can assist the gaming industry. 

In 2016 they set aside $24 million to assist Polish game studios to develop gaming technologies, as opposed to making just games. 

These technologies could be anything from game engines (required to make games) or new emerging technologies like VR, which can be sold around the world. 

One of the biggest issues facing the Australian games issue is a cultural one, where the younger population believe games are art and a legitimate form of entertainment, but policy makers think the opposite. 

All the students questioned if games were art at the University of New South Wales unanimously said they thought games were an art form. 

“Games are like an interactive movie, you get to play through a story, but the difference is you get to make moral decisions on behalf of your character.” said finance student, Keelan, 24.

Design student Kelsey, 23, said, “Art is in the graphics of games, the way they are made. So much goes into them and I don’t even play them, but I still see them as a modern form of art.” 

Whilst many consider games to be art, by others, games are considered addictive or a waste of time and this is a significant barrier facing the industry.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently listed gaming addiction as a recognised disorder, heightening the concerns of parents about their children playing games. 

Ron Curry argues that whilst some individuals may indeed struggle with an addiction to video games, that this should not take away from the conversation about games as entertainment. 

“I think as an industry you acknowledge that there may be some issues, there may be people that have issues with gaming, but certainly we’re not buying into the whole gaming disorder narrative that the WHO are putting forward.”

The WHO defines gaming disorder as “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities”.

This coincides with a rise in popularity in the “battle-royale” shooter, a genre of online games where the winner is the last player alive. 

Appealing to younger gamers and teenagers, the genre has been criticised for being designed to be addictive on purpose. 

The counter argument to this claim is that streaming services have contributed to “binge watching”, where individuals watch several episodes of a television show in one day. 

With an election on the horizon and polling pointing to a Labor party victory, Mr Curry is optimistic that the industry will gain more traction in their battle to receive government funding. 

“I think if the Labor party were to be the next government, we would have a much better engagement with government and a much more exciting engagement.”

The Minister for Communications and the Arts and the Shadow Minister for Communications were approached for comment.