Booming video games industry “ticks all the boxes” for innovation, so why isn’t there more government funding?

video games

A report from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association has revealed the Australian video games industry is booming, despite industry figures saying federal funding for the sector has all but “disappeared”.

From 2013 to 2016, total sales of video games in Australia increased from $2.04 billion to $2.96 billion.

The Digital Australia 2018 report, completed by the IGEA and Bond University, surveyed over 1200 households and 3100 individuals. Three quarters of respondents agreed video game production benefits the Australian economy.

An additional survey of video game developers also revealed that 78% of those surveyed were projecting business growth for the 2016-17 financial year, with nearly two thirds looking to on-board additional staff.

However, prominent figures in the industry are calling for support from the federal government, noting the industry is “very challenging” for new studios despite the continued growth.

In 2014, the government slashed the $20 million Australian Interactive Games Fund, a decision met with uproar from the industry. The fund has not been reinstated since, despite a parliamentary committee report in 2016 recommending the government reintroduce funding based on the previous games fund.

Daniel Visser, managing director of Australian games studio Wicked Witch Software, has been in the gaming industry for 16 years, starting out when there was only one real games production studio in the entire country.

He told SmartCompany the industry has seen considerable growth since that time, and is now in its fourth generation, or what he calls “the rise of indies”, referring to independent games developers.

The industry for indie developers is “very challenging” says Visser, with many new companies underestimating the difficulties of the space.

“Many underestimate the expertise you need to succeed. What indie developers need is the time and support to learn and try things, and fail and try again,” he says.

“It’s a long way to finding success, but the rewards are great.”

A good deal of that support could come from funding at a federal level, believes Visser. He is lucky enough to be based in Victoria, a state he believes has some of the best support for local studios through funding from Film Victoria.

“Film Victoria has been instrumental in cultivating the industry in Melbourne. We received support from Film Victoria six years ago, and that allowed us to move into the mobile gaming market,” he says.

“We’ve done 16-17 mobile games now, but at the time we physically didn’t have the funds.”

Visser thinks the industry “punches above its weight” in terms of returns, compared to comparable industries such as film or TV, which he believes makes it a “pretty good investment” for the government, and notes the industry is “desperate for support”.

Chief executive of IGEA Ron Curry agrees, telling SmartCompany if the government is talking about being agile and innovative, the gaming industry “ticks all the boxes”.

“Ninety percent of the products are exported, and the industry intersects with so many others, like design, art, and even quality assurance. It brings so many skills to a wider industry,” he says.

Curry says the report’s results are a “good vote of confidence” for the gaming industry but is still pushing for an reinstating of any sort of federal funding, noting the axing of the Interactive Games Fund was a “big blow”.

“All future funding has disappeared because there’s a lack of confidence in the industry from investors. VC’s just see the government pull its money out, so they do too,” he says.

“For now, a gaming fund existing in the first place would be great, but beyond that there is no one solution. It needs to be a package that supports and looks at the whole ecosystem.”

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