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A second inquiry calls for more support for Australian games development.

Yet another official Australian Government committee report has recommended the restoration of the previously-axed Australian Interactive Games Fund.

Today the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training presented the findings of an investigation launched earlier this year (Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy). Amongst the committee’s proposals was a recommendation that “the Australian Government introduce a funding scheme based on the former Australian Interactive Games Fund.”

Deputy Chair of the Inquiry and Member for Griffith Terri Butler presented the committee’s conclusions to Parliament this morning.

This is the second cross-party government inquiry to recommend the reinstatement of the Australian Interactive Games Fund, or a fund like it. Last year the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications delivered its report on the future of Australia’s video game development industry and made the same recommendation. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam recently took the Federal Government to task for consistently failing to respond to the unanimous report’s findings, over 400 days since they were handed down.

Australia’s Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) made a written submission to the inquiry earlier this year noting that employment within the game industry dropped by two-thirds between 2007 and 2013, and total income reduced from  AU$116.9 million.

The state of the Australian sector starkly differs with countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, where much more support is provided to the industry.

“Australia’s games development industry sits in contrast to the overall growth of the Australian games industry more broadly and the increasing engagement by Australians with interactive games,” explained the IGEA. Sales of video games and hardware nudged AU$3 billion in 2016, across digital and mobile sales, plus traditional retail sales.

“The state of the Australian sector starkly differs with countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, where much more support is provided to the industry,” continued the IGEA. “But recent research conducted by IGEA itself indicates that the Australian video game development industry has huge potential as a weightless and ‘clean’ export industry. From a survey of just 63 Australian studios in 2016, we found that the industry earnt AU$114.9 million in the 2015-16 financial year, with 81% of revenue derived from overseas markets.”

IGEA CEO Ron Curry is pleased to see more support but admits the process of seeing strong support from these inquiries, yet no further progress, is bittersweet.

“Every time we find ourselves presenting to a government inquiry, the Senate, or the House of Representatives, or whomever, we have incredibly great traction,” Curry explained to IGN. “They’re engaged, they’re excited; they open their eyes and they really see what the industry’s all about.”

“More importantly, with the Innovation and Creativity inquiry, they see what the future of the industry looks like and how it spills over into commerce and health and education, etcetera.

“And they all go away very excited but where it falls down is then it goes into this hole – and that’s hole with a H – of government where, more broadly, there’s just not that understanding and acceptance of games.

“It’s a cultural issue and a generational issue.”

With the Victorian State Government investing in its own industry (Victoria is home to half of Australia’s game developers), and New Zealand recently announcing its own Interactive Development Fund via the NZ Film Commission, it feels like only a matter of time before the Australian Government seeks to invest in growing the games development industry, but how much time?

“Well, we know that the government has promised an ‘all of government response’ to the inquiry, and we know that’s 400 days late,” said Curry. “But we are quietly optimistic that there will be something in there for our industry.”

“Failing that, we also know that government are also launching a screen inquiry. And, at the time, games were specifically excluded from that. But based on some of the lobbying we’ve done over the past few weeks we’re now included in that inquiry as well. So I guess it’s just a case of continually knocking on the door, jumping over the hurdles, until it’s just too damn obvious that they should be supporting the industry.”

The original AU$20 million Australian Interactive Games Fund was axed by the Abbott Government one year into its planned three-year funding period, after the first AU$10 million had been loaned out. According to Greens Senator Ludlam “[a]t the end of the three-year funding cycle, there is still $21 million bucks in there because it has been paid back.”

Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.





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