Games sector preps for election
Ron Curry: The games development sector deserves a higher policy profile
The Australian game development sector hopes to drive part of the national debate in the lead up to this year’s federal election, seeking a new level of political support in the wake of years of neglect.
In the last weeks of 2018, the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) released a document showcasing the importance and potential of the sector, along with a set of recommendations for government.
The group hopes the documents helps to kick off a debate on the need to offer policy support for the burgeoning sector as a May election fast-approaches, IGEA chief executive Ron Curry said.
“We’re the last developed, English-speaking nation that doesn’t have support from the government for an industry that’s clearly growing incredibly quickly. What we’re saying to government is that there are some real opportunities that we’re missing, that are moving somewhere else,” Mr Curry told InnovationAus.com.
The Australian games development sector has not had any support at a federal level since the $20 million Interactive Games Fund was cut by the Coalition in 2014. A Greens-instigated Senate inquiry into support for the sector was tabled in 2016, and after more than 600 days the government tabled its response, largely rejecting its policy recommendations.
Government policy in the games space had been non-existent for nearly five years, Mr Curry said.
“There’s been nothing from the government. We’ve had some good traction with the Opposition – they’ve been really open to having a conversation with us, but we just don’t see that same level of engagement from the government,” he said.
“They’ve thrown their hands up and effectively said, ‘we’re not having a conversation with games, we’re not into games, and we’re not supporting them.’
The IGEA report includes a recommendations to government, including a call to re-establish of the Interactive Games Fund with $40 million to “make up for lost years and to bring Australia to the global stage quicker”.
The organisation is also calling for a 30 per cent refundable tax offset for video game development, strategic funding and support for cultural, educational and serious games, assistance for shared working spaces, and a regional innovation hub, along with reviews of the taxation of crowd-sourced funding, Export Market Development Grants and the research and development tax incentives.
“These financial incentives and support measures will kick-start the rapid growth of our game development sector through the establishment of new game studios in Australia, investment and projects flowing into Australian businesses and a range of joint ventures,” IGEA report said.
“The cost of government support for a game development sector will easily be recouped through economic growth and increased tax receipts, particularly given the export-driven global market for games. Through a budget-neutral package funded through savings that can be found by streamlining and modernising the government’s existing framework of financial incentives for the broader screen industry.”
The document emerged from discussions between games sector representatives and shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland early last year.
“As an industry we didn’t have that concise message to take to government, one document that shows a pathway to the solutions. It’s all well and good to say, ‘just give us this and that’, but the industry needed to mature and say this is why, here are the economic reasons and here’s how to move forward on that path,” Mr Curry said.
“We certainly hope it becomes part of the [broader] conversation. If someone comes to the table with a policy, we want the rest of the Shadow Cabinet to not be surprised and to understand why we’re having the conversation,” he said.
“They need to understand how important it is to the economy and that should be a natural conversation. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Early last year Ms Rowland told InnovationAus.com that Labor was in the process of developing a “holistic” policy package for the sector.
“We’re looking at all facets of it. This isn’t perceived by us as being a niche issue - it feeds into the creative industry, national identity, media and technology. We’re looking at doing something that’s very holistic,” Ms Rowland said.
And while there has been no movement from the Coalition, IGEA will continue to lobby the relevant ministers, even if it appears likely there will be a change in government by May.
“We will always continue the conversation with the government. If the election comes and we have a change in government, the current government will be in Opposition and will still have a vote in Parliament. We want to ensure we bring everyone on the journey,” Mr Curry said.
Mr Curry points to a recent announcement by games development giant Ubisoft that the company would be investing $35 million over five years as part of its new studio in Winnipeg as evidence of the opportunities on offer if the government gets behind the sector, with the local Canadian government’s tax credits playing a big role.
“That is the incredible frustration that we feel – why isn’t that happening here? Why isn’t that being invested in Melbourne or Sydney or another city here?” he said.