Support for Australia’s struggling video game industry went missing in the Federal budget and now Green’s Senator Scott Ludlam is on the hunt for the Turnbull government’s response to a long buried report.
Back in 2015, WA Senator Ludlam led a Senate Inquiry into the local video games industry which was released in April 2016.
The Inquiry came about after the Coalition’s 2014 ‘horror’ Budget axed the Australian Interactive Games Fund, a $20 million initiative to cultivate the local games development industry.
The Inquiry report recommended the Government bring back a funding scheme, as well as tax offsets and other measures.
Yesterday Senator Ludlam attempted to get a Senate vote on a motion that would have ordered the government to table its response to the report but it was not to be due to procedural issues.
Senator Ludlam will need to wait until the next Senate sitting day on June 12 for his motion but he also intends to address the issue of the languishing games industry report at a Senate Estimates hearing in late May.
Senator Ludlam believes the long delay in responding to the report indicates the Coalition does not yet see nurturing local video games development as valuable.
“It’s not seen yet by a critical mass inside government as a worthwhile industry to support, either as an art form or an economic driver,” Senator Ludlam said.
“We are battling partly a generation gap and partly a cultural gap. You don’t have to argue the value of Australian TV, film, music, art and literature but we do have to go in and make the argument that the digital arts in all its forms has rapidly eclipsed some of those traditional forms and absorbed some of them.
“We are missing a massive opportunity,” he said.
Globally, games are big business with revenue expected to hit almost US$100 billion in 2018.
Australia’s game development industry earned $114.9 million in the 2015-16 financial year, with 81 per cent of that revenue coming from overseas markets.
According to an independent survey done for the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) in late 2016, 78 per cent of Australian game developers expect business growth in FY2016-17 and almost two-thirds plan to bring on more staff.
The local industry employed 842 people in FY2015-16 of which programmers made up 33 per cent and artists 24 per cent.
Ron Curry, CEO of IGEA also wonders what has happened to the Senate Inquiry report.
“On paper, the video games industry appears to have the right support sitting with the Minister for Communications and the Arts, (Mitch Fifield). At face value, this is the perfect home for the sector, which bridges across both creative arts and technology development,” said Mr Curry.
“And yet it’s been more than a year since the Senate Standing Committee released its final report into the future of Australia’s video game development industry, which received bipartisan support and there’s still not a word from the Minister.
“The Committee praised the Australian games industry and followed with eight recommendations, some simple and actionable, while others are more complex. Surely some of the recommendations, which are palatable to all sides of government, can be enacted? That was 390 days ago.”
Like Senator Ludlam, Mr Curry believes the government is yet to wake up to the potential of the local games industry and is somewhat philosophical about the tardy response to the Senate Inquiry Report.
“This isn’t a huge surprise given the survey released in December 2016 found that a lack of government understanding of and investment in the sector was one of the key inhibitors to the growth of the sector.”
But he also feels a deal of frustration.
“The lack of response from the government begs the question: What happened? Why is something with cross party support not being actively pursued? Isn’t this a simple win for the government?”
Helping boost the local games industry would also put some flesh around the Coalition’s jobs and growth mantra. Mr Curry says Australia is producing about 5000 graduates a year who would like to be employed in video game development but the jobs are not there.
“People are either going to do something else and those skills get wasted or they take off overseas,” said Senator Ludlam who has found getting the government to engage with the local games development industry harder work than expected.
“What’s still settling in on me is that it’s a steeper hill to climb than I thought.”