The Australian game development sector has renewed its push to be recognised as a serious industry deserving of support, despite losing its most vocal parliamentary supporter following Scott Ludlam’s shock resignation from the Senate.
The Digital Australia 2018 study, released by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) and Bond University, shows that the games industry on the consumer side is booming in Australia, and it’s about much more than just entertainment.
“It’s at saturation point – everyone is doing it. The underlying part of the report is that to identify as a gamer is like saying you’re a TV watcher or a radio listener; we just don’t say it anymore. It’s a part of the fabric of the media we consume,” IGEA chief executive Ron Curry told InnovationAus.com.
“Being a gamer isn’t unique now, everybody is going it.”
The games industry in Australia is at pains to show that it has applications that extend far beyond just entertainment, to serve in how we learn, connect and work.
“The medium has been accepted and normalised, and now we see it moving across to some interesting things beyond entertainment, like education, health and business training. That’s where the medium gets really valuable and exciting,” Mr Curry said.
The annual Digital Australia report surveyed more than 1200 Australian households and more than 3000 individuals, with three quarters of respondents agreeing that making video games in Australia benefits the local economy.
It found that the Australian computer and video game industry had grown at a compound annual growth rate of just under 10 per cent from 2013 to 2016.
The report also found that video games are utilised across nearly every sector in the country as a way to train employees and solve complex problems, especially in education, learning and training settings.
One-third of respondents have used games at work, while half of the parents surveyed said their children had used games at school. The largest growing group of new players in Australia are seniors, with games being used for mental stimulation and to fight dementia.
In Australia the games development industry earned $114.9 million in the 2015-16 financial year, with more than 80 per cent of the revenue coming from overseas markets.
Despite its growth and proven value to the Australian economy, the industry has fought for recognition and support from the federal government since the “horror” 2014 budget where the $20 million Australian Interactive Games Fund was axed.
“The industry as far as the consumer is concerned is very positive. The consumers love the product and are engaging with it in many, many different ways,” Mr Curry said.
“The flipside of that is the lack of support the government offers the industry, particularly when we realise our industry is competing on a global basis,” he said/.
“There are quite high incentives for developers in other countries to produce games and use that intellectual property to the benefit of the country.”
And the industry’s political fight has become a lot more difficult following the resignation of its biggest and most vocal advocate, Greens senator Scott Ludlam.
Senator Ludlam resigned from Parliament earlier this month after realising that he was a dual New Zealand citizen and therefore ineligible to serve as a politician.
“Scott was a great advocate for the industry and made sure he kept the flag waving for the industry in Parliament. It’s a shame when you lose that voice, but it certainly isn’t the only voice. But he was the most vocal and most obvious voice,” Mr Curry said.
Senator Ludlam led a senate inquiry into the local video games industry in 2015, which was released in April last year. The report included a series of recommendations for the government to support the burgeoning sector.
Despite the committee reporting back more than a year ago, the government is still yet to formally respond to its recommendations. Before his resignation, Senator Ludlam had been tirelessly hounding the government to release the “zombie” report.
“We are missing a massive opportunity. 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. We are battling partly a generation gap and partly a cultural gap,” Senator Ludlam said in Parliament last month.
But Mr Curry still has hope that the government will come around to the opportunities of the industry.
“Each opportunity we have to present at a Senate inquiry or to the House of Representatives we find that the people we’re talking to are switched onto games. Slowly but surely we’re getting a number of converts and people in Parliament who see the real value of games beyond entertainment,” he said.
He is hopefully that the government will implement the wide-ranging series of policies recommended in the senate inquiry.
“It went as wide as bringing back the Games Fund, production offsets and cooperative working places. There was a whole swathe of things that work to create an ecosystem. It’s important we get the right balance of all those recommendations. Getting one is fabulous, but it won’t solve the problems,” Mr Curry said.
Last month the recommendations got another tick of approval from a further parliamentary report. In response, Senator Ludlam said he’s hopeful that a lot of work is being done by the government behind in the scenes.
“I suspect Senator Fifield is working on something. Maybe there is going to be something in the winds. I cannot imagine that we could go through all this work and have it come to nothing. But, for heaven’s sake, give us a sign,” Senator Ludlam said last month.