There is growing concern a lack of federal support will force local game developers to move away from Australia as the industry reels from the “incredibly disappointing” response to a 2016’s inquiry into the sector.
It comes as the Greens moved a motion in the Senate to condemn the government’s response to the Senate’s video games industry inquiry, and calls on government to reconsider its response to the report’s recommendations..
The federal government tabled its late and long-awaited response to the Environment and Communications Reference Committee’s report on the Australian games development industry last week.
This was more than 600 days after it received the initial report. The response merely “noted” or rejected all recommendations.
These rejected recommendations included reinstalling the $20 million games development fund, refundable tax offsets and funding for co-working spaces.
The government pointed to existing initiatives and funding in its National Innovation and Science Agenda as to why these recommendations are unnecessary.
The response left the Australian games development community shocked and disappointed, with many now grappling with the possibility of being forced to move overseas to jurisdictions offering more support.
Opaque Media Group director Emre Deniz, who was behind the AGDA 2017 (Australian Game Developer’s Association) game of the year, said that while Australia was lagging behind, other countries were actively trying to poach developers with lucrative incentives.
“The lack of support from the federal government will likely force many talented Australians to leave the country to seek opportunities overseas,” Mr Deniz told InnovationAus.com.
“There are no economic advantages to developing any gaming studio in Australia compared to any other western country. Many of these countries are keenly aware of this and are actively engaged in poaching or offering incentives to these development studios,” he said.
He pointed to Canada as a country leading the way in its support of the games industry. More than 40,000 people are employed in the game development sector in Canada, with the industry contributing over $4 billion to the national GDP.
“Australia is competing against many neighbours and comparatively developed environments in Canada and the United Kingdom that offer not only federally backed investments in games, but also competitively geared tax support, or outright incentives for developers to operate within states or territories,” he said.
“Canada, by no coincidence, also offers some of the most robust federal support mechanisms to developers as well as aggressively geared competitive export policies, including state-level incentives for developers to ship their teams to setup in Canadian territories.”
The federal government placed the onus of supporting the industry on state governments in its response, and some have already attempted to pick up the slack.
Victoria is leading the way with a range of initiatives, with more than half of the Australian industry is now based in the state.
But support at a federal level is still crucial, Mr Deniz said.
“It should not be left to the states to pick up the slack to keep these businesses competitive,” Mr Deniz said.
“The role of states, when compared to similar programs overseas, is to attract investment and growth within their own territories and promote the innovation of local sectors, whilst the federal government should be focusing their efforts on providing the best environment it can to grow our industry to continue being competitive in a growing multi-billion dollar market.”
Many other Australia developers shared Mr Deniz’s sentiments, with several saying they may be forced to relocate overseas to more supportive countries.
A spokesperson for Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the government’s response “provides the industry with information on government support available for games and interactive content”, and it will be responding on a number of other inquiries relevant to the industry this year.
“The government values the Australian games development industry for its innovation and entrepreneurship, and the cultural and economic contributions it makes to our society,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
On Tuesday, Greens senator Jordon Steele-John moved a motion in the senate condemning the government’s response to the games inquiry and calling on it to reconsider the recommendations.
“The government just doesn’t get it. It took them over 600 days and this is the best they have got. They clearly do not understand the creative, economic and cultural value of this important industry and seem to have logged off,” Mr Steele-John said.
“Defaulting to tired lines about their National Innovation and Science Agenda just does not cut it.”
“The government is rejecting the recommendations of its own members and Minister Fifield is robbing all Australians of the right to benefit from the significant cultural and economic contribution that a thriving Australian games industry would provide.
“The funding that the government mentions is not targeted to supporting the games industry and is not sufficient. This is a creative industry that requires the same support that film and television firms can access.”
Senator Steele-John told the Senate labelled the government’s response “truly uninspiring, disappointing and yet not at all that surprising”, and spoke of the importance of the local games industry.
“I would like to do what the government could not bring itself to do, and that is to note the positive contributions that the video game industry make and how important they are to Australia,” he said.
“They are, without doubt or dispute, extraordinarily culturally significant. They shape young minds and tell stories, and we must have Australian voices and stories conveyed through this medium into the future.
“They are economically significant – they form part of our digital economy and our future. They are, as you might say, innovative.
I would have thought the Prime Minister would want to get on board with something like that, particularly considering that the industry is worth over $100 billion a year globally and that we could have a slice of it.”
The Australian video game development industry generated $118.5 million in the 2016-17 financial year, according to an IGEA survey.
While stopping short of committing to any of the recommendations included in the initial inquiry just yet, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland said the Opposition was currently working on its own set of policies in the area.
“Labor is actively developing policy to best support the game development industry and promote jobs and skills in the new economy,” Ms Rowland told InnovationAus.com.
“Labor recognises that Australia has the potential to lead in the development of games that will deliver benefits across entertainment, health, education and other sectors.”