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Monday, 08 September 2008 17:18

Film Industry to Games Industry; 'œStop whinging'

In a little ‘creative differences’ war of words, Australian film industry insiders are none to impressed with the calls from local game developers for parity of support from the government.  Amalgamate or die they say.

The Australian games development scene is a strong one.  Out of it we see high profile titles such as the Total War series and BioShock amongst many others.

The structure of the local industry is disparate; it is a big country with development studios spread from Brisbane in the north, Canberra, Adelaide and a significant hub in Melbourne down south.

The game development industry is big, given the relative size of the country.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) ;” At end June 2007, there were 45 businesses in Australia involved in the provision of digital game development services. These businesses employed over 1,400 people and generated a total income of AU$136.9m which represented an average of AU$3m per business.

During 2006-07 digital game development services businesses recorded an operating profit before tax of AU$8.5m, and an operating profit margin of AU6.2%”

So all looks quite good, but the reality is that it could be so much better.  With a strong Aussie dollar of late, many potential game development contracts have disappeared over seas.

Hence the Game Developers’ Association of Australia (GDAA) call for the federal government to assist the industry with tax rebates similar to those enjoyed by the Australian Film Industry.

Again from the ABS ; “In terms of dollar value, the major recipient of cultural funding by the Australian Government was Broadcasting and film, which received AU$1,168.4m in 2006-07 compared to AU$1,141.3m in 2005-06, an increase of AU$27.1m or 2.4%.”

By happenstance recently, over a few beers, I was talking to an Australian Film insider, and the course of the conversation turned to the GDAA’s push for parity with the film industry.

The insider’s dismissal of this goal was somewhat cold.  “The problem with the games industry in this country,” the insider said “is that it is full of many small studios that should be left on their own to see who survives”.

The result, according to the film industry insider, would be that only the strong would survive, leaving a much more robust, leaner game industry, able to survive on its own two feet.

The GDAA has plenty to work on with the local industry – topics such as the push for a local R18+ rating for interactive entertainment take up time for folks such as GDAA president Tom Crago.  Still Crago was able to find time to address the comments.

Wouldn’t an industry of merged larger game development companies provide a more stable environment for growth?  Would there be more benefits of resource scalability both intellectual and financial?

“Video game development in Australia has always been driven by entrepreneurs. Often people will leave a bigger company to start a smaller one. Certainly, in Melbourne a whole lot of companies, including Tantalus, were spawned by Beam Software. The ultimate objective will be different for everyone.” Crago said.  “For some, unquestionably,  that objective will be to sell to a larger player. To others, it will be to stay small. Every company, and every entrepreneur, has their own take on the ingredients for success. It has to be said, though, that consolidation is inevitable in the Australian industry. But that doesn't necessarily mean a decline in either quality or creativity. I can envisage a number of companies existing together as a group, but maintaining that spirit of entrepreneurship and independence that made them successful in the first place”

Admirable, but surely in the cutthroat business world, there would be benefits of size ranging from sharing of resources all the way up to marketing and distribution of the final product?

“As developers, our responsibilities tend to end once the game has been completed. We love to get involved in marketing and promotion, but as a rule that's left to the Publishers. So for the most part, cooperation among Australian developers is limited to the development process itself. And it's true, we do help one another out where we can. We are a very close knit community, which is rare in any industry, and pretty unique to Australia in terms of game development.” Crago said.

So what of this film industry insiders comment? On to Page 3

So what of this film industry insiders comment?

“I'm a big fan of Australian films, and absolutely believe that our film industry should be supported by the Australian Government. It's important to understand, though, that without that support, the industry would not exist in anything like the form that it exists today. To that end, it's a bit rich for the film industry to say that games should go it alone. The fact is, we have gone it alone since day 1, receiving no federal support whatsoever. In spite of this, we have been able to become far more viable commercially than our friends in film. The bottom line here is that screen culture in all its forms
should be treated equally.”

Crago continues;”Funding programs that are available for film should also be available to games. The film industry should actually be embracing this opportunity. It's unfortunate that some in film feel such a need to protect their patch so zealously. It demonstrates a very blinkered approach to the ever-changing entertainment landscape, and also a fundamental lack of commercial acumen, which of course has been a blight on sections of the film industry since the very beginning. It's sad because we're missing out on opportunities to work together”

In a little over a year’s time, the GDAA expects that employment in this burgeoning industry will employee 18,000 people.  It is a industry that still struggles against the stereotypes despite its success.

It is also a very creative industry, full of talented people that will need to pull together to succeed, as the world gets smaller and the challenges of doing business in the digital age get every complex.

Without compromising their art, game developers will have constant opportunities to show their wares to a global audience, government assistance can ensure that much of this audience can indeed taste the local wares for a long time to come. 



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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.




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