Local indie developers have been dealt a serious blow this morning; the Victorian Government has removed all additional funding for the games program, meaning that Film Victoria's annual budget will need to be altered significantly so it will still be able to offer the grants that have seen studios such as Brawsome rise to prominence. Tony Reid, head of the Game Developers' Association Australia, has made it public knowledge that Film Victoria has an obligation to support the games sector, and the GDAA will be heavily involved in the restructure of Film Vic's new budget restraints.
That's all well and good, but how do the local developers and industry figures feel about the news?
First we had a chat with Andrew Goulding, founder of Brawsome who recently released MacGuffin's Curse to critical acclaim. MacGuffin's Curse and Jolly Rover both received grants from Film Victoria, along with some additional funding from Screen Australia for MacGuffin's Curse.
It's a confusing move, to say the least, especially when government, via their own research, is showing games as the highest growth sector of all media. One question I have is, are they talking to each other? Because this move would contradict clear research that these high-growth areas are those that should be invested in, if we are at all interested in competing with the rest of the world. And because it's such a fast-paced industry, if we miss a year or two of funding it could be very difficult to catch up if these programs are re-instated. This really seems like the wrong move at the wrong time, which serves as another nail in the coffin to a high-growth industry with the highest potential of success, which forward thinking people should be investing in. Maybe more focus should be on our potentially infinite resources, rather than our finite ones."
Next we caught up with Giselle Rosman, fearless leader of the International Game Developers Association in Melbourne, who deals with upcoming indie superstars on a daily basis.
The news from the most recent State Government budget that the additional funds previously allocated to support the growth of the local games development sector seem to have been overlooked is disappointing.
The latest information, the GDAA, is that Film Victoria will be required to continue the funding as decreed by the Film Act of 2001. If this is the case, it's a relief, but doesn't remove the fact that the current government seems to be ignoring the long term gains that can be made in the local digital industry through continued support.
I look forward to having the next round of Film Victoria games funding confirmed, so that more projects like the Gamebook Adventures, MacGuffin's Curse, Puzzle Quest and Scary Girl can be supported. When projects like these are financially supported in their infancy, they grow the local opportunities, develop local talent and enhance the reputation of Australian game development."
Finally we caught up with Tom Killen, co-founder of The Voxel Agents and prominent member of the IGDA Melbourne chapter.
When we started The Voxel Agents (but note that I am speaking on behalf of myself and not my company) back in 2009, we chose to move from Brisbane to Melbourne largely because of the support offered by the Victorian government towards games studios. They offered this support because they saw the very obvious potential of the gaming industry.
Film Victoria is a key component of that support structure. Film Victoria isn't simply cash handouts, they don't do that. This isn't a case of tax payers subsidising the gaming industry.
Film Victoria provide loans to fund projects and these loans must be paid back with interest. It's not subsidy, it's investment in the form of a loan. It's a profitable enterprise for the government and also increases Victorian employment, Victorian exports, and makes Melbourne a true hub of independent games development.
Unfortunately, the Victorian government has decided to cut support for this growth sector. These cuts are unfortunate but they do not mean that games will no longer receive funding. Film Victoria retains an obligation to support the games industry (see Film Act of 2001). What has been cut is the funding provided to Film Victoria for games that is on top of it's existing budget to support Film and TV. Funding for games still has to come from somewhere so this cut will therefore affect Victorian film, television and games.
This cut is also ironic. The Victorian government announced plans to "protect our cultural legacy" while removing support for our cultural future. This budget claims to "deliver for innovation" while cutting support for Victoria's most innovative industry. It also claims to "drive economic growth and generate jobs" while removing allocated funding for an important growth industry and instead spending on primary production and manufacturing. I think this budgets greatest sin is that it's incredibly boring and unimaginative.
In my view these cuts to Film Victoria are pennywise and pound foolish. The purpose and effect of this funding is to create a bigger and more vibrant Victorian industry that employs people, that exports around the world, and most importantly it is designed to create an industry that is profitable. It is designed to create an industry that allows us to make money from using our minds and creative talents. Victoria isn't resource rich and so these are precisely the industries that Victoria requires.
The games industry is very resilient (just look at the rise of the indie developer!) and so we'll take this in our stride. But Film Victoria do wonderful things for the games industry and for other creative screen industries in Victoria, so we can only trust that this funding will be restored and increased in the next budget."
While Film Victoria will continue to support game development in the future, less grants will be allocated not just for game development, but also Television, Film and Documentary ventures. It seems rather puzzling to think that less than six months ago the state government was praising the potential and growth of the local industry, only to have one of the biggest support service to have significant funding taken away. Time will tell just how badly these cuts will effect the indie scene we all know and love.
By Stephen Heller - Bio