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When I traveled to Australia in the past year, I was struck again and again by the state support for video game development one found there, particularly in the state of Victoria. It had become a magnet for the entire region, even luring a number of New Zealanders across the Tasman, who labored under a government that specifically excluded video game development from arts funding--though one hopes Jacinda Ardern’s new Labour administration will loosen Creative NZ’s purse strings a bit.
Back in Australia, different states and regions, like the Australian Capital Territory, have invested a bit in the development of indie games but no one’s quite matched Film Victoria’s full-bore commitment to it. Worse, the nation’s conservative federal government outright eliminated what funding there was at that level, killing the Australian Interactive Games Fund back in 2014, which was worth some 10 million AUD (7.5m USD). There’s not been any talk from Canberra of restoring the program either.
That’s why it’s more than a bit of good news that the state government of South Australia has committed $2 million AUD to game development, with $450,000 of it going towards the outfitting of a video game development hub run by Game Plus, a firm that specializes in co-working spaces for the industry. The hub will be located in the state capital of Adelaide and, according to MCV Pacific, “will consist of three offices and 29 ‘hot-desks’ available for digital games development companies.” Another 200,000 AUD will go towards education programs, while the rest is open for grants to fund development and marketing.
"Just as we’re entering a world where it’s easier to make a game than ever, little costs are starting to pile up. A little grant money can go a long way, and it can be the difference between a game being a smash hit or never being released at all."
This kind of thing is not just a nice side-benefit for game devs but is becoming increasingly necessary as the environment is made ever more hostile for developers trying to break in on their own. Consider the ESRB’s recent decision to impose a new fee on indies: they now want 3,000 dollars from any digital developer who seeks to legally sell a boxed version of their game, to cover the cost of rating it. That’s the going rate for any game whose total development budget was under 1 million USD. This, of course, doesn’t even start dipping into the piranha-infested waters of the Steam refund debate.
But wherever you stand, it must be at least minimally apparent that just as we’re entering a world where it’s easier to make a game than ever, little costs are starting to pile up. A little grant money can go a long way, and it can be the difference between a game being a smash hit or never being released at all.
For South Australia, stepping up to the plate like this represents a significant change from where it was just a few years ago. Its then-Attorney General, Michael Atkinson, was the lone holdout among the nation’s six Attorneys General to accede to a change in the law that would allow classification (and, therefore, legal sale) of R18+ games. Prior to this, the highest available rating was R15+. Games deemed to exceed that rating simply didn’t receive a rating from the national Classification Board and were thus effectively banned in Australia. His lone veto, for years, prevented any changes to the law; unanimity among the states’ AGs was required. In this maddening way, South Australia was the keystone to the “video game bans” that had made Australia infamous among fans and developers alike.
“The South Australian Government has always had a weird relationship with its games industry,” Adelaide-based game developer Ash McAllan told me. “Games as a medium and as an industry have been seen as either not serious or problematic.”
"The announcement of the Game Plus Hub signifies a massive shift in the way the South Australian government views the game industry. They're finally taking seriously a sector that is a natural fit for South Australia's incredible arts culture and it's strength in tech."
McAllan, whose indie studio Machine Spirit is hard at work on a puzzle game, was more than a little jazzed by the news. “The announcement of the Game Plus Hub,” she says, “signifies a massive shift in the way the South Australian government views the game industry. They're finally taking seriously a sector that is a natural fit for South Australia's incredible arts culture and it's strength in tech.”
The state has certainly come a long way, and in my travels to Australia I found the SA lot to be a dogged and determined bunch. This year, Adelaide-based devs had unprecedented success with Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight and Team Fractal Alligator’s Hacknet: Labyrinths winning prizes in this year’s Australian Game Developer Awards. That South Australians will now have a co-working space to rival Melbourne’s storied Arcade is welcome news indeed.
Lauren Clinnick, who represents a range of Australian indies through her firm Lumi Consulting, celebrated the news with just such a broad perspective, “It's so valuable to have several game dev centers across a country as large as Australia,” she said, “Adelaide is home to diverse and exciting teams...very new pathway to the industry offers more chances and more support for a wider and more diverse regional community, which is a huge plus,” she added. Australia needs more than one hub for its game development, after all.
Or, as Ash McAllan put it, “I'm pretty excited to see what happens next. Maybe we'll stop seeing so much of our talent moving to Melbourne?”
Katherine Cross is a Ph.D student in sociology who researches anti-social behavior online, and a gaming critic whose work has appeared in numerous publications.