Legal Opinion: Which Australian games should get government money?

Legal Opinion: Which Games Should Get Government Money?

By on November 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Did you see My Year Without Sex? No? C’mon, it was shown at the Adelaide Film Festival. Funded by Screen Australia?

No, of course you didn’t. It was a complete commercial flop.

On the other hand, you might have seen Saw. I didn’t—too squeamish. But it’s a successful film franchise that was denied Australian funding. So it was made in LA.

Last week, the Federal Government announced the launch of a 20 million grant fund for Australian game developers. The guidelines for who gets these grants will be written by Screen Australia. Fortunately, Screen Australia has recognised that it mightn’t know a lot about funding successful games, and so has reached out to the games industry for input. So today, let’s look at how these grants should be awarded.

Cultural relevance?

The games grants are meant to be part of the Government’s new National Culture Strategy. This raises some questions about how the grants will be awarded, because the film industry has been shackled to Australian ‘culture’ for decades. This is dictated by law—the Screen Australia Act says film funding is to:

“Ensure the development of a diverse range of Australian programs that deal with matters of national interest or importance to Australians, or that illustrate or interpret aspects of Australia or the life and activities of Australian people.”

Which explains My Year Without Sex. And also explains why most Australian films have a distinctly ‘Australian’ theme to them, instead of genres like science fiction or horror. It’s like the Government is funding war propaganda.

Is cultural relevance appropriate for games? Well, many successful games are about American soldiers saving the President, after all. I predict enthusiastic funding for games where you play Australian soldiers badass enough to save the Prime Minister.

Full disclosure?

Rhode Island is currently suing the pants off 38 Studios for the $75 million they allegedly scammed to try and make their failed Kingdoms of Amalur-themed, Copernicus MMO.

Closer to home, the Western Australian Government gave Chicago-based Interzone Studios $500,000 to develop their Interzone Futebol MMO. In a sordid tale that’s been documented well before, Interzone fled the country and ended up owing staggering amounts, to their employees in unpaid wages and to the Australian Taxation Office in unpaid tax.

Both these cases are similar in that the developers were allegedly hoping for new money to materialise out of thin air. The lawsuit against 38 Studios claims that the company knew it did not have the money to complete Copernicus, but lied and said they did anyway. Interzone somehow managed to dodge its financial obligations for years, waiting for… I don’t know. Maybe a lottery win.

It would be a shame if these cases made it harder for more honest developers to gain funding, as avoiding the problems is really quite easy. All developers need to do is give full disclosure about their proper financial position, and for the Government to investigate seriously before giving any grants.

Innovation?

The National Culture Strategy defines Australian culture as innovation. Simon Crean remarked that he’d like to see the fund be “rewarding of something that’s innovative, something that’s new, that sort of excellence criteria”. In other words, something like Fruit Ninja (which he also raved about).

Unfortunately, innovation is difficult. Games have huge up-front costs. By the time they hit market, thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars have already been spent. Unproven IPs have no real way to predict that they’ll recoup their costs, and publishers are wary of this, favouring established series instead. It’s why I’ve got to agree with Tobes—Mass Effect 4 will go ahead with the familiar Shepard (and hopefully Kelly).

This creates a problem for a fund based on innovation, as it might not match up to what publishers want. While it’s fantastic to promote innovation, the grants won’t build the industry if the games are commercial flops.

Not just games?

The best way to address this problem is to be truly innovative with what games are—go beyond entertainment to look at new markets. Currently, the Australian games industry is locked into phone games and contract work. We all know that AAA titles don’t get made here anymore, unless they’re licensed ports.

But the choice isn’t just between AAA titles and phone games. Earlier this month, a British psychologist proposed that games could help treat Alzheimer’s disease, by testing and exercising motor skills, attention, and memory. Currently, no games exist to do this, and yet the cost of treating Alzheimer’s in America alone is expected to hit a trillion dollars by 2050.

Another example is a game called Re-Mission. Made in 2005, it’s still being used to help young cancer patients understand the point of taking medication. It’s still being used because no competitors exist. The next indie hit won’t necessarily be another Minecraft, but rather a game that addresses real world issues.

When the games grants were announced, Melbourne talkback radio host Neil Mitchell described the grants as “Welfare for nerds”, and games in general as “go out and shoot people type games”. As Tony Reed, CEO of the Games Industry of Australia responded, we need to debunk that dated stereotype. The best way to do that will be for the Australian Interactive Games Fund to take the full range of gaming opportunities seriously.

26 comments (Leave your own)

Cultural relevance: A Red Dead Redemption style game set in colonial Australia immediately springs to mind….

 

The easiest and least controversial would be sport themed games liked AFL, cricket, rugby, A-League, etc. It’s been a while since we’ve had them but I assume EA Sports pulled the plug because they didn’t sell well (do any sports games for that matter?). Do we have the talent and funding to build a AAA Australian themed FPS (think COD hehehehehe) locally?

 

ralphwiggum:
The easiest and least controversial would be sport themed games liked AFL, cricket, rugby, A-League, etc. It’s been a while since we’ve had them but I assume

Have you been living under a rock? BigAnt Studios in Melbourne is one of our largest developers left and pretty much exclusively makes Australian based sport titles. AFL Live and Rugby League Live 2 both came out in the last 18 months. I’ll add that they also don’t need additional funding, HES, (An Australian based publisher) market these games.

 

-> Edit: And they are also working on two announced Cricket titles.

 

ralphwiggum:
The easiest and least controversial would be sport themed games liked AFL, cricket, rugby, A-League, etc.

Big Any Studios are making exactly these games here in Victoria! Pretty rad to see this happening locally :)

http://www.bigant.com

 

hate to be negative about it, but IMO the “My Year Without Sex” example is more a case for why do we fund movies in the first place rather than why don’t we fund games as well.

as for that ^ idea, I can’t decide whether having a AAA FPS featuring Gallipoli, Tobruk, the Kokoda Track, etc. slated for a 11am 11/11 release would be awful or awesome. A movie documentary would be better anyway.

 

why no edit button… “^ that” idea was in reference to
ralphwiggum,

 

diamondd: as for that ^ idea, I can’t decide whether having a AAA FPS featuring Gallipoli, Tobruk, the Kokoda Track, etc. slated for a 11am 11/11 release would be awful or awesome.

Take my money now!

 

We need more “go out and shoot people” type games, like what Neil Mitchell suggested. (sorry couldn’t help it)

 

IMO, the amount of money that is available wont fund a AAA game anyway. (Or at least only one.)

It would be better spent on smaller start ups that aren’t trying to make the next call of duty. (Think along the lines of funding projects like Minecraft in its early days.) This would enable far more people to be employed and trained in the industry, thus further down the line enabling the industry to support itself with a large pool of talented developers and companies, instead of watching as they all move overseas. Which is supposed to be the whole point?

 
Patrick Vuleta

diamondd:
hate to be negative about it, but IMO the “My Year Without Sex” example is more a case for why do we fund movies in the first place rather than why don’t we fund games as well.

The reasons I mentioned that film were, in order of importance:

1. It has a funny name.

2. Why restrict things to what is about Australian culture? A genre movie is no less ‘cultured’ than a movie specifically about Australia. This is a big reason why Hollywood is better than the Australian film industry, because it makes movies to appeal internationally, whereas we do not. Our games should not follow the same mistakes.

A good recent example was Tomorrow, When the War Began. It ended up with an 11 million dollar loss, because international audiences didn’t know what it was about. Not the kind of thing you want happening when your goal is to grow an industry.

Making games about AFL as suggested earlier in the comments is a good idea as they’d have a market here, but cultural relevance shouldn’t be the main criteria for funding, like it is in films.

 

thus further down the line enabling the industry to support itself with a large pool of talented developers and companies, instead of watching as they all move overseas. Which is supposed to be the whole point?

The industry didn’t fall over here because we suddenly lost all our talented people, there were a lot of people who became unemployed because there was no funded projects. The talented people then left for Canada and places like that.

Making games about AFL as suggested earlier in the comments is a good idea as they’d have a market here

High cost yet very small market, doesn’t seem like a sustainable strategy. Making a game purely for the Australian market is a bit of corporate suicide.

The cricket games being made by Trickstar Games and Big Ant work because it’s target at multiple markets with the main ones being England and Australia (with India and other cricket playing nations).

 

Patrick Vuleta: The reasons I mentioned that film were, in order of importance:

1. It has a funny name.

2. Why restrict things to what is about Australian culture? A genre movie is no less ‘cultured’ than a movie specifically about Australia. This is a big reason why Hollywood is better than the Australian film industry, because it makes movies to appeal internationally, whereas we do not. Our games should not follow the same mistakes.

A good recent example was Tomorrow, When the War Began. It ended up with an 11 million dollar loss, because international audiences didn’t know what it was about. Not the kind of thing you want happening when your goal is to grow an industry.

Making games about AFL as suggested earlier in the comments is a good idea as they’d have a market here, but cultural relevance shouldn’t be the main criteria for funding, like it is in films.

ha! Hollywood turn out crap year after year. I’d rather we make our own movies that actually mean something while turning out the occasional gem than make cash-grabbing crap like Hollywood does. e.g. Gallipoli, The Castle, Chopper, Priscilla, Mad Max, The Sapphires, Shine, Two Hands, etc.

Tomorrow When the War Began was a failure because they TRIED to be like Hollywood and spent too much money on an adaptation of a book that is only popular in Australia.

Let’s face it, we’re a small population and competing with Hollywood or in this case the latest Call of Duty title or something is just an idea destined to fail. Lets be the world leader in quality, not lowest common denominator “successes”.

 

scared: The industry didn’t fall over here because we suddenly lost all our talented people,

I’m not saying it did. I’m implying it needs to be rebuilt.
20 mill is alot of money. $200k could essentially fund a 4 person development team working out of home for a year. I’m sure a lot of good little projects would be enabled with even a small grant of 50-100k. Its the difference between “Oh, we’d love to work for ourselves but no income security is scary.” vs “Well, we have some support, lets do it!”

I was in this position in the middle of this year. I’d just recently left my current developer job and decided to try my hand at an indie title for a few months with 2 other guys. We pumped out this in 3 months https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAPfSx5z-Hs, after getting knocked back by film Victoria twice, for both the development and media grants. We calculated that the development cost us ~55k. We have had excellent feedback from users, however, without the available funds to properly advertise (and the disturbing lack of support from Australian games media, one in 30 contacts bothered to reply to us at all.) its hard to gain traction online. A small slice of that 20 mill pie however would buy us an advertising run in say the MX newspaper, and really drive some sales.

 

akira675: Have you been living under a rock? BigAnt Studios in Melbourne is one of our largest developers left and pretty much exclusively makes Australian based sport titles. AFL Live and Rugby League Live 2 both came out in the last 18 months. I’ll add that they also don’t need additional funding, HES, (An Australian based publisher) market these games.

I live in W.A. so that would be a resounding yes :) I’ll admit I’ve never seen these games on the shelves at the store and have never seen any advertising.

 

akira675: $200k could essentially fund a 4 person development team working out of home for a year.

No it couldn’t.
Just buying hardware and software needed for basics will cost you 10% or more of that.
Start adding some half decent animation or licensing some pre-built game engine and bye bye half that money.

$200k might be enough to use as leverage to get a loan to do it, but on its own its money down the drain.

 

trb: akira675: $200k could essentially fund a 4 person development team working out of home for a year.
No it couldn’t.

Sorry, I thought it was obvious that I used myself as a working example.
The tools we used to make GoalKicker were free (Unity3D). We used our existing hardware (implied in ‘working from home’, who doesn’t have a PC?).

If this grant was used by devs to buy up as many copies of CryEngine as they could afford, I’d write that down as a waste, leave that to the AAA developers.

 

diamondd:
I can’t decide whether having a AAA FPS featuring Gallipoli, Tobruk, the Kokoda Track, etc. slated for a 11am 11/11 release would be awful or awesome. A movie documentary would be better anyway.

Oh I can definately decide that could be good, actually wait I hate unrealistic shooters maybe not. A realistic/authentic game based on those events would be good and potentially open up our war time history to the world as opposed to it just being about America or Britain.

 

If I could get some serious investment from the Gov, I would start on Lunar Flight 2 with much greater scope…

 

A decent combat helicopter sim … Hasnt been a good one since janes. (Just dont base it on aussie choppers)

 
Leave a comment

You can use the following bbCode
[i], [b], [img], [quote], [url href="http://www.google.com/"]Google[/url]

Leave a Reply

PC Gaming Calendar 2014

Follow Games.on.net

YouTube

Steam Group

Upcoming Games

Community Soapbox

Recent Features
Destiny

Destiny continues to impress in beta: Our thoughts as Bungie’s new juggernaut rolls on

It's clear that Bungie are putting their best foot forward with Destiny, but as James discovers, playing on your own can be strangely empty.

Screencheat

Five Australian Indie Games We’d Hand Arbitrary Awards To: AVCon 2014

From a split-screen shooter where everyone is invisible to an abandoned space station, Australian indies are killing it at this year's AVCon.

Mass Effect 3 580x300

Here are 10 things BioWare absolutely must NOT do in Mass Effect 4

The hard truths that BioWare don't want to hear.

Survarium

Survarium Beta (PVP): Hopeless landscape, hopeless hit registration

James picks up where STALKER left off, but finds that the PVP part of this game may not have been the best way to go public.

Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm makes other MOBAs look like crap: My scientific analysis

Five highly objective examples of why other MOBA games can just get lost, thanks.

Streaming Radio
Radio Streams are restricted to iiNet group customers.

GreenManGaming MREC

Facebook Like Box