Pilot puts games sector in play
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The past couple of weeks have delivered some good news for Western Australia’s growing games industry, with the state government announcing a new pilot program to support local games.
The pilot will provide some of the only funding available to WA’s game creators to help them tap into the global market, which is expected to hit nearly $US140 billion this year.
“The WA games sector is small but emerging, with talented people who have enormous potential for growth, and that is why the government has introduced this new pilot,” Innovation and ICT Minister Dave Kelly said.
The games industry growth pilot falls under the $16.7 million New Industries Fund, and comes after years of advocacy from within the industry.
And if you’ve read been reading this column or had a conversation with me in the past five years, you’ll know funding for WA games was the focus of my work when I was creating and running the Film & Television Institute WA’s (FTI) Games and Interactive program.
So, it is tremendously gratifying to see this pilot program being offered.
As we have been advocating, supporting the local games industry will create more jobs and diversify the economy. Victoria’s games industry is proof that this model works.
Having received years of state government support, the sector in Victoria now creates nearly 50 per cent of all games made in Australia and brought in local revenue of about $1.2 million.
Making global connections
The WA pilot program includes travel grants of $5,000 for up to 10 individuals working in the industry to attend international games events, where they can form key partnerships with publishers and get their games to the global market.
Stirfire Studios CEO Vee Pendergrast, who has also been a vocal advocate for WA’s games industry, was pleased by the inclusion of this type of funding.
“I’m excited about it as it’s the first real step we have seen from the WA state government and it’s a start that will get more WA developers to events like Gamescom and GDC,” Ms Pendergrast told Business News.
“This will help us bring knowledge back to the state and grow important relationships with vendor partners like Xbox and Sony, but also international publishers.”
Paul Turbett, who runs what is likely WA’s most successful game studio, Black Lab Games, said the development of such critical relationships with international publishers was behind his business’ most recent win.
“I’m really happy to see the announcement of the games industry growth pilot program, and for the local industry to get some support in general,” Mr Turbett said.
“I hope that the pilot program is successful and leads to wins that in turn lead to further support in the future.”
Another key component the pilot will address is the lack of data on the local industry.
A government spokesperson said the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Innovation and Science would also undertake a research project as part of the pilot program to build knowledge about the depth and diversity of the sector in WA.
I undertook the first (and only) mapping survey of the industry in 2014 when I was at FTI. The industry has grown and evolved significantly in the past four years, so updating this research will be critical in providing tailored support.
The one key component missing from the pilot is development grants, which are critical to accelerating the industry.
Black Lab Studios’ recent success was enabled by a $50,000 federal grant it received from Screen Australia’s now-defunct Australian Interactive Games Fund.
It allowed Mr. Turbett to quit his job and hire more staff. This eventually positioned the studio to create the latest title for the major American sci fi franchise, Battlestar Galactica, which Black Lab just released the third content expansion pack (or DLC, as they’re known in the industry).
After the federal fund was shut down in 2014 and no state support available, WA game makers had no development funding available to them.
The WA government says the pilot could be extended after its first year, depending on the impact of this year’s pilot.
Ms Pendergrast said the current program was a start that could be grown once the sector showed the value of the investment.
Mr Turbett agreed, and was hopeful the pilot would lead to a larger funding program.
“We still aren’t level with a number of other Australian states for government support, however, we have to start somewhere, and I’m pleased that the government is engaging with the sector,” he said.