Magazine article Metro Magazine

Not Playing Around: Senate Inquiry into Australia's Games Industry

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Not Playing Around: Senate Inquiry into Australia's Games Industry

Article excerpt

It's fair to say that the games industry in Australia is not a major political force. The industry gained some traction with former prime minister Julia Gillard's government, which, in 2013, instituted the A$20 million Interactive Games Fund; however, when successor Tony Abbott's government cut that program just halfway through its run a year later, barely a whimper was registered on the national agenda. The games industry was outraged within its own sphere, of course but, externally, few eyebrows were raised.

This was, in a way, the key lesson learned from the recent Senate Inquiry into the Future of Australia's Video Game Development Industry, which, in April, delivered its report after months of consultation. The Senate committee, spurred into action after a motion from Greens senator Scott Ludlam, seemed initially to approach the topic with hesitation at best. Yet surprisingly, by the end of the public consultation period, Liberal, Labor and Greens senators alike were in unison in their enthusiasm for Australian video games. 'I can not emphasise enough how unusual it is, in this partisan and politically charged environment, and in an election year, to have a consensus report,' wrote Ludlam in Kotaku Australia, commenting on the process.

The committee received 111 public submissions to the inquiry from industry bodies, interest groups and private individuals. Many followed a standard three-pronged pattern: first, calling for a reinstatement of the Interactive Games Fund; second, arguing for the extension of screen production-related tax offsets to the games industry; and third, advocating for industry workplace hubs following the model of Melbourne co-working space The Arcade. However, not all submissions agreed. There was some debate surrounding whether games should be funded as a cultural form or strictly as a tech industry, for example, while other atypical submissions focused on specific issues --Brisbane studio Halfbrick, creators of the popular game Fruit Ninja, for instance, called for more flexible labour relations with China.

I gave evidence at the Melbourne public hearing, where the mood was cautiously optimistic. The senators seemed genuinely curious about Australian games--to the point of being shocked to realise that they had not known of this local industry earlier. 'Why has your industry not been beating down the doors of those who make decisions in Canberra?' asked Liberal senator Chris Back at a later hearing. The internal shock that the games industry had at the cancellation of the Interactive Games Fund loomed as an uncomfortable memory.

In Melbourne, the question of diversity within the industry was raised multiple times, both by the committee and by those present to give evidence. 'Diversity is a significant problem [...] We have concerns about systemic problems,' noted Game Developers' Association of Australia (GDAA) CEO Tony Reed, who also claimed, 'We are changing the landscape, but we are choosing not to set it on fire to do so.' Affirmative-action policies were raised by the committee, as was the Australian Human Rights Commission's suite of programs designed to rebalance male-dominated industries. As it is, the Australian game development industry has worse gender parity than mining or construction--it is as clear as ever that this must be confronted.

The committee's final report includes eight recommendations. …

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