Case study: the Australian video game industry


Blog What I'm writing The status quo

According to a 2013 report, the Australian video game industry was worth $1.16 billion1 in the preceding year. More recently, a Channel Seven report suggested that the industry is now worth double that, surpassing both film and music sales in Australia.2 In March 2015, industry insider website Kotaku stated that the industry was worth $2.26 billion in 20143 These figures include all media associated with the term “video game” – which encompasses not only traditional console and computer gaming, but the rapidly emerging market of handheld device gaming. With the advent of pervasive and cheaper broadband internet access, this figure is expected to rise as the availability of games becomes simpler and more convenient to consumers.

The industry in Australia emerged as a viable concern in 1980 with the start of the company Melbourne House4. In 1982, Melbourne House (producing games as the subsidiary Beam Software), secured the franchise license for a Lord of the Rings product and released The Hobbit, a text-based adventure game with static pictures that presented many innovative features for the time such as the following which depicts the hero encountering a spider in his travels.

black spiders

Source: Krome Studios Melbourne

The game, which was released for then popular platforms such as the Commodore 64, Spectrum ZX and the Amstrad CPC, eventually sold over a million copies, making it the first successful computer entertainment product developed in Australia.5 As an extra, the game was released with a copy of the Lord of the Rings book. Melbourne House (or as Beam Software) went on to produce and release many other titles in its history before being bought in 2000 by French company Infogrames (makers of the famous Alone in the Dark series) who in turn sold it to become Krome Studios. The brand was closed by Krome Studios in 2010.6

Melbourne House were simply the foremost of many Australian game producers and creators and it is an industry that continues to exist to the present day, despite innate business volatility, frequent closures and staff turnovers.

In spite of the revenues generated and the often frenetic publicity surrounding video games, the industry received far less interest and subsidisation at a government level than the film industry, which in 2013/14, sourced over $110 million in public funds for film purposes7 and in addition lacks the tax breaks and incentives investing in film provides. At the last fiscal Budget in Australia, the Commonwealth Government ceased funding the industry by withdrawing $10 million and effectively shutting down the Australian Interactive Games Fund.8 At least one insider has predicted this will be the demise of the video game industry in Australia.9 It is therefore maybe ironic that in 2007 the Commonwealth Government was touting the industry as “rapidly developing”10 and listed a number of different game companies and their achievements. It is telling that this web page was last updated in October 2007. It remains an enigma therefore why the Government would cease subsidising given the enormous actual revenue the industry brings in.

With the revenue this industry brings in, many have questioned the Commonwealth Government’s wisdom in removing the Australian Interactive Games Fund. While the film industry in Australia is in a questionably parlous state after a series of poor box office returns11, the video game industry is booming. It is not uncommon to see commercials on television for various Android or Apple iPhone games, such as Heroes of the Kingdom or other “world building” or conquest style games. While this game to use an example, is not sourced from Australian talent, there are many in this country who have seen the potential entertainment on handheld devices has to offer and are making the transition.

Learning the ropes

SAE classroom depicting video game creation. Source: sae.edu.au

While the Commonwealth Government has ended subsidisation for the development of games, universities and other accredited colleges are increasingly offering courses relevant to the industry – from everything from animation to computer language programming. At the recent Broadbeach Supanova pop-culture convention, there were stalls set up by concerns such as Academy Award winning special effects company Weta Workshop, which not only had products for sale, but had guides and career information for people wishing to enter the computer animation/design field. Although films is the ultimate goal of some of these applicants, these skills are utilised in the computer game industry as well, as motion capture is becoming more popular in gaming.12 The SAE Creative Media Institute also had a presence at the convention13. This accredited college, which specialises in teaching creative subjects offers a Bachelors in Game Design14.

Other, more traditional, universities are also offering similar qualifications, including RMIT in Melbourne, Murdoch in Perth, QUT in Brisbane and UNISA in Adelaide to name a few. So the demand is there for skilled designers in the industry and this is also academia’s acknowledgement that it is a burgeoning industry. The question needs to be asked: why so little support from the Government if the industry generates multi-billion dollar revenue? Perhaps it is viewed as an emergent technology that law-makers have not fully begun to understand as of yet. There is also the unfounded stigma that video games are violent and/or pornographic and as a corollary lead to antisocial behaviour and again, there is no creditable evidence to support this15. Cases in the US where law-makers have tried to correlate violent events (such as the Columbine shootings) with the playing of video games have been dismissed by courts, usually before they even reach the trial phase16. It could also be that the industry is not seen by the mainstream as an artistic outlet in the same way that literature and film ostensibly is. That it is a product of a clinical technology rather than any creative process.

A recent report by the ABC highlighted a gender discrepancy in the video game industry. According to this report, only 8.7% of employees in the industry were women17 as opposed to higher percentages in the film and television industries. The gaming industry is still perceived as a male-dominated concern and many reasons have been presented for this, ranging from active barriers placed in the way of women to the indifference of women at large to work in the industry. More recently, earlier in April 2015, a video was recorded highlighting this inequality and offering many solutions. This video can be found at https://youtu.be/neSSlesCBQM as the limitations of Word 2007 disallow it to be embedded directly.

In summary, the video game industry is situated in a booming yet volatile time. Staff and business turnovers are frequent within the industry, with design houses being established and winding-up continually. Academia recognises this burgeoning growth with increased courses and options available for students who wish to pursue game design and related disciplines as a career. The Commonwealth Government conversely, has withdrawn subsidisation support for the business while maintaining it for the far less profitable film and literature industries. So the business is thriving in spite of the innate chaos and lack of official support given to it.

Bibliography


  1. IGEA. "Australian Video Games Industry Records $1.161 Billion Sales in 2012." Australian Video Games Industry Records $1.161 Billion Sales in 2012. February 1, 2013. Accessed April 30, 2015. http://www.igea.net/2013/02/australian-video-games-industry-records-1-161-billion-sales-in-2012/.

  2. Seymour, B. "Australia Video Game Industry Booming." Australia Video Game Industry Booming. January 1, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2015. https://au.news.yahoo.com/qld/video/watch/26929609/australia-video-game-industry-booming/#page1.

  3. Serrels, M. "2014 was a huge year for the Australian games industry" Kotaku. March 2015. Accessed April 30, 2015. http://www.kotaku.com.au/2015/03/2014-was-a-huge-year-for-the-australian-games-industry/

  4. Knight, S & Brand, J. “History of Game Development in Australia”. 2007. Australian Centre for the Moving Image

  5. Maher, J. "The Hobbit." The Hobbit. January 1, 2007. Accessed April 30, 2015. http://www.filfre.net/2012/11/the-hobbit/.

  6. Moby Games "Krome Studios Melbourne." Krome Studios Melbourne. June 1, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2015. http://www.mobygames.com/company/krome-studios-melbourne.

  7. Screen Australia. "Screen Australia Annual Report 2013/14." Screen Australia. January 1, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/f5002b3b-9d7e-4e77-9793-2112a98f15a7/AR_1314.pdf.

  8. Australian Government. "Budget 2014-15". Accessed April 28, 2015, http://www.budget.gov.au/2014-15/content/bp2/html/bp2_expense-05.htm.

  9. Quinn, K. "Game Developers Cry Foul as Axe Falls on Screen Australia Fund." Sydney Morning Herald, May 14, 2014. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/games/game-developers-cry-foul-as-axe-falls-on-screen-australia-fund-20140515-zrco5.html.

  10. Australian Government 2007. "Digital Games Industry in Australia Digital Games: A Rapidly Developing Industry." Digital Games Industry in Australia Digital Games: A Rapidly Developing Industry. October 31, 2007. Accessed May 1, 2015. http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/digital-games-industry.

  11. Naglazas, M. "The Year Australian Cinema Died." The Year Australian Cinema Died. December 16, 2014. Accessed April 28, 2015. https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/25786596/the-year-australian-cinema-died/.

  12. Mondry, E. "Motion Capture Technology: Where Can We Possibly Go From Here?" Motion Capture Technology: Where Can We Possibly Go From Here? March 2, 2014. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://artistryingames.com/motion-capture-technology-can-possibly-go/.

  13. "Supanova April 2015." Supanova April 2015. April 1, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://www.supanova.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/SUPA2015_GC_DIGI.pdf.

  14. SAE. "Bachelor of Games Development." Bachelor of Games Development. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://sae.edu.au/courses/games/bachelor-of-games-development/.

  15. Bowen, H., and J. Spaniol. "Chronic Exposure to Violent Video Games Is Not Associated with Alterations of Emotional Memory." Applied Cognitive Psychology 2011, no. 25 (2011): 906-16.

  16. Ward, M. "Columbine Families Sue Computer Game Makers." Columbine Families Sue Computer Game Makers. May 1, 2001. Accessed April 29, 2015. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1295920.stm.

  17. Golding, D. "Who Makes Games in Australia?" Who Makes Games in Australia? June 27, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/arts/blog/Daniel-Golding/Who-makes-videogames-Australia-gender-130627/default.htm.

©1996-2019 Peter Greenwell Text and images Creative Commons License