News & Commentary, Screen, Video Games

New hope for Aussie game developers, no thanks to the federal government

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This year has been one of the most productive and successful years for game development on record for the Australian games industry –and 2016 is looking equally good. 
Despite the federal government’s continued resistance to support the industry through a dedicated program, other national and state bodies are finding alternative ways to fund development.
Film Victoria yesterday announced a $500,000 funding program to help bring ten games from Victorian developers to market. Film Victoria is considered at the forefront of government support of developers and its funding to The Voxel Agents, Considerable Content, Fluffy Kitten Studios and Good Game Productions among others will see a wave of independent Victorian projects land on the global market in 2016.
And despite suffering a federal government funding cut, Screen Australia has opened the door to potentially funding game projects by forming a $CAD800,000 partnership with the Canada Media Fund for creatives working in interactive digital mediums. “Interactive digital mediums” does not necessarily mean interactive games, but it’s likely that at least a few games will be funded through this initiative.
Funding programs such as these are significant — they represent the underlying reason Australia enjoyed a robust 2015 in game development. Projects that were able to secure funding before the Rudd Government lost the 2013 election were brought to market this year. They include popular and artistic titles Hand of Fate, Submerged, Armello, and Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy. The release of these games means its developers are in a stronger position to produce more.
“The government funding was a great opportunity for us…. and quite a few studios are pretty well established now and as close to stable as an indie gets. I’ll be really interested to see what people do next.” Disparity Games’ founder, Nicole Stark, said. Stark’s business received government funding and used it to produce Ninja Pizza Girl, released this year. “But there’s been a lot of success stories from indies that did it on their own and I can’t see that changing, either.”
“The rate of growth will definitely slow down with less funding into 2016, which is a shame, but I think a lot of teams, including Witch Beam, were able to secure their future with that previous government support and I hope we’ll all keep on making great games,” said Santana Mishra, who produced Assault Android Cactus (also funded with federal government grant money).
“Studios like Defiant (Hand of Fate) are now much larger than they were before the fund existed and we should start seeing a lot more output from them and the other success stories,” he added.
A case study in what funding can do
While the current funding opportunities are certainly smaller than what the Interactive Games Fund had to offer, the success of one particular game shows how one grant can turn a developer into a stable, successful development businesses.
Submerged developer, Uppercut Games, secured a three year funding deal from the Interactive Games Fund, and used that for much more than simply developing that game; the additional money was funnelled into business development for Uppercut Games itself, and has taken it from a raw startup to a stable business.
“We were able to hire on four additional full-time developers for Submerged, with the knowledge that we could cover some of their salaries with funds from the Interactive Games Fund.” Andrew James, founder of Uppercut Games, said. “These were a mix of industry veterans with a lot of experience through to a recent graduate with only a few years under his belt as a game developer.
“It allowed us to take on full time staff instead of just hiring on a per project contract basis. We have been able to do some longer term planning around future projects and sequels. We have also been able to invest in things like learning the technical and publishing process for shipping on multiple platforms, such as game consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and know we can re-use that expertise on the next titles we make,” James said.
“It is not enough to simply develop a game. There are tools available that allow a creative developer to do that with no upfront cost beyond their time, so the actual development side of things doesn’t even need government funding. The challenge is in the production and logistical side of taking a completed game and getting it onto the market for people to purchase. This has a high upfront capital cost, and for a development team that hasn’t produced many (or any) games and has very limited or non-existent cash flow, it is this side of things where government grants can be the most assistance, James said.
“There are other important aspects we would not have been able to afford if we had been funding the game 100 per cent ourselves,” James added. “Localiaation into 11 different languages and of self-publishing Submerged on multiple platforms simultaneously; PC, PlayStation4 and Xbox One was a key one.
“Additionally, we were able to pay to have the game rated by classification boards to release it into multiple territories. These things don’t immediately jump to mind as critical for game development, but as an independent developer being able to launch a ‘complete’ product that is fully localised into all the major languages and has ratings for all territories gives you a much better chance of success in today’s market,” he said.

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