Government support – Part 2

Over at Overland, Christopher Madden has a piece responding to Ben Eltham’s ‘Culture is bigger than the arts’, and anyone interested in both games in culture & government support should read it because it perfectly articulates two questions at the heart of these issues:

Eltham advocates government support for game design because it is ‘capable of breathtaking beauty and stunning leaps of imagination’, creating ‘entirely new worlds for gamers to explore’, and presenting ‘compelling moral challenges’. Without elaboration, this is a description of the joys of gaming rather than a solid argument to convince government it should support game design. There are many things that are beautiful and new that governments leave well alone.

More persuasive arguments for policy reform would allude to the benefits to society (the ‘public benefits’) or market failures associated with new media culture. Arguments would also need to overcome public cost perceptions of games as an addictive activity that encourages violence and time-wasting.

So, how best to answer both of these arguments without evoking the economic?  And without heading into ‘well, they get support so we should too’?

Digging deeper into the question of government support

First off, my condolences to everyone affected by what’s going on at Krome.  It’s a horrible situation, and I’m sure an incredibly complex one, but in the aftermath there has been an expected volume of chatter analysing the situation.  I don’t want to add to speculation on what lies at the root of the closure, but there is one part of the conversation that I think does need a more critical eye cast over it.

I’ve written before about how the language we use defines our ability to think about our industry & culture, and I think that, for better or worse, the discussion around government support has for a very long time dominated the public discussion and resulted in an almost knee jerk positioning of it as a solution to what’s going on.  Some examples of what I’m talking about can be found on Screenplay and tsumea here and here.

Now, I’m not in any way minimizing the importance of that, but I do think the situation, like a studio closing, is the result of a far more complex range of influences – and worth exploring in much greater detail.

Sadly, I don’t have the time to dig fully into these and provide answers, so this post is more of a call for people to think about what they’re saying, to apply a bit more critical thought, and to consider things as they are now – not how they should be in some idealised situation.

So, with that caveat, rather than blindly saying government support, let’s look at what that implies and perhaps what deeper questions we should be asking:

  • What economic conditions enabled Canada to offer their incentives?  What existing infrastructure was there to support it?  Do the same conditions exist here?  What other models exist overseas & how well do they function?
  • Why weren’t the lobbying efforts of the GDAA successful?  Were they asking for the right thing?  Was it well articulated?  And when it wasn’t working, what alternatives were tried? (Disclaimer: I’m on the new GDAA board)
  • Does the local Film Vic funding actually help studios break out of the work-for-hire cycle?  Granted the return on games is higher than film, but what is the actual shape of that – does the return belong to a small number of projects, is it across the board, and has it actually, significantly grown studios and employed people?
  • What is the end goal – inward investment of large publisher owned studios?  More work-for-hire studios? More small-scale indie devs?  To survive, there needs to be a broad ecosystem of developers, but how is that built?  How does government support fit into any of these?  And is it the role of a single agency, or is it split across a number of them?  Are those efforts co-ordinated?
  • Does government support automatically translate into new, original projects?  And are government best placed to evaluate those?  Or is the industry best placed to evaluate those itself?  What systems can be put in place to raise the standard of applications?
  • Why was the Film Victoria budget cut?  Are there broader economic or cultural reasons for that?
  • As suggested on the screenplay article, is it really about the mobile market?  Or is it also a quality issue?  With the number of titles in the app store specifically, what makes Firemint’s or Halfbrick’s games stand out?  Is it really a function of the market, or are there other quality & marketing factors there?

I’m not saying government support wouldn’t be gratefully received, because there’s no doubt that it would.  What I am saying is that it does us no good to uncritically position it as the major solution to the current situation, especially when even if they were introduced, there would be a ramping up period before they became effective.  It makes more sense, and helps us as a creative industry overall, to accept the situation as it is, to establish what *can* be done rather than what we’d like to be done, and then to respond accordingly.  And the best way to do that is to dig deeply and honestly into the guts of the issue rather than skimming the surface.

The culmination of my games & culture musings…

It’s going to take me a few days to properly process my thoughts on this year’s GCAP, especially in light of how its emergent themes reflect on what is happening with Krome.

In the meantime though, I thought I’d post a copy of the presentation I gave as part of the government round table to state and federal representatives titled ‘An Insight into Games in Culture’

Read moreThe culmination of my games & culture musings…

Reframing the Australian game

In writing and thinking about these posts on games and their place in the Australian cultural landscape, I found myself digging into the notion of what makes uniquely Australian content, and more specifically what might make a uniquely ‘Australian Game’.

There have been attempts at games that focus on Australian elements, most notably Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Escape from Woomera, or some levels in Flight Control, but in the main the bulk of the work done here in industry and independent development contains none of that, making us easy fodder for those who maintain the argument that games have no cultural relevance – an argument that, at least in my research, never seems to meet with much resistance beyond ‘more people play games than ever before’ or ‘other mediums are supported so we should be too’.

I think there is an answer, but it requires a reframing of the entire question of what might make an Australian game.

Read moreReframing the Australian game

Neither a screen nor a technology culture be…

Ken Levine from Irrational Games, and creator of Bioshock and the upcoming Bioshock Infinite was recently interviewed by Develop magazine and in it he talks about his life in games, and some of the key differences in film. It culminates with him being offered a chance to work on a hollywood film – an offer he flatly refused.

Read moreNeither a screen nor a technology culture be…

Audience engagement

As part of presenting on games & culture at GCAP next week, I dug into some of the recent research on audience engagement from the Australia Council and mixed in the latest stats from iGEA and Screen Australia to see how audience engagement in games measured up to other forms.

Here’s the result:

Edit: To clarify what the graph is supposed to show: the percentage of population who participated according to the Australia Council’s reports for Music, Literature, Theatre, and Dance, percentage of population who attended the cinema from Screen Australia’s stats, and the percentage of population who play computer games according to the iGEA’s report.

The need for rockstars – Part 3

Maybe rockstars aren’t even rockstars in Australia.

Bernard Zuel asks why Australia hasn’t produced one strutting god since Michael Hutchence.

The English do them regularly, the Americans do them comfortably but where are the Australian rock stars? The classic rock star, that semi-mythical figure born of bedroom fantasies, fed by music-magazine intensity and crowned in tabloid frenzy.

Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger, you say? Nup. Big-selling but self-effacing and deliberately ordinary. Chris Cheney from the Living End? Workmanlike is not exactly what women like. Shannon Noll? Two words: soul patch. John Butler? You can’t be a rock star sitting down. Jimmy Barnes? Too blokey, too matey, too old. Gareth Liddiard from the Drones? Too unknown, too inner-Melbourne.

From The Age.

Ten, Twenty, Thirty

This is one of two posts I wrote for Invest Victoria’s gaming blog, reposted here because I think it gives some context to both the ‘social misfits’ post and also to my ongoing question of games & culture.

The gaming community is obsessed with numbers.  According to the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, the average age of a gamer in Australia is 30 years old; 68 percent of all Australians play video and computer games; the average adult gamer has been playing for 11 years; and 80 percent of parents in game households play games with their children.

But what do those numbers actually mean?

Read moreTen, Twenty, Thirty