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.