Developers slam lack of support for local games

Australian game developers seek rebates to help them compete

Games developers have slammed the Federal government for ignoring the revenue they create while offering 40 per cent rebates to other entertainment producers such as the Australian film and TV industry.

Game Developers Association of Australia (GDAA) president and chief executive of Melbourne-based game developer Tantalus Interactive, Tom Crago, said game development was being ignored by the government despite the industry's huge popularity and export potential in a $40 billion global market.

"In the last Federal budget, a new scheme for the film and television industries was announced - a very generous scheme," Crago said. "Yet game developing has been totally excluded from that system."

He said that Australians of all ages spent more time and money on video games than they did on film and television. One recent game release, Halo 3, was one of the biggest-earning entertainment products in history, netting US$170 million in the US on the first day of its launch.

According to Crago, that's more than any movie has ever done.

"The government is living in the stone age in terms of how people are spending their leisure time and dollars," he said. "It's unfathomable."

Australian game development, which sustains 8500 jobs, including 2000 developer roles, was highly respected at home and abroad. The industry also offered huge promise for future exports, he said.

"So it is hard to understand why the industry was ignored when it came to getting government support," Crago said.

Game developers didn't want a free ride, he said. All they wanted was equitable treatment and support with other entertainment producers.

The GDAA was petitioning the Federal government for a 40 per cent rebate for the games industry. With that kind of support, the industry could double or even triple in size by 2010, Crago suggested.

"A rebate 'carrot' could entice [game] publishers to our shores," Crago said.

Games developer IRGurus chief executive, Mike Fegan - who is also a GDAA member - agreed with Crago.

"Since 1996, we have released 27 titles and diverse variations of them. We might bring them out on three different platforms," Fegan said.

Software development in general was promoting a 'smart Australia'. Unlike some older industries, such as agriculture, it didn't suffer the logistics problems that could make exports less competitive, Fegan said.

And Australia's main game development rivals - including Canada and China - were getting direct government support. If Australia was to capitalise on its good start and reach anywhere near its global market potential, it needed similar support, he said.

"And it's only a matter of time before India gets into [game development], given how quickly that country is developing," Fegan said.

Federal Minister for the Department of ICT, Communications and the Arts (DCITA), Helen Coonan, did not respond to requests for comment.

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