The Video Game Industry

March 15, 2021

One of the things that helped people get through the lockdowns was video games. This was a sector that was remarkably resilient throughout COVID, even as restrictions lifted. But I want to start by busting some myths about who plays video games. More than two-thirds of Australians play video games, including 62 per cent of all working-age adults. That's from the latest data from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. Seventy-eight per cent of players are 18 or older, and 50 per cent are women. Nearly 40 per cent of people are over 65, so get rid of the idea that this is just kids in their rooms avoiding doing their homework. One of the reasons people say they play games is because it contributes to their emotional wellbeing. Sixty-seven per cent say it helps maintain social connections, and, interestingly, around 42 per cent of people who are playing say it keeps their minds active. This is something I see played out in my electorate of Macquarie. I met Bruce recently in the Blue Mountains. He's in his 80s. He sees playing video games as a challenge. He's a former school principal. He gets that it keeps his mind engaged, active and sharp, especially as he has lost his wife and lives at home on his own. The other benefit that we know people have seen during COVID was revealed by Steven Conway, who is a senior lecturer in games and interactivity at Swinburne University of Technology. He says there's been an increase in people recognising that you can use games to improve your fitness and to be social. So let's be clear about the sector we're talking about: it appeals to a wide range of people.

As much as I'm interested in the individual benefits of video gaming, it's the economic benefits that I want to focus on. It has huge potential for growth in our market—not as players but as developers. The last three Liberal governments have missed a massive opportunity to support this industry, and it's left us with an extremely small share of the global market, which is worth around $250 billion. The IGEA says game developers in Australia are unnecessarily disadvantaged. Every other developed nation has a government incentive package for game developers except Australia. I saw this with my own eyes when I visited Estonia, Finland and England in 2019. Scandinavia has deliberately set policies that expand its gaming industry, and it has expanded in a few short years. In Estonia, between 2014 and 2018, the number of game development businesses in this tiny country grew from 15 to 83 companies, and they began hosting major international game development conferences like Game Dev Day. They do hackathons for video games. They built a community that supports novice developers, which is something that we haven't nailed in Australia.

In Finland I visited Angry Birds maker Rovio and talked about what had led their industry to take off. The last five years has seen the Finnish games industry almost breaking the two-billion-euro turnover barrier, with more than 290 games companies established—companies that really help each other out. And there's a public funding base, which allows risk-sharing and private investment in the games business. In the UK they use tax incentives to recharge the game sector. What's important to note, especially for my electorate on the outskirts of Sydney, is that more than half the jobs in the UK sector are outside London and the south-east. They're spread across the country. New Zealand has a package. Canada has a world-leading package. There are models around the world of what we could be doing, but we're doing almost nothing.

In 2013 Labor launched the $20 million Interactive Games Fund, but it was shut down by the Abbott government the following year. We took another policy to the last election with a similar commitment. Two committees of this parliament have recommended support for the sector, but they have largely been ignored. There's some support at some state levels—in South Australia, in Victoria and a little bit in Queensland. Who would benefit from the growth in this sector? It's not just the games creators but it's also the software solutions people, the designers, the publishers and the advertising businesses.

I had a local independent game developer in the Blue Mountains last year reach out to me, looking for support to get the marketing in place for a game he spent four years developing. The support and ecosystem is lacking. The universities can benefit from it with programs and modules directly related to the games industry. Of course, it flows over into cybersecurity and the film and animation sector. It creates jobs and it builds our exports. We are missing a huge opportunity. We need to see an absolute package of support for this sector from this government.