Innovative, technology-based and packed with "jobs of the future", Australia's video game industry has the potential to drive our next big "clean" export. Global revenue for games is expected to reach $US98 billion in the next two years. In the last financial year, 81 per cent of Australia's game development industry income came from overseas markets.
So what is standing in the way?
Results of a new survey conducted by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association Game Developers' Association of Australia have highlighted the challenges faced - including attracting investment, funding, and skill shortages.
Of the $114.9 million earned in the 2015-16 financial year by the Australian games industry, $93,069,000 came from overseas markets - mostly the United States, Europe and Asia. The industry as a whole itself appears to be on the rise - 78 per cent of survey respondents are projecting growth in the next financial year.
There is a big focus on digital titles, with most revenue coming from iOS and Android platforms, followed by downloadable PC games. Revenues from virtual reality game development, is unsurprisingly - given the availability of headsets now - on the rise. Half of the survey respondents are exclusively developing their own IP, with 42 per cent both develop their own IP, as well as working with clients ranging from game publishers, to museums, government departments and book publishers.
The industry employed 842 people in the last financial year, with programmers (33 per cent), artists (24 per cent) and management, administration and marketing (20 per cent) taking the top three spots. Almost two-thirds of studios in the survey are planning to expand in the next financial year, hiring new staff in areas like production, programming, art, quality assurance, audio, writing, design, management, administration and marketing.
Want in? Get a degree, they survey results recommend - particularly if you want to be programmer.
"The game development industry requires staff who are intensely creative, but who also have a highly technical skill set, often at the cutting edge of commercial technology," says Tony Reed, CEO of the Game Developers' Association of Australia. "By supporting the industry and fostering this combination of skills, game development can contribute to the economy in a significant way."
Of the studios surveyed, 24 per cent were founded in 2012, and 14 per cent in 2014. After this date there was a "rapid decline" in industry growth. The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) says the establishment of the Interactive Games Fund under the then Labor government, and its subsequent axing in the 2014-15 financial year by the Liberal government, played a major role in this spike and subsequent decline.
Last year a Senate inquiry was held into the future of Australia's video game development industry, championed by Senator Scott Ludlam. The inquiry report was delivered in April 2016 with bipartisan support and many recommendations were put forward to support and further grow the sector. To date, the IGEA says, nothing has been enacted at a federal level.
So what does the industry need to capitalise on the opportunities available? Grants, funding support, and a government that "gets it".
According to the survey, the biggest single challenge facing individual business growth is attracting investment for expansion. Early stage development funding is also a big hurdle, along with skill shortages. Internet access and "limited government understanding" was also highlighted,
The independent survey was distributed online to the video game development industry through IGEA and GDAA's networks and social media marketing, a distribution list of over 225 ASIC-registered companies. Companies were included in the survey results if their annual turnover from video games production was $25,000 or greater in FY2015-16. Sixty-three companies that responded to the survey met this criteria.
The Australian video game development survey was funded via a grant from the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).