Game over: the video game employment struggle

Game design graduates are struggling to find employment in the severely underfunded Australian video games industry, according to industry professionals.

Australians spent more than $3 billion on video games last year, but Australia’s contribution to the international video game market is less than 1 per cent of the global creative output in the industry.

Interactive Games and Entertainment Association chief executive Ron Curry said the problem was mostly due to a lack of government support.

“A senate enquiry came out with a suite of recommendations in 2016, including the Australian Interactive Games Fund, which the current government squashed,” Mr Curry said.

“Things like tax incentives also give a signal to private investment that this is an industry that needs to be taken seriously.”

Australians spent over $3 billion on video games last year

Mr Curry also cited generational differences as a reason the video game industry was not being taken seriously by the current Federal Government.

“There’s a cultural gap and an age gap between the people running government and the people who play games,” he said.

“We still have a moral panic about games, we seem to have gone backwards not forward.

“It’s all being conflated into this ‘games are bad’ attitude. If the Federal Government has this attitude it’s hard to move forward.”

Wargaming Sydney general manager Steve Wang said the inconsistency of video game success made it harder for the government to understand.

“Supercell, a billion-dollar company in Finland killed 14 games to make four successes,” he said.

“Angry Birds was the 52nd game made by a small studio that catapulted Rovio into a publicly listed company with $600 million in revenue.

“Those who have been hugely successful in the industry have consistent stories of failure before the breakthrough hit. Governments like to see steady growth and progress, and a clearer return on investment.”

Since 2010, more than five major Australian video game developers and distributors have closed their doors, with high costs in a competitive market mentioned as a major contributing factor.

The most notable of these closures was in 2015 with 2K Australia who worked on Bioshock, a game franchise which has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.

Torus Games manager Adam Abramovich said a lack of government funding in the industry meant Australian developers were not able to compete with international competitors.

“There are a few countries like Canada that are heavily subsidised by grants and other subsidies, and they’re able to undercut us,” Mr Abramovich said.

“We’re not any less a performer in artistry or programming, but when people are a third cheaper than us it’s hard to compete.”

Mr Abramovich said this was also a reason why new graduates were struggling to get a foot in the door in the industry.

“It is very hard to get junior, entry level roles, whether from programmers to artists or quality assurance, there are more people than there are jobs,” Mr Abramovich said.

“There is a demand, there are a lot of studios hiring, but in comparison to the students churned out of a lot of the institutions, the money isn’t there.”

However, there may be alternative pathways for design and programing graduates in Western Australia in similar industries.

Solutions IT is a Perth company that distributes ClassVR, a virtual reality technology used in the education and training industry.

Solutions IT chief executive Justin Cantrill said a content development background was useful in this industry thanks to virtual and augmented reality technology.

“Skills in content creation in an augmented world are useful, for instance first aid and CPR training,” Mr Cantrill said.

“Developers are needed to create that kind of content.”

While there are still no plans to stimulate growth in the video game industry at a federal level, the McGowan Government announced the WA games industry would benefit from the $16.7 million New Industries Fund that was launched in July.

Under the pilot project, the fund will explore ways to grow the WA games industry by trialling ways to accelerate new and emerging businesses in the sector.