7.8 Billion Reasons

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association published the results of its local industry survey this week, concluding that video games industry in Australia employs 928 people full time, and contributes $118 million to the economy “in spite of limited recognition and support”.

AGD-2018-Infographic

Source: IGEA (2018)

The point of the survey is to communicate to Federal and State Governments exactly how little taxpayer support goes towards the industry in Australia, when compared with something like film and television, or fine arts, but – if I’m perfectly honest – I think this message falls flat.

For starters, it’s 2018 … I don’t know that FTE is really the right measure to gauge industry density. It’s still a market that has a lot of freelance, short term contract and even students contributing to that $118m. While I am almost certain that the idea of a stable, permanent job in the games industry is aspirational, the truth remains that it is fundamentally a project-driven environment. That means short-term contracts, lay-offs, scales up-and-down, and everything else that came out of the wash when the internet was up in arms about ‘crunch time.’

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but telling the good news stories is how you attract more good news. Overall employment numbers, or products shipped, or almost any other metric probably would tell a better story than total FTE, particularly when we’re talking less than 1,000.

Secondly, $118m is very, very low. We’re talking globally an $80 billion market. I always thought that Australia punched well above its weight, but this makes me think that there’s simply not enough clout there to peak the Government’s interest.

For comparison’s sake … let’s have a look at the numbers.

  • Americans spent US$21.53 billion on games and hardware in 2013. That’s one market, five years ago, and by the time you introduce Asia and Europe into the figures, you can start to see how we hit the magical $80 billion benchmark.
  • Esport is about a $700 million industry on its own, with the latest figures estimating over half of that revenue being generated out of China and North America. Australia generating the equivalent of a third of that revenue as the contribution from an entire industry means that it falls far behind its regional and philosophical allies. Far behind.

Newzoo_Esports_Revenue_Growth-1024x576

Source: Starkn (2018) 

  • If you want to look at employment numbers, the story is even more gloom-and-doom. Mining, for instance, which has considerably scaled back its employment post-boom, still employed 163,000 people by the end of 2015-16. While I’m sure there is a reasonable level of competence and skill required to get a job in the mining industry, in my experience, it seems like a far lower barrier-to-entry than a role in game development.

These stats should either fill you with hope that there’s room in the domestic market to grow, or sadness with such a woeful industry footprint. While I’m leaning towards the latter, I suspect that the industries that rely on the optimism of Australian gaming will take the glass-half-full approach. There’s no money to be had in the schools that teach game development if they’re skilling people up for a fledgling industry.

Look, the IGEA is right – it is an industry that needs support. If anything the comparison with global figures shows that it’s a huge market that Australia has failed to exploit with any great success. We are on the front doorstep of one two great esport success stories in Korea and China, and we are simply not milking that for what it’s worth.

I spoke with representatives from the Victorian Government last year, represented by Creative Victoria, just before Melbourne Games Week, to broach the issue around what it would take for Government to support esports. The short answer: it wouldn’t. ‘Esport was something that should fundamentally be industry-led’, they decided. I am sure I can insert a rant about the funding traditional sport gets here, but I’ll save that for another time.

The point is, is that we are missing out on opportunities, and while I have a philosophical objection to much of conservative politics, giving them a slap on the nose isn’t how you go about winning favours. Showing them where Australia can benefit in the face of a shrinking economy does win support. You’re dealing with a bunch of old white men in suits – for the love of God, show them more numbers – good numbers – and less art.

The remaining $7.8 billion dollars we’re missing out on as an industry is a bloody good start.

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