Victorian games developers have been dealt a huge blow with the removal of funding to Film Victoria's games investment program.

In the 2012-13 budget handed down on Tuesday, the Victorian Government did not renew funding to continue digital media programs that have supported local games development for the past decade.

This is despite the government recently describing games development as a "growing local industry with high commercial potential".

Minister for Innovation Louise Asher said in March that “games and interactive content are the fastest growing areas of the screen industry" and that the government was "taking a leading role in driving and supporting Victoria’s growing digital media sector".

"By investing in commercially appealing projects we are assisting games developers to create content that attracts overseas interest, generates further investment, reaches a substantial target audience and ultimately succeeds in the global market," Minister Asher said.

“Investing in our local games projects helps game developers sustain and grow their businesses as well as bringing significant economic benefits to our state.”

Games previously funded by Film Victoria's Games Investment program have included MacGuffin's Curse, Bullistic Unleashed, Gamebook Adventures, Jolly Rover, Kart World, Puzzle Quest, Fractured Soul and Scarygirl.

The most recent games funded by Film Victoria were FanStand from iDeal League, an online football player trading game, and Sprint Cars 2012 from Big Ant Studios.

Film Victoria would not comment yesterday about the budget cut, but has previously claimed that it has fostered diverse output from local studios, supporting the industry to deliver products with entertainment, education and cultural value.

The Games Developers' Association of Australia has also long touted Film Victoria's support of the local games industry.

"Without question, Film Victoria has been a strong advocate for the creation and delivery of original content, offering programs that have allowed Victorian studios to develop games for a global audience which ultimately generate jobs for the local industry," said GDAA CEO Tony Mr Reed.

"The Film Victoria Digital Media Fund has enabled some of Victoria's most creative minds to develop truly unique concepts and directly encouraged the investment of millions of dollars into the Victorian game development industry."

Budget papers released this week suggest the cuts to Film Victoria funding will cost jobs and economic activity in the state.

The value of film, television and digital media production supported by Film Victoria in 2011-12 is estimated in the budget at $80 million and said to provide employment to 2400 people.

The value of film, television and digital media production supported by Film Victoria in 2012-13 following the "non renewal of lapsing programs" is $57 million and provide employment to 1800 people.

Victoria has long been the most vibrant hub of games development in Australia and GDAA research suggests the state still accounts for over half of the Australian games development community.

The local industry began way back in 1982 with Beam Software (Melbourne House) creating pioneering games like Way of the Exploding Fist.

While recent media coverage on the state of the Australian games industry has concentrated on high-profile studio closures like THQ's Blue Tongue and Krome Melbourne House, estimates suggest there are now more than 100 small independent studios in Victoria.

Recent major success stories include Firemint (Real Racing, Flight Control) and Iron Monkey Studios (Dead Space iOS, Mirror's Edge iOS) which were both acquired by gaming giant Electronic Arts last year.

Firemint and Iron Monkey both received Film Victoria support when they were fledgling businesses and their games have now reached over 30 million people worldwide.

Update: The Game Developers' Association of Australia said today that Film Victoria has a legislative obligation to support the games sector. It believes Film Victoria cannot cut the games program completely even though the Victorian Government has provided no money to fund its ongoing operation.

“It is my view, one that I have communicated to the CEO of FIlm Victoria, that should Film Victoria fail to secure additional funding from government (they will keep trying), there is an expectation that they will allocate a portion of the funds provided for film and television toward the games program,” says GDAA CEO Tony Reed.

“It is also the expectation of the GDAA that the funding does not drop below the current level, and certainly not to a level that we would consider tokenism.

“I have been reassured by Film Vic that they intend to support the games program going forward and will, in the next couple of months, be working on their own internal budgets, allocating the monies provided by Treasury. I have been led to believe that the GDAA will be a part of those discussions.”

Film Victoria's Digital Media Manager Brad Giblin has been told his contract will not be renewed according to a Screen Play source.  

 

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