Video Game Development in South Australia Supported by 10% Rebate - Interview with David Ridgway

Video Game Development in South Australia Supported by 10% Rebate - Interview with David Ridgway
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Video game development in South Australia has just received a major boost in financial support by the state government announcing the Post-Production, Digital and Visual Effects Rebate. In order to learn more, we got on the phone and interviewed the South Australian Minister of Investment and Trade to ask a few questions.

If you’re not up for reading, you can always listen to the interview by clicking on the embedded YouTube video below.

Alex: Hello everyone, this is Alex from Switchaboo and I am joined here by South Australian Minister of Investment and Trade David Ridgway. So I hear that good things are happening in the video game industry in South Australia.

David: Yes well with the new 10% rebate being extended to video games, we think that’s a game changer – pardon the pun – and the fact that we have all of these skills and the Unity and Unreal engines that are so readily available to game developers, these platforms are also used within so many other industries such as VR work, 3D visualisation, architecture, defence, engineering, you name it. It’s just a really good industry to support which provides us with a great pipeline of skilled young people to also look at other industries that they can get involved with as well.

A: Absolutely. So to start off, In 2018, as a result of the Post-Production, Digital and Visual Effects Rebate, the South Australian state government invested $2 million in video game development and in 2019, another $300,000. According to recent news, it’s also been announced that developers can now apply for a 10% rebate on production costs. Can you please provide a more in-depth overview of this rebate in your words and the history of South Australia’s involvement in supporting video game development?

D: Of course. The previous government showed their support with the initial $2 million and then another $300,000 was put in when we came into government. But the PDV Rebate is a 10% rebate on the qualifying production expenditure in South Australia. Therefore, it’s aimed at growing the industry and this will be available through some guidelines being drawn up by the South Australian Film Corporation who administered the same scheme for films. So rather than having a whole new department, we thought we’d leave it with the Film Corporation. These guidelines should hopefully be available within the next couple weeks.

A: So 10%, that’s quite a substantial number considering how much video games cost to develop.

D: Exactly and given we’re the first state in Australia to do it and considering that it’s a very competitive space, we’re not at liberty to provide exact figures. However, we think that SA is a really great space and a great destination to live and work. We’ve also come through COVID times really well and with this additional 10% rebate for video game development in the state makes for a compelling argument for game development companies to expand to Adelaide.

A: What will be taken into consideration when developers apply for the rebate and how can they best maximise their chances of success?

D: Well this rebate starts today (July 1st) but the full extent of the details are still being worked on by the South Australian Film Corporation. Unfortunately, I can’t provide details on what developers need to do in order to qualify for it but it will be very similar to the video, but those guidelines haven’t been released just yet.

A: Is the rebate specific and exclusive to video game developers or all kinds of digital content creators (e.g. film, music, etc)?

D: Just video games at this stage. We’ve spoken to studios like Mighty Kingdom, ODD Games and Foxie Games in South Australia and asked “what do you want to help grow the industry?”. They’ve all said that they want the PDV rebate on video games and we’re delivering on what they wanted.

A: That’s fantastic that you actually reached out to the developers themselves. We had a chance to interview the lead developer behind Conan Chop Chop, so have you taken interest in any projects in particular?

D: Well not really because it’s more of a nine key sector approach were the creative industry is one of them and video games being a subsection of that. I haven’t looked at any individual projects in particular. I met the boys from ODD Games years ago at a cocktail party that had nothing to do with video games and with Ben Marsh worked out that it was a pretty cool thing and they’ve gone off, done their own things, taken a few risks and developed their own business. This isn’t about individual projects but about supporting growth in the sector; where about growing the industry and creating jobs.
The other great thing is that the skills are transferrable and nearly every one of our other sector will use skills that you learn whilst creating video games. Even 3D animation that can be used in real estate on a website to buy a house that hasn’t been built, all of that stuff is skills that you learn during video game development.

Conan Chop Chop

A: Are you at all surprised that video games have taken off the way that they have?

D: Not really. You’d know that video games are globally bigger than music and film combined; it’s a massive industry and I’m not surprised at all. During these times where people are having to stay at home, video games have done gangbusters in the past few months. Also, it’s one of the few industries where you can create new content at home; to create a new movie, you have to go on set, get people together and not allowing the spread of COVID-19 makes that difficult. Video game developers like Mighty Kingdom have been working from home and yet they’re still creating content. It’s one of the few COVID-resistant sectors.

A: Absolutely right and I’ve seen that from indie developers worldwide that have been working from home and sure, they’ve seen little delays as COVID was obviously unprecedented and unexpected.

D: … And I expect the connectivity in peoples’ homes result in their bandwidth not being as good as when they are at work, making it slower to communicate and transfer files. That certainly gives a bit more pressure on Telstra and other telco companies to make sure that connectivity is better in peoples’ homes as well.

A: Yeah, we need some kind of push there.

D: Yep.

A: South Australia seems particularly forward with developing this industry. Has the state looked to procure partnerships with other states in order to strengthen its approach?

D: Not really, we’re happy just to go it alone. We want to position South Australia as a real hub for creative industries, especially in game development in South Australia. I mean, we all love South Australia, it’s an easy city to get to; it’s cheaper to buy a house; it’s cheaper to rent; everything is more competitive here. It’s one of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world. So our economic growth is based on getting more people working here. We’re a great agricultural state with our food and wine but when you have COVID, tourism is dead; have a drought, agriculture suffers. We really want to focus on industries that aren’t weather and COVID effected and video game development in South Australia has proven to be one of them.

A: With the increased attention toward video game development, how do you plan to support student education?

D: Once you start getting a demand in the community for jobs, then the universities will actually tailor their degrees around that. When the former government got Technicolor to come in under the banner of Mill Films, the Universities then saw that as we have an employer in town, we will put courses on so that there is a pipeline of graduates. So once we start getting businesses to come here, it’ll then provide a pipeline for not only local South Australians, but also some of our international students who come here to study. We really want to see the South Australian economy come back stronger than before; we were doing well before COVID, everybody has, but we’re looking for opportunities to get a jump on the rest of the market.
To me, it’s logical, and those graduates will have the skills to go into the other sectors such as engineering and mining. There’s a lot of capabilities where we can use digital constructs to see whether a mine is going to work or whether it’ll cause a landslide and kill the operators. They can test all of this out in the Unity and Unreal engines; it doesn’t matter how smart you are, sometimes there can be an unforeseen problem in the design and these digital tools can save tax payers hundred of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Brief Battles

A: On a more personal note, what is your opinion about video games and how they can tell a story?

D: It’s a modern world. I grew up as a kid on the farm and I didn’t even have a TV. I went outside and did stuff around there but I was watching my son who still lives at home, he’s 21 and I think he was play COD or something like that – a shooting type thing – talking to his mates and my son-in-law in London. He’s probably not going to do much physical activity, but the level of skill is fairly demanding from a concentration point of view. I’m not a negative person about it at all, he’s an adult and sure, I think there’s a risk if you’re playing little kids play these types of games, but I think it’s good. We have these professional gaming teams now; even football teams have gaming teams; what was the prize money where someone won the world championship in gaming?

A: It was a teenager winning a Fortnite tournament.

D: Yeah, it was like he had just won Wimbledon. It’s just the modern way and my view on anything, you just need to embrace it.

A: E-sports have become incredibly popular, especially internationally where they sell out stadiums, and there’s always going to be that push. In America, ESPN have been showcasing e-sports competitions and there has been a pushback from those who don’t seem to understand it as much.

D: Well even when you’re watching it on the news racing at Bathurst and it looks like it’s real until the car crashes and does six summersaults in the air, you then realise that it’s probably not real. I was watching Jofra Archer, a bowler from England, playing cricket online but he was just operating the controls; it was a television program of Fox Sports e-sports in cricket. So I think that it’s the new world and we should embrace it.

A: Have any hardware manufacturers (e.g. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, PC companies, etc.) shown interest in supporting government initiatives to make content development a more inviting prospect in South Australia?

D: It’s early days and they would probably reach out to the department. I have regular catchups with the department so I can jot down some notes to talk to them. Sony already has an office here in Adelaide for their PlayStation technical support. They have three software engineers: one in Germany, one in US and another in Australia, meaning that there’s always someone awake. We managed to get them working here last year and therefore they’d certainly know about it. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.

A: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but do you know of the game Hollow Knight?

D: No, I’m not.

A: Hollow Knight was developed by a South Australian developer called Team Cherry.

D: Oh, I know about Team Cherry, I just didn’t know what they developed.

Hollow Knight Silksong

A: Yeah, so it was just two guys and they made a game that is internationally recognised by fans and even Nintendo themselves. Has the South Australian government shown interest in working closely with experienced SA developers in order to gain an insider perspective on the development process?

D: Absolutely. Team Cherry are one of the groups that we’ve consulted with, as well as others like Foxie Games, Mighty Kingdom, Monkey Stack, Fractal Alligator, the list goes on. We’ve gone directly to these developers and consulted on what they need to make it grow bigger and they all said rebates on development costs.
I reckon the UK put one in a few years ago and that industry has grown to tens of millions of pounds, if not 300-400 million pounds. So we don’t know whether the other states will follow but we see video game development in South Australia as a great opportunity, as well as the great lifestyle that SA has.
Melbourne and Sydney are certainly bigger international cities, but they come with their own problems of congestion, expensive living and now in this more virtual world after COVID, you can still be well connected with everything happening here, with more small boutique cities coming into their own. A lot of people don’t want to live in big congested cities and will find Adelaide to meet their needs without that issue.

A: Out of curiosity, do you have a favourite game?

D: No, I’m pretty hopeless at playing games. When my kids were first born, I used to play Mario Kart but I certainly left that to my children. However, I found it interesting that when you go political door knocking, quite often it was middle-aged men who were in the middle of a game and didn’t want to be disturbed. One of my cabinet colleagues, her husband is a fanatical gamer and certainly a lot more older people are starting to enjoy playing video games.
This then leads onto another opportunity where those in retirement villages can also play games in order to keep their minds active and their hand-eye coordination sharp. I think that’s another way to keep the minds of older people active.

A: They certainly tried that with Wii Sports back in the day.

D: You’re right. Clearly the big growth is in the younger generation, but there are certainly opportunities there as well.

A: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention?

D: Well, certainly once we have the guidelines fleshed out, I’d love to have another chat in order to provide more detail.

A: Lastly, where can people go if they’d like to learn more about this initiative?

D: We’re doing a lot on social media, but the SA Film Corporation should have a lot of information about all of this.

A: Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today, David.

D: Thank you, Alex.

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