In particular, this quote in the original piece from an unnamed executive has rattled around my head:
“Strong story-telling elements are found in AAA titles – like the recent LA Noire by Team Bondi – (but) the budgets for these projects are beyond what most independent games developers can expect to secure,” the source says.
“It’s no accident that Australia’s recent success has been on the iPhone platform – Flight Control and Fruit Ninja are examples, and there’s been a shift towards developing games for social media networks like Facebook.”
I’ve come across this thinking a lot and have started to wonder: are these our only measures of success – LA Noire or Flight Control? AAA or iPhone? I think we do ourselves a serious disservice when we put barriers up about what we can create before we even create it or when we fail to consider the other options that might work from a mechanical and storytelling perspective – options that might not have examples in Australia but which certainly exist as part of the wider worldwide gaming community. Just off the top of my head, what about Stacking or Sword and Sworcery or World of Goo (stretching it a little, but it certainly has a story) or Machinarium or Costume Quest or Limbo?
Not AAA, and not Flight Control either, but interesting and successful titles with a narrative bent. Would Screen Australia fund these? I don’t know, but they certainly won’t if nobody applies. To damn a project or an idea before it has even been born because it doesn’t fit into the thin measure of success of being either a mechanically driven iPhone game or a multimillion dollar title seems to me to be economic & creative folly.
And anyway, someone has already done Flight Control, Fruit Ninja, and LA Noire. Maybe there’s room for something that’s different.
Over on the Age’s Screenplay blog, there are some comments from me about Screen Australia‘s new All Media Fund in a piece about how “Australian game developers may not be able to access critical government funding because of requirements for their games to have significant storytelling elements and cultural significance.”
I think the piece focuses a little too much on what are seen to be restrictions of the fund rather than on its possible opportunities for game developers as well as what it’s actually designed to support. I’d urge everyone interested to read the full guidelines which pretty explicitly outline what they’re looking for and to take a look at decisions from the old innovation program to see the types of project Screen Australia have traditionally funded – some of which are games, and many of which I’d expect would still be eligible under the new guidelines.
As my comments in the piece were mostly about the cultural question, I’ve put my full answers below to hopefully expand some aspects of the broader discussion. And in the interests of full disclosure: I’ve done assessments for Screen Australia in the past & have also worked on projects which have received funding through the old innovation program.
In writing and thinking about these posts on games and their place in the Australian cultural landscape, I found myself digging into the notion of what makes uniquely Australian content, and more specifically what might make a uniquely ‘Australian Game’.
There have been attempts at games that focus on Australian elements, most notably Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Escape from Woomera, or some levels in Flight Control, but in the main the bulk of the work done here in industry and independent development contains none of that, making us easy fodder for those who maintain the argument that games have no cultural relevance – an argument that, at least in my research, never seems to meet with much resistance beyond ‘more people play games than ever before’ or ‘other mediums are supported so we should be too’.
I think there is an answer, but it requires a reframing of the entire question of what might make an Australian game.
Ken Levine from Irrational Games, and creator of Bioshock and the upcoming Bioshock Infinite was recently interviewed by Develop magazine and in it he talks about his life in games, and some of the key differences in film. It culminates with him being offered a chance to work on a hollywood film – an offer he flatly refused.
As part of presenting on games & culture at GCAP next week, I dug into some of the recent research on audience engagement from the Australia Council and mixed in the latest stats from iGEA and Screen Australia to see how audience engagement in games measured up to other forms.
Here’s the result:
Edit: To clarify what the graph is supposed to show: the percentage of population who participated according to the Australia Council’s reports for Music, Literature, Theatre, and Dance, percentage of population who attended the cinema from Screen Australia’s stats, and the percentage of population who play computer games according to the iGEA’s report.
An overview of games as an industry and medium, their relationship to film, and their relative strengths and weaknesses.