It was probably the last thing most parents would have wanted to hear, but teenage video-game fanatics can now justify extended fragging sessions as career preparation as Australia’s long-ignored video games industry benefits from surprise government largesse.

That surprise comes in the form of a 30 per cent Digital Games Tax Offset (DGTO) – announced as one of the new Budget’s Investment Incentives – that will, from 1 July next year, be available to Australian businesses spending at least $500,000 on “qualifying Australian games expenditure”.

The details of that support – which the government justifies by noting that many of the “transferable” skills required for games design “could apply to a range of other sectors” including defence, medical, education, construction digital twins and other areas – will be worked out this year in consultation with a games industry that has long been ignored by government.

Peak body the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) has been lobbying for such a tax break for many years, noting in a recent pre-budget submission that Australia’s gaming industry “are the only segment of the overarching Australian creative industry that receives zero funding or support from the Australian Government.”

Despite Australia being one of the world’s highest per-capita consumers of video games, according to PwC’s Australian Entertainment Media Outlook Report, the $3.175b video games and esports market has long been ignored by successive governments that have been loath to take it seriously.

“In fact,” IGEA argued, “Australia is one of the only advanced economies in the world with no federal funding for video game development…. The Australian video game development sector is many times smaller than the equivalent industries in Canada and the UK, and even lags behind New Zealand’s sector.”

That may have been the final straw for the Morrison government, whose Budget cash splash included a $1.2b Digital Economy Strategy that has funded an eclectic range of initiatives, industries, and tax breaks in a move that some have questioned as spreading the funding too thin.

Local games developers are ecstatic with their share, with IGEA saying in a statement that the DGTO “is not only Australia’s first ever federal tax incentive for video game development, but it is one of the most significant to be implemented anywhere in the world.”

“This is a welcomed day for Australian-made video games,” IGEA CEO Ron Curry said as he congratulated the government “for recognising not only that video games have an important place alongside TV and film in Australian screen production and storytelling, but also their unparalleled potential for supercharging Australia’s exports, attracting vast inward investment, and upskilling a whole new generation of Australian digital workers.”

Building the gaming pipeline

The government’s tax rebates will be a shot in the arm for universities already offering games-related courses – including RMIT, Torrens University Australia, UTS, and myriad others – who may end up serving a games development industry that is even hungrier for the talent they produce.

Opportunities in the burgeoning sector are significant enough that, hot on the heels of the DGTO announcement, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) confirmed that it has received formal accreditation as a higher-education institution from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

Accreditation by TEQSA – which describes its purpose as “to protect student interests and the reputation of Australia’s higher education sector through a proportionate, risk-reflective approach to quality assurance” – will escalate the agency’s new Bachelor of Game Development (BGD) course from being a specialised private-sector course into a fully-recognised university program.

That was being heralded as a big win by AIE, which is investing $200m to redevelop its campus at the Canberra Technology Park and the TEQSA certification will, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said, “underpin this redevelopment and increase the level of offerings available to students.”

AIE’s new BGD course will provide yet another pathway for game-loving school students who suddenly find themselves with a new way to turn that enthusiasm into a career.

“We assembled a team of academic discipline experts and industry professionals to ensure we wrote the best course possible,” AIE Institute academic director Professor Manolya Kavakli said, “and everyone is really pleased with the result.”

The course, she added, “is very engaging and will create opportunities for our students to become leaders of future industry development.”

Students can register their interest to learn more about the course – which will offer specialisations in game programming, game design, and game art – and will welcome its first students in February 2023.