Australian game industry groups descended on Luna Park today for the start of the 2011 Gametech conference, a two-day meeting of minds looking at the future of the gaming industry in both Australia and overseas.
The conference will host panel discussions and presentations from game developers, publishers, media, content companies, retailers, industry associations, and government agencies, who will meet to discuss topics such as classification reform, expanding the gaming audience in Australia and overseas, the state of the Australian game development industry, imperatives for growth in the local market, Australian game pricing, and local retailing trends.
Who was there: The conference was opened by Federal Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor, who took the opportunity to highlight the nature of video game classification in Australia.
What they talked about: O'Connor began by acknowledging the timeliness of Gametech, saying it comes amidst a period of rapid technological change that will drive creative development. He reiterated that the federal government represents only one of nine players in determining the nature of Australia's video game content classification scheme, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the classification system in Australia adapts to technological change. He then outlined the number of steps the federal government has taken in this direction, including the national classification review that is currently being conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC).
"The federal government understands we have a responsibility to deliver reforms that minimise the regulatory burden on the industry. The current classification system is based on an old paradigm. Back in 1996, nobody would have imagined that people would one day be playing Angry Birds on mobile devices while sitting on a train connected to a Wi-Fi network. Fifteen years on, the federal government wants a vibrant game development industry in Australia. Our market has grown and can boast over 50 companies with over 200 popular gaming titles to its credit. The games industry in Australia is now worth over A$1.3 billion annually, with an annual growth of 15 percent."
According to O'Connor, the ALRC review will look at whether the current National Classification Scheme continues to provide an effective framework, as well as examine the regulatory practices in Australia and compare them with overseas classification systems. The aim is to produce clear, simple, and consistent rules that can adapt to any media content and distribution platform in Australia. O'Connor reiterated that the ALRC review paper is currently open to public submissions, closing July 15.
O'Connor then highlighted the federal government's stance on the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia, saying that it is a good case study for the current difficulties present in the wider classification system in the country.
"It's been on the agenda since 2002 and it's fair to say that it’s time for a decision. On a fundamental level, [R18+ for games] is required to give the Australian classification system parity with other countries. Australians needs a robust classification system that protects children from harmful material while ensuring adults are free to make their own decisions."
O'Connor then went on to say that the government has received a good amount of feedback on the proposed R18+ guidelines, which were released to the public earlier this year. A necessary component of the proposed reform, these guidelines will inform O'Connor as well as the states and territories when making a final decision on the introduction of the adult classification during the upcoming Standing Committee of Attorneys-General meeting in Adelaide on July 21 and 22.
O'Connor closed by comparing the growing Australian games industry to the local film box office and DVD industries, saying the federal government wants to focus on fostering a strong, local game industry that pays particular attention to education, local game development, and keeping local talent in Australia.
Quote: "We think people deserve a classification system that respects the autonomy of the community and equally protects minors."
Takeaway: O'Connor's statements on the federal government's views on classification were welcome. It is heartening to see that the federal government also wants to focus on growing the local game industry and fostering new talent through education and stronger video game development programs.