yARN: Can new PM Gillard boost Australia's games industry?

Australia has a new Prime Minister - with any luck, the change will accompany a fresh look at the R18+ rating.

The changing of the guard in Labor leadership is one that the IT industry can be broadly optimistic about.

The previous Labor Government has faced more than a few controversies over its IT policies. From a super tax that potentially would have cost local IT companies lucrative mining tenders, to the famous Internet filter, and the proposal to monitor Internet usage, Senator Stephen Conroy and former Prime Minister Rudd had faced numerous backlashes from the IT community.

Another controversy that has simmered in the last few years is the R18+ policy on video games. Previously blocked by Michael Atkinson, and then lost in action following his resignation, the movement to gain an R18+ rating for videogames is still lost in limbo.

This isn’t a simple case for giving the adult-inclined gamers a sense of parity of privileges movie buffs have long enjoyed; the lack of an adult classification has genuinely harmed the development of a major IT industry in Australia.

Losses from shipping costs, retail income, GST and marketing are all immediate and obvious costs of a lack of R18+ games cited by a small Sydney-based ISV.

But beyond that, allowing for adult games would recognise an industry that is no longer a fledgling. As the recent E3 convention so ably showed, the video game industry is now a multi-billion dollar one. Locally, Australia has produced some major talent houses, including iPhone bestseller, Firemint, to Team Bondi, a team expected to have a major console hit on its hands with the upcoming L.A Noire.

In a recent report I ran for ARN the software industry is one with a lot of export potential for Australian companies. For a nation so heavily dependent on IT imports, putting something back out there can only be healthy for the overall industry (and indeed the entire economy).

Without an R18+ rating though, the implication is that the video game industry isn’t as mature (or, arguably, as important) as the film industry, which could have ramifications when it comes to funding and grants. Offshore interest in Australian developers denied the opportunity to craft games for a substantial gaming demographic will also remain low.

With new Prime Minister Julia Gillard in charge, though, there’s a new potential for change. A new, less conservative attitude towards the local video gaming market might just unearth a gem every bit as valuable to Australia’s economy as the diamonds of WA.

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