Across Australia, state and federal agencies are further recognizing the economic and cultural benefits of investing in local games studios, with Screen Australia announcing the reopening of applications for the $3 Million Gaming Fund: Expansion Pack in September 2022. As part of this increased involvement with the domestic industry, Screen Australia also previously announced that Amelia Laughlan would join the agency as Head of Games Investments in May 2022.
Amelia has been part of the local and international games industry for over five years, having worked as a game producer with studios like Tin Man Games and Snowman, as well as Nintendo Australia as an Account Business Specialist. But what exactly does a Games Investment Manager do? We spoke with Amelia Laughlan about her role, as well as the support available to local studios looking to get their projects off the ground.
[Portions of this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity]
Games Hub: What is Screen Australia’s role in supporting the games industry?
Amelia Laughlan, Games Investment Manager, Screen Australia: Screen Australia is our national screen agency, and its mission is to support the entire Australian screen industry. But on top of that, we have state screen agencies in every state, and those support games to varying degrees. So there was some game support for a while for people in certain states. But for others, it was more intermittent.
For Screen Australia, there hasn’t been much since 2013-14 when we had our previous corporate funding for games, so we’ve funded games in the past. But I’m the first gaming hire since 2013-14, outside of the consultants we’ve had to help set up this current round of gaming funding.
As for Games: Expansion Pack, we first rolled it out in March, with the first round ending about six to eight weeks later, and now we’re excited to reopen it.
Could you tell me a bit about your role as Head of Games Investments and what that entails?
The [Games Investment Manager] role is very serious from the outside. When I first saw the work, I [thought] it seemed very financial. But Investment Manager is the role used in Screen Australia for people who manage funds, basically. My colleagues who work on the financing of web series also carry this same title. So that means my primary responsibility is overseeing the Games: Funds for expansion packs.
Apart from this, the role of the investment manager is also to support funded projects in various ways. So it’s usually by maintaining a relationship with funded projects and helping them, but it can also be by doing initiatives that are targeted at things that are happening in the screen business.
The Games Fund has only been open for a limited time, and our focus is Games: Expansion Pack, which is now open to small and medium game studios with up to $250,000. But looking around the rest of Screen Australia, you can see a number of initiatives that other investment managers have launched to support the industry. So that also falls under the role of an investment manager.
What does a normal week look like in your role?
Recently I was in Cologne Germany for Gamescom, and that was really cool because it was great to see such an Australian presence there. We visited 36 studios. Our geographic isolation makes it really important for Australians to attend events like this.
Going back a bit further in a more typical week, a big part of my role is to support the fund. So there is obviously a lot of work to be done, in terms of reviewing applications and internal coordination to ensure that all processes are underway for applications to be considered. This is the main part of my role.
And then obviously once people are funded, we have a list of projects that we oversee, so the bread and butter of my role is to assess applications as they come in, and also to support the projects that have been funded.
On top of that, occasionally we do initiatives outside of that or travel. This is the other important part of my role, especially for the role of Chief Investment Officer for the Games. Something we want to do is spread the word that we’re back in games – we had our previous round with $4 million in funding. We have been able to support 30 titles, and we really want people to know that the fund is open and that they can apply.
Because obviously, in some States, there is no more support available since the period 2013-2014. We [want] to reach these people and let them know that we would like to receive applications.
It’s exciting to see applications reopen for the Games: Expansion Pack fund – what has been the industry’s response to the first round of funding that Screen Australia launched in early 2022?
I would say that was extremely positive. Obviously, we also had the announcement of digital game tax compensation quite recently, targeting studios that are bigger. The Games: Expansion Pack fund has been very well received as an addition to and to support our very important and thriving indie sector in Australia.
There are so many different and interesting success stories coming out of the Australian indie scene. We’re so happy to be able to help more developers make their businesses more sustainable with this fund, and I think that message really got through.
Honestly, a lot of developers were a bit taken aback, like ‘oh, is this for us?’ We’ve found that game developers are really appreciative, friendly, and open-minded to work with. I mean I just [within the industry], my roles before that were as a game producer, so I was already kind of aware of that. But sure, internally, we’ve all really enjoyed working with the gaming community, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what people submit.
It’s just such an exciting time to re-open the fund because we’ve had such a huge diversity of games in terms of last round. People kept asking me, ‘So what kind of games did you fund with the first round?’ And honestly, I couldn’t tell you. We had action, adventure, puzzle, arcade, building, role-playing and rhythm games… it’s great to see the variety of things people do.
Out of the wide variety of things you do day to day, what do you think is the best thing about your job?
Honestly, I just met everyone who makes these games. This is what is quite special in the simple fact of being able to travel. A lot of business is still done online. Sometimes we will have online meetings and then I will travel to another state and can meet one of our funded teams in person. And it’s so nice to be able to meet them and be directly exposed to this passion and this vision of their project.
I think that’s because that’s what we’re really here for – the fund is there to support these people. Meeting them and learning more about their vision and what they want to do, I think is really special. Also, when we call people to let them know they got funding, that’s a really good day. It’s like telling someone it’s Christmas.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what we get now that the fund is open again and meeting other developers who are out there and want to tell us all about their wonderful projects.
The latest round of Screen Australia’s Games Fund: Expansion Pack is now open for applications until May 4, 2023, or until funds are exhausted. With $4 million already awarded to 31 Australian titles through the first round, there are high hopes for the success and longevity of the funding program.
You can now apply for Games: Expansion Pack Fund at Screen Australia website.