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Podcast – Games Funding 101

Want to apply for games funding through Screen Australia? Listen to this first.

Lee Naimo, Amelia Laughlan

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

With a second round of Games: Expansion Pack funding now open, Screen Australia’s Head of Online Lee Naimo and Games Investment Manager Amelia Laughlan are hoping to see a range of applications come through the doors.

The first round of funding launched in March 2022, closed in April with 106 eligible applications, and resulted in more than $4 million being allocated to 30 games across a range of genres, platforms, audiences and styles.

Now the fund has reopened with a rolling deadline until early May 2023. Projects with a budget of under $500,000 can apply for up to $150,000, which has been positioned to complement the Digital Games Tax Offset (DGTO).

In the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast, Naimo and Laughlan explain what they are and aren’t looking for in applications, and what stage in your timeline you should come in for funding.

“There are multiple stages you could come into us,” Laughlan says. “The key thing is you have a plan to get it to public release.”

Naimo says similar to their assessment of film, television and web-series funding, all games applications should have a strong pathway to audience.

“That awareness of who the audience is, how they are going to access this game, how you are going to market that to them, how you are going to hook them in – the same principles that apply to web series funding or film and TV, just that real awareness of what you’re making and how you’re going to find and connect with that audience,” he says.

Both agree the application process compared to round one is largely the same, but Laughlan says there is a key change.

“We do now require a prototype as part of the application,” she says. “Previously we were willing to accept a video or a prototype but in our first round what we really found was the applications that served themselves best had a prototype… that doesn’t have to be something as polished as a vertical slice. It could be a demo, it could be a test of a key mechanic of your game, so don’t let that limit you in terms of what you’re showing us.”

Read the guidelines and apply for Games: Expansion Pack funding here.

Check out the media release for the launch of the second round of funding here.

For more information about the previous round of Games: Expansion Pack funding, click here.

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. I'd like to firstly acknowledge the countries on which we meet, the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This podcast has been produced on the lands of the Gadigal people who are of the larger Eora Nation, and it's where I've had the privilege to be able to work during my years at Screen Australia. Always was. Always will be. Now, for any regular listeners, this is a slightly earlier episode than usual, and it's because a second round of Games: Expansion Pack funding has just opened. To talk through this funding, we are joined today by two of my colleagues, Screen Australia's head of online, Lee Naimo and Games Investment Manager, Amelia Laughlan. Throughout the podcast, Lee and Amelia explain what they are and aren't looking for in game applications, how the funding will have a rolling deadline until early May 2023, why you need to ensure your project has a clear pathway to audience, what stage it can be at when you apply and much more. As always, remember, you can subscribe to the Screen Australia podcast through places like Spotify and iTunes. Feedback can be sent to [email protected] and subscribe to Screen Australia's Industry News for all the latest from the local industry. Now here's Screen Australia's Head of Online, Lee Naimo and Games Investment Manager Amelia Laughlan.

[00:01:34] Caris Bizzaca So first of all, can you tell me a bit about your roles in the industry and a bit about your background in the industry prior to your role as Screen Australia? Lee, you first.

[00:01:45] Lee Naimo Sure thing. Hey, so I'm currently the Head of Online at Screen Australia. I've been here at Screen Oz for about four and a bit years now and I've been the head of online for about a year. Before coming to Screen Australia, I had a year where I worked at Melbourne Zoo, but before that I was one of the three members of The Axis of Awesome. A musical comedy band slash band and we toured the world and had, you know, some online success and got various forms of funding through Screen Australia, through Fresh Blood and Skip Ahead, and then actually had a video game themed sketch comedy series called Insert Coin that got online production funding. So I'm a game fan at heart.

[00:02:23] Caris Bizzaca Great. And then Amelia?

[00:02:25] Amelia Laughlan Hello, I'm Amelia. I'm a Games Investment Manager at Screen Australia. Prior to joining the agency, I was a game developer, so I worked as a producer primarily, also did some marketing and narrative work. I've worked in really small, independent studios as well as some bigger triple-A studios. So all sorts of different industry experience that I'm keen to bring to Screen Australia.

[00:02:48] Caris Bizzaca So then a bit of background about the Games funding at Screen Australia. Lee, when did it launch and what are the things that you're funding?

[00:02:58] Lee Naimo So Games: Expansion Pack launched the first round in March in 2022 and we closed kind of in April, got a lot of funding out the door in that financial year and it's now re-opened for round two. So it's been quite a while since Screen Australia's been involved in games funding. This fund itself is positioned to complement the digital games tax offset or DGTO for those playing along at home. So projects with a budget of under $500,000 are eligible for expansion pack funding and you can apply for up to $150,000 for your game project.

[00:03:33] Caris Bizzaca So for film, television, documentary and online, we would fund development and production. How does it work with games, Amelia?

[00:03:44] Amelia Laughlan Yeah, so first up, I'm just going to make a distinction between the terminology because it's going to be important to this answer. So in the world of games, development actually refers to what film and TV folk might think of as production. So I'm actually making the thing - that's game development. In terms of what we fund. We're looking to fund games to take them to release. So this could be something that you've been working on for a while and you're looking for assistance to get to release. Or it could be something that you've prototyped and you've got it to a stage that you're ready to share it and keep working on it. So there's really a whole range of stages in your timeline that you could bring us a project. But the key thing is that you have a plan to get it to some sort of public release.

[00:04:25] Caris Bizzaca So you announced the first round of funding in July. Can you talk through some of the projects that you've funded - how they different, things like that?

[00:04:38] Lee Naimo Absolutely. So we announced that we had up to $3 million worth of funding for that first round. And we're fortunate enough to allocate over $4 million. So we you know, we're really impressed by the calibre of applications that we got in, the standard and the diversity and the range of different projects. So really lucky and really grateful that we were able to fund above and beyond what we announced. But yeah, we funded a range of projects from across the country. Everything from a game from a team down in Tassie called Secret Lab about Leonardo da Vinci, his vision to get to the moon, to a word game called Bonza Phrases from a team in regional New South Wales who actually got support through Screen Australia funding for games back in the early days 2013-2014. Do you want to jump in with any of your faves?

[00:05:19] Amelia Laughlan Yeah, sure. So it's an interesting question, if there's any sort of themes to what we funded and there really isn't, we have games across all sorts of different genres. We have story driven games in the form of a visual novel called Enchantress (Working Title) about a jeweller and her journey. We have a game about a robot who is tasked with finding accidents before they happen and helping people. We have all sorts of things.

[00:05:45] Caris Bizzaca Great. And so if you come from a non-games background, so let's say you're an online creator or you work in film and TV, are there differences in the approach to making a game versus, you know, web series, film, TV, anything like that?

[00:06:01] Lee Naimo Yeah, definitely. There's a lot of similarities and a lot of crossover, but certainly some big differences in the approach. And one of the things that really impressed me when looking at these applications for that first round was the way that games creators, games developers don't ask for permission, they just get started. And there's probably a lot of reasons for that. But they'll work on something and then kind of pitch it and put it out there or apply for funding or support and then keep working on it, rather than the approach in film or TV where you develop something and then really, you know, when you hit record and there's this huge influx of work and the workload really increases for a short period of time. Games, it's more steady. Do you want to use your cake analogy, Amelia?

[00:06:38] Amelia Laughlan Yeah. So I suppose the main difference is likely saying that film production or anything non-games tends to be a little bit more linear and that there are a lot of knowns by the point that you're going to shoot. With games, I like to call it an iterative process. So if you think about a layer cake, there's lots of different layers going into a games development. So for example, you might start with an early demo where the team have come together and they have built something that they think is a good proof of concept mechanically. So you can do things in this game, you can move around, but it probably doesn't look very good. They might take that and try to get some funding to develop that into something that does have nice graphics, but they can't make the whole game on that money. They might be able to make what's called a vertical slice, which is a sample of what the final game will look like, that's quite short. Then they might take that elsewhere to get more funding in order to make the whole game and so on and so forth. Obviously you can have expanded content for games that comes out afterwards. You can have some games that are a live service or games as a service model, which means that even after they release, people are still making content for them. And that's a very popular model for a lot of mobile games or games that are free to play or free to start. So there's really all sorts of different models, but I'd say the main thing is that games are iterative in their development, so there's lots of different pathways to take them to completion.

[00:08:02] Lee Naimo So you could have a hit game and keep working on, you know, downloadable content or expansion packs or supplementary content for that for years, really, and that kind of helps serve and feed that audience over a period of time.

[00:08:13] Caris Bizzaca And so when it comes to Screen Australia funding, does that mean that you're looking at games at a certain stage of that process?

[00:08:23] Amelia Laughlan Yeah, I'd say there are multiple stages you could come in to us. We really like to see a demo or a vertical slice that gives us an idea of what you're making. Obviously, all of the documents that you're providing with your application should give us a clear picture of what the project is and who your audience are. But we love to see a demo: that can be a proof of a central concept, that could be a mechanic, that could be an art test, something like that in your application. Or if you're already at a stage of having a vertical slice, that's an excellent way to show us what you're working on.

[00:08:52] Lee Naimo We love instructions on how to play that demo or Vertical Slice as well.

[00:08:55] Amelia Laughlan Yes and what platform it's for.

[00:08:59] Caris Bizzaca So when you say what platform it's for, like what is some examples?

[00:09:02] Amelia Laughlan Yeah. So it could be for PC, it could be for a console, it could be for mobile. One of our favourites to figure out is VR because while the game can be made for a VR headset, it could have been developed for computer plus a VR headset or for a tablet plus a VR headset. So what we really like to see is clear instructions on how to unpack what you've given us and put it somewhere because we want to have it in the best possible condition. And that will be, you know, whatever you were designing it for. So please do let us know.

[00:09:32] Lee Naimo And your game could be for multiple platforms. I guess something to keep in mind is the scope of what you're applying for. We acknowledge that 150 grand isn't a huge amount of money in the grand scheme of making a game. A lot of applications we saw in that first round were really ambitious and we want confidence that you've got the ability to take this game to release and to to finish what you start in some sense. So it's worth keeping in mind that reality check around, you know, the scope of how many platforms you want to release on with this funding.

[00:10:00] Caris Bizzaca And so just to confirm, how many games did you fund in that first round?

[00:10:05] Lee Naimo So we got 106 eligible applications and we ended up funding 30 of those from all across the country. And as we said, heaps of different genres, heaps different platforms, heaps of different audiences and kind of styles of game.

[00:10:17] Caris Bizzaca Great. And so the fund is open again for applications, but can you talk through the differences with this second round, if there are any?

[00:10:27] Amelia Laughlan Yeah, sure. So the application process is largely the same for this round, but there are a few differences that we've made to the way the guidelines are written. And one key change that we've made, which is that we do now require a prototype as part of the application. So previously we were willing to accept a video or a prototype, but in our first round, what we really found is that the applications that served themselves best, had a prototype, and I guess in order to sort of even the playing field and give everyone the same chance to show us what they're doing, we are looking for games that have some kind of prototype. But like I said, that doesn't have to be something as polished as a vertical slice. It could be a demo, it could be a test of a key mechanic of your game. So don't let that limit you in terms of what you're showing us.

[00:11:13] Lee Naimo And unlike the first round of funding, when there was a really short timeframe that it was open for. I think it was about six or seven weeks. Round two will be rolling between September and then we'll look to close that kind of early May 2023. So that gives you time to apply when you're ready, which gives you a bit more space to kind of come in and give us a compelling application.

[00:11:31] Caris Bizzaca And what are you looking for and, you know, on the reverse, what aren't you looking for in applications?

[00:11:38] Lee Naimo So in terms of what we're looking for, we want to fund projects and applications that really understand what their game is. As I said, you know, with a reasonable and applicable kind of scope and level of ambition from all across the country. We want to look at all different platforms and genres. But I think that awareness of who the audience is, how are they going to access this game? How are you going to market that to them? How are you going to hook them in? And, you know, the same kind of principles that apply to web series funding or film and TV, just that real awareness of what you're making and how you're going to find and connect with that audience.

[00:12:10] Amelia Laughlan Yeah. And I guess in terms of what sort of things Screen Australia wants to fund, obviously there's no limitations as to sort of genre or type of game setting. We don't really mind in terms of those specifics. What we do care about is what's the nature of the story you're trying to tell. So our remit as an agency is sort of to tell a diversity of Australian stories. So something that is good to think about when you're crafting your application is why do you want to tell this story and why now? Because that is a lens that we will use to look at your application through. So it's great if you're already thinking about that. So in terms of what we're not looking for, there are a few things that we just can't fund as a government agency. So these things would be pieces of content that would make it impossible for your game to get classified in Australia. So common things are gratuitous violence, extremely explicit sexual content. You can look at the classification website to see the nature of what these things would be, but those are the things that we are definitely not looking for.

[00:13:13] Caris Bizzaca And so in terms of the application, you need to include a marketing release plan. What exactly is a marketing release plan and why is it important, Amelia?

[00:13:26] Amelia Laughlan Yeah. So the marketing release plan is a document of at least three pages that tells us that you are aware who the audience is going to be for your game and how you intend to reach them. So this might be intimidating to you if you're a developer with not a lot of background. But what we're really looking for is to understand that you know what is at the heart of the game that you're making and why people will want to connect with that. And as the creator, no one knows that better than you. So what I would recommend is to think about this early and often, and then it will make it easier for you to understand what this would be. So to speak, a bit more concretely about what this means, we sort of like to see a high level of what your intentions are in terms of your marketing. So, you know, what are your goals in marketing? Where do you plan to release and why do you plan to release on those platforms? Other things could be, you know, identifying your audience in some more concrete terms and then in terms of the more granular things. There is no yes, no, right, wrong about what you include in a marketing release plan. But we do like to see some really concrete examples of more granular activities that you could do that would help for your specific game. And the reason that I don't want to say, you should have a really good PR plan or you should use Twitter or something like that is because the needs are actually going to be different depending on what your game is. We can't tell you the best way to market and release your game. You're actually the person that probably knows that best.

[00:14:51] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And because you're saying games are so broad as well, the audiences are going to be so broad and how you reach them is also going to be so different.

[00:14:58] Amelia Laughlan Definitely. And something that I would, I guess more specifically have people keep in mind is that social media is not for everyone in terms of age ranges. So, you know, if you are thinking of making a game for children, think carefully about how you plan to access that audience because obviously you can't use the same methods that you might use if you're making a word game with people in their forties looking to play.

[00:15:20] Lee Naimo Which is all people in their forties are looking to do, speaking as someone in their forties representative of that category. All I want to do is play word games. I would add to that as well because I think that's really helpful information, what I loved when going back through marketing release plans and that the ones that stood out to me were those that again would just realistic with their ambition, not trying to do everything and not taking a scattergun approach, maybe just hitting two, three, four things, four ways to attract that audience and just hitting them really well, giving a good amount of detail on how they're going to utilise Twitter to market their game, for example. And not trying to say, I'm going to use Twitter and TikTok and Twitch and Facebook and Instagram and-

[00:15:58] Caris Bizzaca Just listing everything rather than exactly how.

[00:16:01] Lee Naimo Yeah, give us a couple and give us them done well.

[00:16:04] Amelia Laughlan Definitely. I think what I like to say is a few marketing streams done well are better than a lot of them done poorly. I mean, that's true for most things in development as well. So think about marketing the same way. You don't want to do everything badly, you want to do a few things well.

[00:16:18] Lee Naimo I liken it to a cake (laughter) in terms of you only want to eat one or two cakes like really good cakes rather than seventy cakes that are pretty average cakes.

[00:16:27] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, fair. Are you just trying to work in as many cake analogies as possible?

[00:16:31] Lee Naimo Could you keep this in please? (Laughter) I'll be really upset if this doesn't make the cut.

[00:16:35] Caris Bizzaca Well, it's officially in now. So something else that you need to include as well with your application is a pitch video. What should a pitch video look like? What should it include?

[00:16:50] Lee Naimo  First and foremost, often the pitch video is the first thing we go to in your application. So be aware that you're filming this, you can have as many takes as you want. And what we want to finish watching that pitch video with is a really strong sense of what this game is and why you're excited about it. What's your passion for it in whatever form that looks like for you? But what what is it about this game that really makes you want to develop it? And that enthusiasm can be really infectious. So we want to feel that excitement for it when we finish watching that pitch video. I would say it's really worth playing that pitch video when you're finished to people who maybe that you work with or friends or family, maybe people who don't know anything about your project and get a sense of did that make sense? Do you understand what I'm pitching from this video? Because we really want to leave it, like I said, going, 'great, I know what it is. I know the context. Now I can start digging into the other parts of your application.'

[00:17:43] Amelia Laughlan And in terms of what we're looking for in a video pitch, just to be clear, it doesn't have to have particularly high production values. Some of the best pitch videos we received were simply people talking to camera with a bit of footage interspersed from their game. But what they did well was, yeah, really capture the magic of what made them want to make this project and why they think other people will love it. And yeah, that doesn't require any sort of advanced editing skills or anything like that. Although if you are a whizz, I'm sure we'd love to watch your very nice pitch video.

[00:18:11] Lee Naimo But that doesn't that doesn't make or break - slick editing versus something that's just one take on a phone. They could both equally be great compelling pitch videos.

[00:18:18] Caris Bizzaca It also is kind of, you know, how passionate the person is. Like how much are they connecting the idea with you depending on how they're pitching it in the video.

[00:18:27] Lee Naimo Because ideally we'd sit down and have a coffee and hear every pitch for every application, but we don't have the capacity to do that. So this is your chance to excite us.

[00:18:35] Caris Bizzaca And, you know, for any aspiring game developers out there or anyone that's interested in getting into games. Do you have any general advice?

[00:18:47] Amelia Laughlan Yeah, for sure. So if you're interested in getting into game development, I would want to know sort of why. So you should try to connect with that yourself. And the first way to do that, I would say, is to seek out games that really inspire you. So if you are interested in making games, there must be a reason. So I would encourage you to sort of follow that inspiration and find games that you think are amazing. It's like the same as writing, you know, good writers are great readers. So for games you should do the same thing. You should see what's out there, see what's competitive. There's plenty of amazing stuff being made all the time. A lot of great Australian stuff being made all the time. Even so, that's definitely the first thing I would recommend you do.

[00:19:27] Lee Naimo Absolutely, I think  as a step on from that, engage with the industry where you are. So a lot of the state agencies in Australia have some really great funding for games, really great support. I think we're only seeing that grow and have seen that grow in the last couple of years. So really get involved with your state agency, build those relationships and connect with the games community where you are. Because I've really seen the games community be supportive of each other and really, you know, help each other succeed. And I think that analogy around a rising tide lifts all cakes really applies here.

[00:19:57] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Yeah.

[00:19:58] Amelia Laughlan And I guess the other thing, depending on how new you are to games, there are a lot of fantastic free resources online about how to make a game. So there's a lot of great content on YouTube and there's a lot of great content, you know, there's courses that are available for free. There's a lot of stuff you can learn before engaging with people as well, because if you're going to engage with someone, they probably have a lot of valuable experience to share with you. So the way that you can maximise that is sort of knowing a few things before you get started, which can be as simple as spending two hours of your own time doing a bit of research, watching some videos. So I'd really encourage you to make use of the amazing resources that are out there.

[00:20:36] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And I think similar to what you're saying with like anyone that's like a writer, that they read a lot, but they also read a lot of things that are not just the things that they enjoy. They read stuff so they know what they don't want to do and what they do and kind of get inspiration from that. So it's exactly the same with games.

[00:20:53] Amelia Laughlan Yeah, definitely. Like we keep saying this so many different things out there and there's so many different things you could make. So what better place to start understanding that then to get out there and play that stuff and see what area of games it is that you're interested in diving into.

[00:21:07] Caris Bizzaca Any other final words, Lee? Any further cake analogies that you might have?

[00:21:13] Lee Naimo I'm just curious to see how much of that you leave in. The only other thing I would add is like we really want to be here to support Australian games developers. Please reach out to us if you have questions. You can get hold of us at [email protected] and one of the best parts of our job is talking to people about their projects and hearing what they're working on.

[00:21:32] Amelia Laughlan And if you are listening to this in September, we will be at Games Connect Asia Pacific, otherwise known as GCAP, which is happening in Melbourne from the third to fifth of October. So we will be there in person. You can meet us, chat to us about your games or any questions that you have. So yeah, we'd love to see you there.

[00:21:48] Caris Bizzaca Great well thank you so much for your time today and for talking to us all about games funding.

[00:21:53] Lee Naimo Thank you very much.

[00:21:53] Amelia Laughlan Thank you.

[00:21:57] Caris Bizzaca That was Screen Australia's Head of Online Lee Naimo and Games Investment Manager Amelia Laughlan. For more information about Games: Expansion Pack funding, you can find links to the guidelines and media release in the show notes. Don't forget to subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter to keep up to date with new initiatives, opportunities, videos, articles and more. Thanks for listening.