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Insights from Industry Insiders: Ron Curry, CEO, IGEA (Interactive Games & Entertainment Association)

by Content Cafe — June 23, 2021

Welcome Ron, please introduce yourself.

I’m Ron Curry, the CEO of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, typically shortened to IGEA, which represents the video games industry in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, we also represent video game development studios – the people who make games here. With global revenues of almost $250 billion last year, we think we’re likely the largest creative industry in the world and one that’s still rapidly growing. Our industry’s growth even accelerated during COVID as people around the world played games to help them cope during lockdown and to maintain their social connections.  

 Video games are best described as complex packages of interconnected IP, from their visuals, sounds, and music, down to their source codes. Video games are linked to the broader creative eco-system in other ways too. Video game music is a very distinct niche of the music industry, while video game engines are increasingly used for film and TV production and post-production. I’ve also really enjoyed all the film the TV adaptations of video games that have been made recently, such as the recent Mortal Kombat film made right here in South Australia. The watching of video game play, such as through esports or video streams of gaming content on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, have millions of viewers in Australia. 

How does piracy touch the video games industry? 

Most people probably think of films, TV shows and music (alongside ships!) as the main targets for piracy. However, video games are still affected by copyright infringement and sometimes this happens in quite unique ways.  

“The Australian Government’s most recent consumer copyright infringement survey released in April reported a worrying rise in the percentage of Australians who accessed at least some online video game content unlawfully, from 20% in 2019 to 31% in 2020. This was equal first amongst online content types measured by the survey, alongside live sport, with games leapfrogging music and films 

Another challenge to our industry is the sale of physical devices, often designed to look like retro arcade machines or consoles, that are typically pre-loaded with pirated games – sometimes thousands of them. While these devices are typically sold online, we’ve recently even seen them sold in physical electronics chain stores, with those stores presumably unaware of the infringement going on. Given how much investment goes into making video games, with the development costs of some games matching or exceeding the biggest box-office films, we’re talking about a massive impact on some of our members from piracy across all its forms. 

What impact does video game piracy have on the community? 

Video game piracy doesn’t just affect creatives, including Australian game developers, but also the wider community. We all know that pirated online content often contains malware. However, the risk is even higher in pirated video games because they are already software, and therefore easier to hide malware. Further, one of the ways in which piracy in video games can occur is by disabling digital copyright protections. However, those protections often also guard players against other online threats such as cyber intrusions and identity theft, and removing them exposes players. Pirated games also typically aren’t able to be updated, which means that things like important security upgrades that are rolled out don’t reach them.  

Finally, people who buy unlawful video game content, such as pirated games, illegitimate devices, and digital game accounts, will find it harder to rely on consumer law protections when things go wrong. For example, I remember IGEA being contacted one day by someone who had unknowingly purchased an illegitimate video game arcade machine for thousands of dollars from an online storefront. They tried to return it as soon as they found out all of the games inside were illegal copies, but was ghosted by the seller. 

What is the biggest challenge in the fight against piracy? 

There are unfortunately still some persistent attitudes within parts of the Australian community that piracy is OK, which I think is why the work of organisations like Creative Content Australia remain so vital. Apart from that, I think the digital innovation of piracy is the biggest challenge to the creative eco-system, which in our sector our members have been facing head on with innovation of their own.  

For example, video games and gaming platforms invest in sophisticated Technological Protection Mechanisms (TPMs) to continually guard against video game piracy. This is one of the key reasons why many modern games require user accounts and continuous connection to the internet. When a game server detects that a player is using a pirated version of a game, they will typically prevent access, although one of our members has tried taking a more interesting approach within their sporting game by letting the game launch, but every match the player tries to start just happens to be ‘rained out’.  

Video game developers have also developed innovative new business models with their games that are at least party to help reduce piracy, such as free ad-support games, free games with optional in-game spending, and video game subscription services. However, the fact that there is still so much video game piracy going on means that even these advanced solutions are not always effective. 

How do you think Australia is measuring up in tackling piracy? 

We think the Australian Government does value creative content and takes piracy seriously, and we think Australia definitely has one of the more effective anti-piracy legal frameworks in the world. While we have generally been supportive of the strengthening of anti-piracy mechanisms, we have also encouraged governments to design and implement them to be as balanced and flexible as possible, as well as to minimise the regulatory impact on the digital sector.  

While strong anti-piracy laws are absolutely necessary, it is also important that government policy continues to encourage industry-led, innovative, and often collaborative approaches to piracy between rights-holders and digital platforms. Alongside influencing behaviour change, this will be key to long term efforts against piracy.  

We also all have a role of having ongoing dialogue with the Government to ensure that they are kept informed of where laws are helpful for content creators, as well as where they are not. For example, we think any future consideration of expanding the copyright exception for the circumvention of TPMs would have to be very carefully considered, given how effective they are as a tool for anti-piracy, as well as urge caution against certain ‘right to repair’ policies that we think may increase the toolkit available to the people who try to disable TPMs on consoles and steal source codes.   

What are you playing and recommending to friends at the moment?   

There are many great Australian game that are worth giving a go, depending on your interests. If it’s sport, it’s hard to go past AO Tennis 3 or Cricket 19.  If you’re after something fun and collaborative you can try the award winning Moving OutIf art is also your thing, Necrobarsita is a Best Art winner and a great play. Once you’ve exhausted all of them, don’t forget the evergreens like Untitled Goose Game and Crossy Road. 

What excites you about the future of your industry sector? 

While I love how much Australians are continuing to love video games and seeing the Australian video game market expand, I am most excited about the future of the Australian video game development industry.  

In the recent Budget, as part of its Digital Economy Strategy, the Australian Government announced a new 30% Digital Games Tax Offset to support Australian video game development that will take effect from 1 July 2022. This is something IGEA fought hard for, and we’re so appreciative of the Government for making the decision to invest in our sector by extending the screen tax offsets system to video games.  

We look forward to working with the Government on the precise design of the DGTO, but once it’s implemented, we anticipate a boom in investment and jobs in our sector, as well as the creation (and export) of much more Australian creative game content, that will last through this decade and beyond.

 

Before you go check out last month’s interviews with Andrew Cripps and Deanne Weir

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