In March 2022, Screen Australia announced the arrival of a $6 million fund to support the game development projects of small-to-medium game studios in Australia. Named the Games: Expansion Pack fund and targeted at projects with budgets below AUD $500,000, the aim is to provide support for those not eligible for the upcoming Digital Games Tax Offset, which provides a 30% tax break for projects above that amount.
The first round of funding is now open, and will close at 5 pm AEDT on Thursday, 28 April 2022. A second round will be opened later in September 2022 to to encompass the 2022-23 financial year.
More details on the criteria can be found on the Screen Australia Games: Expansion Pack application page.
In a virtual education session hosted by IGEA, Screen Australia representatives Lee Naimo and Tim Phillips were on hand to answer a number of questions from those in the industry regarding the fund.
We’ve recapped some of the key questions and answers in this article for quick reference. You can also view the full webinar below, courtesy of IGEA.
For any further enquiries, Naimo encouraged people to reach out to the Screen Australia games team via email: email@example.com
Screen Australia Games: Expansion Pack Funding Q&A
Can I apply for the Games: Expansion Pack fund if I’m a solo developer?
For the initial round of funding, Screen Australia stipulates that you must be a company to apply, rather than a sole trader.
However, Naimo expressed that there were a lot of enquiries about this specific condition, and that the criteria could be adjusted in the future.
How much can I apply for, and how many projects can I submit?
You can apply for up to $150,000 in funding.
Applications from individual companies can cover more that one game development project, but the overall amount needs to meet the $150,000 amount.
How much of my game do I need to show?
Naimo encouraged developers to apply with a playable demo. A trailer is acceptable, but a demo naturally gives the team a much better sense of the project.
The team will also be looking for business plans and a video pitch.
On the topic of the video pitch, Naimo expressed that Screen Australia loves a video pitch. Because the team can’t sit down and chat with applicants, a video pitch is the next best thing to communicate your passion and excitement for the project to the assessors.
Naimo remarked that you shouldn’t spend money on a flashy video, but should use it as an opportunity to hone your pitch, and think about how best to position your game verbally and visually.
Am I eligible to apply for funding if I’m working on a piece of DLC for a game?
The short answer is ‘yes’.
However, Naimo expressed that there’s a difference between being eligible for funding and being competitive.
He remarked that the Screen Australia team would be preferencing original titles, and when they look at DLC they’ll be thinking about how it might have a longer-term impact.
We assume that narrative expansion content might have a better chance than cosmetic DLC.
Are physical games like escape rooms eligible?
No physical games like tabletop games or escape rooms will be considered – the fund is for digital games only.
Are VR games eligible?
Screen Australia has funded a number of scripted narrative VR projects with other programs, but Naimo suggests that to succeed in this particular funding pool, you should be strategic when thinking about your audience.
What about ‘serious games’ that don’t have a commercial outlook? Are they eligible?
Yes, they are also eligible.
Screen Australia wants its funding slate to be diverse in terms of genres, platforms, and audiences. Games that showcase different perspectives or break genre boundaries are welcome.
But while the game doesn’t need to have a commercial outlook, and can be targeted at a niche audience, how the game is going to reach that intended audience and who that audience is, are things Screen Australia will interrogate.
How about a game used for training purposes, or not intended for public distribution but to be experienced at a venue? Are they eligible?
This might cover game projects that are meant to be experienced in exhibition format at a gallery, or a controlled VR experience like those you find at venues like Zero Latency.
Projects like this are eligible, so long as they’re screen-based digital games as opposed to physical amusement games.
Naimo stressed that again, it’ll come down to competitiveness and your strategic thinking about audience.
Is it better to pitch a new project, or a current project that needs help to reach completion?
The Games: Expansion Pack program is designed to take things to market, says Naimo. So if you think your projects can reach that criteria then perhaps both kinds would qualify.
You’re able to submit one or more games, and the projects are allowed to be at different stages.
Will narrative-focussed games be given special consideration over others that might not convey a message?
‘Give us a good puzzle game and we’ll be in heaven,’ says Phillips.
If your game is rejected in the first round, can you reapply in the second?
Yes. Screen Australia tends to have a two-strike policy for projects, said Naimo.
Phillips added that when reapplying, you should be able to show what has changed since your previous application. If you don’t, it’s unlikely to be competitive.
If you’re a support studio that might be helping out another with a project, can you apply?
Applications need to be made for a specific game project that intends to release. If you’re looking for funding to offer services to another game developer, that’s not in line with this funding program.
What is Screen Australia’s view on games that incorporate crime, cruelty, or drug use?
‘We are not squeamish about conflict and combat,’ said Philips.
But what will be a problem is if a game project may have difficulty receiving a classification by the Australian Classification Board, which Phillips correctly points out has historically had issues with drug use.
It’s worth contacting the Screen Australia games team if you think your project might have issues on this front.
Are there any online templates for the development plans required for funding?
Screen Australia currently hosts a finance plan template on the application page, which covers finances and budget, and encourages you to use it.
The organisation doesn’t provide templates for development and marketing release plans, because every project is different, and they don’t want similar answers.
Naimo’s advice is to just be as detailed as you can, because that detail is your plan. Think about your milestones, what it might take to get there, and lay it all out for the team.
IGEA’s advice is to reach out and try talking to people who have done with this before – the local industry is usually quite generous with those kinds of resources.
If I get state-based funding, can I double-dip with the Screen Australia fund?
Naimo says Screen Australia will welcome all projects, but having state funding already can actually help with the competitiveness of your project.
All they ask is that you be honest with your funding status – whether state funding might be confirmed or pending.
It’s a very typical situation, says Naimo, and they’re hoping to work with the states on funding more in future.
Are teams that are dispersed across Australia eligible?
Yes, and it’s okay if you’ve received state funding from more than one state because of this arrangement.
How can I spend the money?
The funding will come with a stipulated 90/10 split between development and production expenditure, and then marketing and other costs.
Can I spend the money on international support that I can’t get in Australia, like international marketing, playtesting, and porting?
That’s a tricky one, and Naimo encourages you to get in contact if this situation pertains to you.
Screen Australia appreciates the idea that there might be expertise which is hard to get in Australia.
International expenditure won’t necessarily exclude your application, however. As a general rule, Screen Australia want to be able to form an idea that the project is Australian, that 90% of their funding is going into the game development, and that the spend is staying in Australia.
What can the funding not be spent on?
The current stipulation is that 90% of funding is to be used to development, with 10% reserved for marketing, promotion, offshore expenses, etc.
They aren’t able to fund things retroactively, it has to be on things that have yet to happen.
Can I pay myself with the funds?
Yes, so long as it’s for work on the game. Screen Australia encourages this!
Do I need to show Screen Australia the full project budget, or just what we’ll use the funding amount for?
You need to show Screen Australia your project’s full budget plan.
What if a project blows past its original scope into something that then meets the $500k threshold for the DGTO?
Naimo says that Screen Australia is aware that things do change. They don’t want to put a cap on ambition, but they would at least like to get a sense that these things have occurred naturally.
He suggests putting in an honest application, and if it happens, the team can discuss it with you.
However, the team won’t be specifically aiming for projects that have a likelihood of increasing in scope.
What are the acknowledgement requirements for funding?
Aside from the obvious ‘funded by Screen Australia’ credit, there are few bits and pieces, but nothing that will inhibit the production of the game, Naimo says.
Additionally, you’ll be able to negotiate how Screen Australia’s credits will appear, depending on the project – Naimo used the example of TikTok projects as changing the way this is done.
Are IP development-related costs able to be covered with the grant?
Screen Australia wants to make sure they’re wrapped up within the development of the actual game. If they are, it would probably be eligible, but chat to the Screen Australia team about your specifics if this situation relates to you.
Will Screen Australia keep what they see of your project confidential?
Screen Australia will keep things confidential. Naimo said that the organisation goes through hundreds and thousands of projects each year, and they treat things with the confidentiality they deserve. As government employees, that’s something they take pretty seriously.
Are small games eligible? 15 minute games, perhaps?
As long as the eligibility criteria is met, that’s fine. Screen Australia wants to fund a variety of games in various genres, platforms, length, price points etc.
Is my game eligible if I’m publishing in Early Access on Steam?
Yes. As a general rule, if the goal is to make the game available to the public in a playable form, it’s eligible.
Is there a minimum level of funding I need to apply for?
There isn’t. However, Naimo points out that the workload for any kind of funding will be the same, and that asking for less can sometimes make your application more competitive.
If a company is applying for a DGTO funding, and is also working on a smaller project, is that project eligible?
Because Screen Australia is looking at funding projects rather than studio operations, the smaller project would be eligible.
If a game receives funding, does it have to launch once the funding is used up, or is there some leeway?
Not necessarily. There are are some expectations about when your project will launch, but they’ll be discussed on a case-by-case basis with Screen Australia.
Does the funding amount need to be less than your total budget?
Naimo says it’s best to ask for what you need – up to $150,000 of course.
Screen Australia is open to being 100% of the project’s finance plan.
How many grants will be offered?
The total fund pool is $6 million, which will be spread out across two years. Grants will be capped at $150,000, so there’s plenty to go around.
Will this funding program be a permanent fixture, or will it end after the two announced rounds?
Naimo remarked that ideally, a program like this would stick around forever and support Australia game creators for many years to come.
However, Screen Australia is currently only committing to the first funding round, as well as a second funding round to run through the 2022-23 financial year.
Further questions can be sent to Lee and the Screen Australia team via firstname.lastname@example.org
You can apply for the Screen Australia Games: Expansion Pack funding on the application portal.