Policy


The Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Korea Game Industry Agency have just released the latest whitepaper on the Korean game industry – The Rise of Korean Games 2007.

The document contains industry figures for 2006 (a shame to be just getting this now!) and outlines government policy trends and strategies for the industry. It can be downloaded from the Korean Game Industry Total Information Service System website.

An addendum, the volume does appear to be published mid-2007. It has only just been listed on the GITISS website as of 8 September 2008, so perhaps this publishing date refers to the original Korean language version?

Changes to media ownership laws have been proposed by the Korea Communications Commission according to a Variety article on 3 September.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak has followed this up with a statement that indicates the government’s desire to have a globally competitive media player with the scale to make an impact in international markets.

The government should create an environment to enable the advent of a world-class media firm with global competitiveness by drastically loosening the string of regulations on the broadcasting and communications sector.

From the KCC report, the government’s strategy to achieve this appears to be not through lifting foreign investment limits but by loosening cross-media ownership laws.

The stringent regulations on ownership and multiple ownership prohibit the broadcasting sector from expanding through new investments and mergers and acquisitions”

New media environments have challenged the legitimacy of incumbent cross-media ownership laws, but one does have to wonder if the way to a more globally competitive media conglomerate would not be best achieved by relaxing foreign investment restrictions, no matter how unpalatable that may be.

In other words, despite ideological resistance in Korea to opening up the media industry to foreign players, this may provide an avenue of providing greater diversity in the Korean media while not restricting plurality and freedom of speech. This is particularly the case in Korea where censorship law are stricter than in many other democracies, and a further concentration of power in the media – and big business groups in general – is precisely what successive administrations have been fighting to reform.

Despite its efforts to promote Singapore as a creative media content hub, a number of laws, including the banning of political films, has been a fly in the ointment of the government’s claims to creativity.

Yet moves appear afoot to amend the bill to ban political films, with Minister for Information Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang indicated he would table a bill to amend the Films Act early next year. (See AFP article for details)

PM Lee’s National Day Rally speech quoted in the Straits Times, however, indicates that the law will be softened rather than removed.

…we’ve got to allow political videos but with some safeguards.

According to the Straits Times article, factual footage, documentaries and recordings of live events will now be allowed, but ‘political commercials…of purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression’, should still be off-limits, thought the PM.

The PM’s speech also pointed to the ‘very restrictive’ laws that banned political blogging posting of political material on the internet during the 2006 election. Does this mean that opponents will be able to use the internet to distribute campaign material for the 2011 election as the Straits Times indicates?

Yet days after the rally speech, opposition leaders have been charged over a 2006 illegal procession or assembly without permit. See the International Herald Tribune article for details.

And PM Lee Hsien Loong himself to these ‘safeguards’ by taking a libel suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review further. The Singapore PM now charges that the 2006 article in the magazine implied he was corrupt, rather than that he simply condoned corruption by his father, former PM Lee Kuan Yew. The FEER story that motivated the Lees to file suit against the magazine and its author was entitled “Singapore’s Martyr: Chee Soon Juan”, and had quoted opposition politician Chee attacking the Lees. See Reuters article for more details.

The National Rally Day announcements by the Prime Minister and the tabling of the bill to amend the ban on political films is good news for the liberalising of society in Singapore, which will further encourage creativity and open critical analysis. But the big question is whether the Singapore government can deliver on these promises and not let the de jure amendments be undermined by de facto details and ‘safeguards’. To date, the actions by the courts and the PM himself have done little to ressure Singaporeans that change is on its way.

The UK games industry has been vocal throughout the year protesting the inaction of government amid declining domestic production and developers in Canada receiving generous tax incentives.

Yet is it accurate to blame government inaction for the industry’s decline? Some industry participants survey in politics.co.uk article UK games industry ‘dead man walking’ believe it is.

Richard Wilson, Chief executive of Tiga, said: “Without real measures to turn the tide, we’ll see our best people follow the money overseas to where governments are more willing to invest in the future. A great British industry could become a dead man walking, just like the British film industry the before government gave it a tax credit.

Something that is not often mentioned in lobbying for government assistance is the difference in cost of living (and therefore labour costs) between London and several Canadian cities where major game developers have established studios. Regardless of tax concessions and wage subsidies, low living expenses make locations attractive to multinationals, and may also make it easier for employees to setup their own companies.

Tax-based incentives that are based on cultural production are also a highly inefficient instrument for industry to rely on. Assessing the cultural component of any one game to qualify for assistance could well be an arbitrary endeavour, and the stipulation for games to contain cultural content is bound to distort production decisions away from market preferences.

Production-based tax incentives and subsidies tend to appeal to small, independent developers, whereas larger studios particularly first-party studios linked to publishers are far more concerned about the supply of skilled talent.

Are appealing for tax incentives for local producers really the best way to enhance the international competitiveness of the industry?

Australian censors have banned a London-made game for being too violent, according to the London Free Press.

The article has quoted the Board as labeling the game “violent and sometimes gruesome game with a sinister storyline and ominous outcome.”

“The violence and aggression inflicted upon the protagonist is of a high level, naturalistic and not stylized at all.”

With no R18+ rating for games in Australia, it is not surprising that games depicting ‘mature’ scenes are not given a classification. Introducing an R18+ rating for  games (like there is for film and video) would allow adult gamers the freedom to choose, and parents with game-playing children the information not to choose games with explicit violence or mature themes.

A very belated Happy New Year!

While nutting out a narrative on Australian game developers lobbying the government for support, in contrast with the Japanese game industry’s disdain for any state involvement, this one from the US was brought to my attention.

Video Game Industry Seeks Political Clout – New York Times

Capitalizing on its improved respectability, the video game industry intends to establish a political action committee to donate money to game-friendly politicians and candidates.

Mr. Gallagher said the PAC would probably donate $50,000 to $100,000 this year to national candidates, an amount he described as commensurate with similar committees associated with the film and music industries. Such political action committees are generally financed personally by industry executives rather than by corporations and under federal law are limited to giving $5,000 to each candidate per election.

Mr. Kotick described the new PAC as “a great first step” but he cautioned that the film and music industries would still enjoy far more sway in Washington than the game industry, not least because “people like Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen help raise millions of dollars for candidates.”

The Greens have offered their support to the games industry in Australia to secure the same tax offsets currently enjoyed by the film industry.

Screenplay blog in The Age quotes Senator Christine Milne from the Greens who met with GDAA president Tom Crago:

“Given the tremendous popularity of interactive computer games, Australia’s games developers would doubtless receive the same community support if only Australians knew how successful they are becoming on the world stage,” she says.

“The interactive games development industry is an excellent example of an innovative, smart industry that Australia should be encouraging, while moving away from the old economic paradigm of ‘dig it up, cut it down and ship it overseas’.

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