The European Union paid out £2.4 million of taxpayers’ money to game developers under the ‘Creative Europe’ programme last year, according to the Daily Express. Thirty-one game developers, including four from the UK, successfully received payouts sometimes exceeding £100,000.
It isn’t necessarily a bad investment. Video games have become a bigger industry than Hollywood, and supporting European game developers could prove to be a sound investment.
Unfortunately for European taxpayers, the fund has been used to support niche titles that don’t seem capable of attracting a mass audience, nor, in most cases, of turning a profit.
These include the thrillingly-titled Ship Emergency Simulator, which was financed to the tune of £75,000. According to the Express, even its creators describe the title as “fairly undramatic.”
Another title is Cosmic Top Secret, a “playable documentary, a game with animations that appear to be made from cardboard cut-outs. Then there’s Future Unfolding, a top-down adventure inspired by the concept of “dreaming and meditation.”
Readers can decide whether these are safe investments. It’s certainly true that arthouse titles occasionally become hits – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Papers, Please spring to mind. But for every indie title that succeeds, there are hundreds or even thousands that fail.
That’s why critics are asking whether it’s comparable to taxpayers funding venture capital, a terrifyingly high-risk asset class, through vehicles like the European Investment Fund and the British Enterprise Capital Fund, and whether the state should be underwriting such risky endeavours with public money.
The EU is by no means alone in funding questionable video game projects. HERadventure is an interactive Sci-Fi fantasy project by filmmaker and digital media artist, Ayoka Chenzira. The project was given $100,000 in grants from the U.S. National Endowment for Arts. After three years in development, their only major sign of activity is a YouTube trailer that resembles a 1990s straight-to-VHS movie.
It isn’t inevitable for governments to make bad investments in arts and entertainment. The UK Film Council, for example, has often financed movies that turned a profit at the box office, such as Touching the Void (2003), This is England (2006) and In The Loop (2009).
But with the games industry enjoying a glut of high quality independently-developed titles, the risks of investment are higher because competition is more fierce.
When budgets are being cut and local libraries are closing down, European taxpayers are unlikely to have patience for digital arthouse projects. As the costs of entry into the market decrease, standing out from the pack becomes increasingly difficult and the case for public money becomes precarious.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.