Anamaria Magri Pantea, The Sunday Times of Malta, Business Feature, 23rd February 2014
Following a few years of concerted efforts from various Maltese stakeholders, digital games development is coming ahead as the emerging sector at the confluence of the ICT and creative industries in Malta. Skills are being provided and continuously developed both at the University of Malta, MCAST and at a number of private educational institutions; the recently set up Institute of Digital Games at the University is pursuing the much needed research, whilst a national Digital Games Fund and various fiscal incentives are covering some of the financial needs of the sector.
Challenges in accessing finance
Indeed, we now see a number of companies, both local and foreign, being established in Malta, but they still need to make a bigger “splash” on the international market. Access to finance is seen as a limiting factor as neither access to venture capital nor to bank loans is easy for these companies. Whilst it might be opportune for Malta to take some bold steps and innovate in the area of collateral legislation so as to facilitate credit financing for creative projects, this will take some time. Until then, digital games companies can make the best out of public funding support, be that at national or EU level. The following are some examples of EU funding opportunities.
Creative Europe – Media sub-programme
The Media pillar under the recently launched Creative Europe programme is currently inviting proposals for funding support for concept and project development of video games, with the deadline for applications being 28th March 2014.
The EU contribution will be up to EUR 50,000 for concept development, and up to EUR 150,000 for project development, with the EU contribution not exceeding 50% of the total eligible costs. To help with cash-flow, 70% of the total approved grant will be provided as pre-financing, costs being eligible as from the proposal submission date.
European production companies owned directly or by majority participation by EU or European Free Trade Association nationals and with a proven track record (i.e. that have previously developed, produced and commercialised a video game and have at least two years of sales track record) can make use of this facility.
Another relevant funding opportunity emerges from the ICT stream of the Horizon 2020 framework programme. Until 23rd of April 2014, proposals are being invited for research and innovation, or purely innovation focused actions aimed at the development of new methodologies and tools to produce, apply and use digital games and gamification techniques in non-leisure contexts.
The scope is expected to cover multidisciplinary research experimentations and collaboration on advanced digital gaming technologies (including game engines, emergent narrative, virtual characters, interaction systems and alternative human-machine interfaces, 3D, textures, models for simulations, game design, learner profiles, emotional models, etc.) that will lead to the creation of a repository of core reusable, open components to enable publishers and game producers as well as user organisations to build specific games applications in non-leisure contexts.
Innovation actions should focus on coordinating and incubating small scale experiments within SMEs for the actual development of digital games for learning and skills acquisition, and for empowerment and social inclusion.
Horizon 2020 proposals for the above are to be submitted by consortia from at least three different EU member states or associated countries and expected to have budgets in the order of 3 to 8 million euro per project. The EU co-financing rate is of up to 100% in the case of research and innovation projects and of 70% in the case of purely innovation actions (100% for non-profit organisations). Pre-financing will also be provided typically at a rate of about 60-65% of the approved grant value.
Horizon 2020 proposals under the ICT Open Disruptive Innovation scheme can be submitted by individual SMEs, in this case for a EUR 50,000 lump sum to assess the feasibility of an innovative concept (e.g. product, service, technology process, business model), or EUR 500,000 to EUR 2.5 million for its development up to full readiness for market commercialisation. The EU funding support in the latter case will be up to 70% of the total project cost. The first deadline for submission of such project proposals is 18th June and 9th October 2014, respectively.