New Zealanders are enthusiastic video game players, and video game designers too. Our country may be a lot smaller than Australia, but our video game revenue and employment levels are comparable with theirs.
The video game industry is growing all the time too; having generated $78.7 million in 2015, it surpassed the $100 million mark in the last quarter of 2017. With such incredible momentum and huge interest in playing and developing video games in our country, what does 2018 hold?
Major Players in the NZ Scene
So far, it must be said, there are not that many established video game studios in New Zealand – making the $100 million barrier break even more impressive. PikPok in Wellington, and Grinding Gear Games in Auckland are currently the biggest fish in our pond.
Mobile casino game enthusiasts who enjoy access to a diverse array of entertainment will also appreciate being able to play video games on the go with PikPok’s offerings, which include Diner Dynasty, Into the Dead, and a wide range of sports-based games under an umbrella category known as Flick Kick. Grinding Gear Games is responsible for the award-winning Path of Exile, which was produced thanks to crowdfunding efforts. So far, the team has focused their efforts on this RPG game only.
Given the incredible graphics and design of Path of Exile, and the high level of production and playability in all of PikPok’s titles, it’s understandable to wonder why all this talent isn’t being nurtured more. Why, for example, did Grinding Gear Games need to seek crowdfunding in the first place?
Lack of Governmental Funding and Support
The New Zealand Game Developers Association, or NZGDA, is the supporting body for video game developers in the country. The NZGDA has long recognised the great potential for the video game industry in New Zealand, holding annual awards and regular events, and publishing regular news on the latest innovations.
The NZGDA is most certainly not alone in recognising the earning capacity of video games, but until now there has not been much support from government officials. Green MP Gareth Hughes has been a vocal advocate for some time, but up until recently he was quite alone. When he highlighted the fact that video games were a clean, high-export industry with unlimited potential for growth, unlike the tourism industry which has to be curtailed simply because of limited space, he was generally dismissed.
As Hughes tells it, when Steven Joyce was Minister of Science and Innovation in the last government, he ignored the video game industry. When the earning potential was pointed out and acknowledged, Joyce adopted the attitude that since the video game industry was doing so well it did not require his support. A similar stance was taken by several other politicians in the previous administration.
A Proven Track Record
The stellar performance of New Zealand video game designers aside, the past government’s attitude is even more astonishing when the success of government-sponsored industry development in other countries is considered. Canada and Finland are great examples of this; Finland, in particular, went from earning €250 million to revenues of €2.5 billion between 2011 and 2016. This was due in no small part to the “Invest in Finland” government initiative.
New Zealand has evidence even closer to home about what can happen to a creative industry when serious governmental funds are devoted to it. Efforts to develop and grow the film trade have been hugely successful, with revenue from 2016 in excess of $3 billion. The country’s administrators have long recognised what this industry can do, and donated $190 million in 2016. There is no reason not to do the same for video game development, and luckily the tide does seem to be turning.
A Bright-Looking 2018
With Claire Curran, who has been supportive of the video game trade in the past, now the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media and Government Digital Services, Hughes is feeling very positive about the industry’s future. He has said he will be working alongside Curran and urging her to invest in this area, while putting a word into the ears of economic development ministers at the same time.
Michael Vermeulen, current Chair of the NZDGA, has echoed the enthusiasm of Hughes. Within the new government, according to Hughes, are several individuals who the NZDGA has spoken to in the past, and who really understand what the Association is about. Vermeulen plans to keep the conversations going, and educate officials about the NZDGA whenever possible.
Vermeulen has also said that large-co-ordinated projects are required to develop the young talent that abounds into serious mature talent, so that the New Zealand video game industry really does become an established, growing concern. While this will take a lot of work, it is definitely possible and could improve economic standing, increase revenue, boost employment and highlight investment opportunities in the sector for 2018 and beyond.