NZ game developers shine on world stage

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Stephen Knightly, head of the New Zealand Game Developers Association, says the local industry is seeing massive growth. Photo / Garry Brandon
Stephen Knightly, head of the New Zealand Game Developers Association, says the local industry is seeing massive growth. Photo / Garry Brandon

New Zealand's tight-knit community of game developers is attracting global attention after producing six games which hit top 10 iOS downloads charts in the US last year.

Game developers from all over the globe are currently gathered in San Francisco this week for the annual Game Developer's Conference, the world's biggest game industry event.

There are around 450 game developers in New Zealand and a number of kiwi-created games will feature strongly at the event after finding global success in 2012.

Kumeu-based game developer Ninja Kiwi launched Bloons Tower Defence 5 in November and the game soared to number two in the US iPhone app charts within 24 hours. It also sat in the top five in four other countries.

Another locally-developed game to hit the top 10 was My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, developed by Gameloft in Parnell.

Other games which took off in the US included The Blockheads, MiniGolf Matchup, Major Mayhem and Into The Dead.

Many other paid and free New Zealand-made games were hugely popular overseas but did not make the top lists, said Stephen Knightly, head of the New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA).

"Things are definitely picking up. There is an awful lot of growth and momentum in the industry at the moment."

Locally-developed games made to play online were also doing "really well", Knightly said.

Games such as Path of Exile and Smallworlds have attracted audiences in the millions, he said.

Earlier this year, Grinding Gear Games managed to raise US$2.5 million (NZD$2.9) in a funding round for its popular online role-playing game Path of Exile.

Grinding Gear attracted the support of 140,000 gamers from all over the world.

The vast majority of New Zealand's game development revenue came from original intellectual property and royalties, Knightly said

Only 32 per cent was derived from kiwi studios carrying out contract work for offshore companies.

"Developing highly creative original IP underpins the growth of the New Zealand
industry.

"Original hit games like Path of Exile and Bloons Tower Defence both build sustainable income streams, reputation and skills, which in turn can lead to key partnerships with - and investment by - leading international companies."

Games were highly exportable and could be easily distributed on app stores, he said.

New Zealand companies at the Game Developer's Conference this week include PikPok, Runaway, Grinding Gear Games, Ninja Kiwi, Cerebral Fix and Rush Digital.

PikPok is New Zealand's largest game studio and has released more than two dozen titles which collectively have seen around 35 million downloads.

Their game Super Monsters Ate My Condo was recently nominated for a prestigious UK BAFTA Games Award.

The global game development industry will generate spending of about US$97 billion this year and $115 billion by 2015, according to research company Gartner.

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