Game makers set to hit Auckland

By Ben Chapman-Smith

SmallWorlds co-founder Mitch Olson says game design and development lend themselves well to Kiwis. Photo / NZH
SmallWorlds co-founder Mitch Olson says game design and development lend themselves well to Kiwis. Photo / NZH

The booming local electronic gaming sector is hoping its first conference this weekend will prompt a new breed of Kiwi game developers to help keep the industry growing.

Around 230 industry players are expected to attend The New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA) Conference tomorrow at the Media Design School in Auckland.

The local games industry grew 46 per cent, or by 114 jobs, last year and there are now about 450 full-time game development jobs in the country, said NZGDA chair Stephen Knightly.

"What's great is there's now such a depth of talent in New Zealand and it's all about sharing knowledge with those who are starting out," he said.

"Kiwi developers are really creative. We can do a game efficiently but still add the professionalism and creativity to it that's missing in some markets overseas.

We make fun, original games."

Knightly is quick to point out that gaming "a serious business".

"These are hi-tech, high-export jobs and the games industry is pioneering new business models."

He said 99 per cent of games developed in New Zealand are designed for international markets and exported.

The challenge to is help more Kiwi developers become more than one-hit-wonders, he said.

That could soon become more likely, with the Auckland Media Design School currently waiting on final NZQA approval to run two bachelor degrees, the Bachelor of Software Engineering (Game Programming) and Bachelor of Creative Technologies (Game Art). If approved, both would start this August.

Keynote speakers at tomorrow's conference are UK indie game developer Alex Amsel, and one of the industry's biggest publishers, Jeff Olsen, vice-president of Adult Swim Digital.

Kiwi speakers include developers from successful companies Grinding Gear Games, Cerebral Fix, Instinct, NinjaKiwi, Sidhe/PikPok and SmallWorlds.

The local industry's speedy growth is partly because game design and development lend themselves well to Kiwis, said SmallWorlds co-founder Mitch Olson.

"You need both smarts and creativity. Our solid education system, together with that number-eight wire mentality that Kiwis have, creates good conditions for game design in general terms," Olson said.

He said because capital costs are low - "all you need is a laptop" - and geographical distance is irrelevant because of the web, there are plenty of opportunities for Kiwis to make it in the industry.

Tickets to this year's conference sold out quickly, prompting the NZGDA to find a bigger venue and release a second round of tickets, which have also sold out.

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