Small Business: Game developers - Frances Valintine

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Frances Valintine from the Mind Lab. Photo / Greg Bowker
Frances Valintine from the Mind Lab. Photo / Greg Bowker

Frances Valintine, co-founder of the Media Design School in Auckland, a long term member of the NZ Game Developers Board and now Chief Executive of The Mind Lab, which does classes with children aged four to 14 on animation, game development, programming, robotics and others. Plus she is the mother of two teenage boys.

What does the world market want in a good computer game? Are they largely
for smart phones?

Yes, the smart phone market as well as touch screen tablets has redefined the game market. Even six or seven years ago, the console market was king but the portability and mass uptake of smart phones changed the lay of the land. Furthermore the entry cost to develop console games was extremely high and the Sonys and the Xboxes of the world had to believe in a games studio's capability to deliver high quality content before any access to a development kit would be purchased.

Why does New Zealand seem to be producing good game developers and how are you educating kids at The Mind Lab and bigger kids at the Media Design School to develop games?

New Zealand is not alone. Most developed countries are putting an extraordinary focus on the creation of a digital sector, which is often led by game development companies. The reality is there are thousands of games in development and they are being launched daily all over the world as game development is now a mainstream, lucrative market that in many ways is following in the path cut by film companies over recent decades. The games produced in New Zealand are of a high standard but in a consumer driven games world there is no option but quality. One visit to iTunes shows just how competitive this space is. Everyone is grabbing for eyeballs, and the "micro transaction" that in large numbers can convert a great game idea into a success. It should be noted that New Zealand is producing mostly games designed for children or families. We seem to have real skill in developing solid game play ideas that resonate with a general audience.

A lot of games being developed seem to be for "soccer Moms" - why is this?

Soccer mums have taken to mobile games on their smart phones in large numbers as they have a general preference for short play games that can be started and finished on the go. As a mum delivering children off to various events and activities, there are often windows of time spent waiting where a game can fill the gap and provide some simple entertainment. Given the size of this market and the relative simplicity of the game play visuals and mechanics, this sector of the population is attractive to game studios or individuals developing games in their spare time.

What would your advice be to game developers starting out?

Game development success will only happen with a great game play idea and well thought through game design. As the majority of developers are male and relatively young, identifying a market beyond the market they personally represent is important if they want to pursue the less saturated segments of the market, for example strategy games and puzzle games. There are reports and research all over the Internet that provide the data and the analytics of where the game market is going and where there are new opportunities.

How should newbie game developers protect their IP?

This is a tricky one as instinctively I would always say do try and protect your IP. However this is much easier said than done as trying to find the unique attributes and game play/game design features that are able to be protected, is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. Good advice from a specialist entertainment lawyer is important and there are some really knowledgable IP lawyers in this space here in New Zealand so I would start there.

Any other thoughts on the challenges and possibilities for NZ game developers?

Talent shortages in game development are global. Every country is looking for game programmers, designers and artists and yet the number of graduates produced each year here in New Zealand is capped by funding so as a country we are only able to produce as many graduates as the cap allows. We also need more females in the industry as they bring a unique point of view to the industry that is truly under-represented. Furthermore, it is extraordinary that New Zealand parents still don't see how much the world has changed and how important maths, science and technology have become for their children's future. We, as a nation, have significant challenges around the lack of awareness and potential of industries such as game development and not enough focus on the global aspect of the highly competitive world our children are living in.


Next week: Now is a key time for every retailer out there as well organised types are shopping for family overseas and at home. A recent news report said that retailers weren't going to be hiring more staff in the run up to Christmas, they would just be working harder. Is this true in your case? How do small businesses motivate and manage staff at this crucial time of year?

- NZ Herald

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