The local gaming industry has adapted to life under Covid-19 restrictions but its biggest problem, attracting skilled developers and game designers, will stay on the other side of the shutdown, game developers say.
There are also a growing number of developers who argue the sector should get government creative arts grants because they are fishing for people from the same pool as the film industry.
Grinding Gear Games managing director Chris Wilson said the company's 148 staff were getting used to working autonomously, as they wouldn't be getting back into the company's West Auckland studio for "some time" post covid alert level 3.
"It has presented some challenges however, as our teams work collaboratively and that is difficult to do purely online, so we have seen some productivity declines."
He said where there wouldn't be much change would be in the area of customer support.
Runaway Play managing director Zoe Hobson said most games businesses she has contact with had been able to shift well to working remotely.
"We have lost some time and some projects are going to be delayed in term of launch dates, which may hit businesses financially, but overall we can continue development work close to how we normally would."
Hobson said Runaway Games was also seeing a spike in users. It develops and markets "nature-inspired" mobile games such as Flutter and Starlight and, more recently, Furistas Cat Cafe, which allows players to adopt and collect an array of furry friends based on real cats.
This was particularly so for those who were most active on social network sites.
One implication of the pandemic was that advertising rates had come down and costs per install had actually reduced, she said.
GGG and Runaway are two of 39 gaming companies in this country, which, according to the NZ Game Developers Industry Association, generated more than $200 million in mainly export earnings as an industry last year - a 42 per cent annual growth rate since 2012.
According to Interactive Aotearoa, a joint government and gaming industry report published late last year, the industry could be worth a combined $1 billion across games, apps simulations and virtual reality by 2024.
The report noted that more than two thirds of all New Zealanders played video games regularly and interactive entertainment influenced our digital literacy.
RocketWerkz founder Dean Hall believes the industry will need government support to get to where it needs to be.
Hall is a vocal advocate of creative arts funding of the sort provided to the film industry, primarily to help it find and attract diverse talent. "People that are as good in the studio as they are engaging with customers."
GGG's Wilson said while his company was not actively advocating for government subsidies, there was an argument for it given the support received by an aligned movie sector.
In response to his hiring challenges, Hall moved the "big ticket" or triple-A games portion of RocketWerkz to Auckland from Dunedin last year.
The company, whose games include multiplayer survival VR games such as Stationeers and Out of Ammo, now employs about 100 staff through both studios.
He said the move hadn't totally solved the talent problem because gaming was recruiting from the "same pool" as the movie industry, so he was recruiting from the US and other countries. Hall has also set his sights on eventual expansion into Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, New Zealand remains a tiny part of what is a US$120 billion machine, increasingly driven by the huge increase in free-to-play games.
According to international gaming research group SuperData that part of the market is now valued at US$88b.
Free-to-play games, which have no upfront cost for users, make money through micro-transactions. That makes them well tailored for the mobile market, which last year was the fastest part of the sector – valued at about US$64.4b.
In its annual review for 2019, SuperData said free-to-play games accounted for four out of five dollars spent on digital games last year, with Asia as the pre-eminent player in the sector.
In that pool, Chinese powerhouse Tencent – known for its social media platform WeChat – has emerged as the world's largest video game company.
In New Zealand, Tencent has taken stakes in both RocketWerkz and GGG, spending more than $100m for its 86.7 per cent of the latter two years ago.
GGG's Wilson said the move was largely to position itself to capitalise on the growth of GGG's single game, Path of Exile, in the Chinese market.
Path of Exile, an action role-playing game, has picked up a phenomenal following, with several million players. It recently picked up the 2020 British Academy of Film and Television Arts "best evolving game" award beating out some favoured free-to-play games, including global multiplayer survival games Fortnite and Final Fantasy XIV in the process.
Path of Exile was singled out as a world-leading example of running "games as a service", as the 13-year-old studio regularly updates its game content and community with quarterly leagues.
"It was fantastic to see them being recognised on the world stage," NZ Game Developers Association chair Cassandra Gray said.
Gray said it was the first time a New Zealand game had won a BAFTA, although Wellington-based Pikpok's Super Monsters Ate My Condo had been nominated for Best Mobile and Handheld game in 2013 and Dinosaur Polo Club's MiniMetro nominated for Best Debut in 2016.