Video games are helping to lift the Auckland economy out of recession.

Fourteen of the city's fledgling game development companies, which employ 160 fulltime workers amongst them, say they plan to create a further 135 fulltime high-tech creative jobs in Auckland by next April.

And that's not counting two international companies, French-owned Gameloft and Australian-owned Gameslab, which have opened Auckland studios this year to tap into local talent. Gameloft alone is said to be hiring up to 60 people, making it New Zealand's second-biggest after Wellington-based Sidhe.

"We feel that for the industry as a whole, New Zealand is a huge growing market," said Caroline Jeffries, game development course leader at the Media Design School in Albert St.

"Gameloft and Gameslab have come because they recognise there is talent here and they want to utilise that."

The small local industry started by developing games for specially built consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox, but has been transformed by the arrival of much more accessible online platforms such as Facebook, mobile phones and iPhones.

"It's easier to get into the industry now," said Maru Nihoniho of Ponsonby-based Metia Interactive.
"Development costs have come down a lot and ... the access to market has opened right up."

Ms Nihoniho and collaborators at Auckland University have just won an international award for a new computer game called Sparx which helps depressed teenagers to overcome their gloom by taking on characters in the game.

She said she tried to avoid creating a traditional shoot-em-up game but put in a bit of shooting because teenage boys who tried out earlier versions of the game asked for it.

"We gave a character a staff that could shoot laser beams, shooting negative thoughts represented as black balls that float around in the environment, or turning them into positive thoughts represented by nice white sparkly glowing orbs," she said.

Auckland University psychologist Dr Karolina Stasiak said the game had been through clinical trials with 187 teenagers and proved as effective and as safe as current treatments for depression, including counselling.

"We know that 80 per cent of young people with depression never do receive treatment. Depression is very unrecognised and untreated."