It'll be three years this August since French game development company Gameloft first set up its studio in Auckland. To celebrate the upcoming birthday, along with some impressive user milestones for its major titles, Prime Minister John Key was invited along to a shindig at Gameloft's loft in Parnell this morning.
(Prime Minister John Key speaking at Gameloft Auckland)
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Key praised the game studio for its work in the burgeoning game development industry, saying Gameloft and companies like it are helping create a mini-Silicon Valley in New Zealand.
The Prime Minister congratulated Gameloft's particular success with its three children's titles Wonder Zoo (6 million players), Littlest Pet Shop (9 million players), and My Little Pony (10 million players). This reporter is unashamed to admit he had himself a good chuckle hearing the PM say "My Little Pony".
Looking around the room of developers and designers, almost 60 percent of whom are recent immigrants to the country, Key said immigration is important for encouraging the growth of technology companies in New Zealand. Key once again points to the Silicon Valley, where immigration is a common recruitment tool. He adds that National is a pro-immigration party, encouraging skilled workers to bring their talents to the country.
Gameloft studio director Patrick Wagner, himself a French import, says immigration has played a major part in the company's growth these last three years.
"We can't find all the talent we need in New Zealand. We have to resort to immigration and have had to file for it for around 60 percent of our staff," he says.
(Patrick Wagner, studio director at Gameloft Auckland)
Wagner says the current immigration system, while not as cumbersome as some overseas, could be improved to match the pace of high-growth companies such as Gameloft.
Gameloft is looking for 20 new staff in the next two months to create full production units. Currently the immigration process takes between two to six months per person, says Wagner – Gameloft has someone dedicated to taking care of just that.
"I'd love for this system to be faster. Right now we're working on getting accredited by [Immigration New Zealand] which we think will halve the time ... there's still a lot more paperwork to do," he says.
New Zealand studios working in film and post-production have several options to access government funding through schemes like the Post, Digital, Visual Effects (PDV) grant. Wagner says there's no such thing for game development studios yet, despite the economic potential of the industry.
"Basically the type of work we do is time dependent. There's no way to create more time so we need to bring on more people," says Wagner.
"The growth of the video game sector is immense and very different to how films work. Once a film is is finished filming the people are usually gone. The jobs it creates are usually contract based. What we're creating here are full time, well-paid roles."
Wagner does add that Gameloft has recently been allocated funding for work on an internally developed game engine, which is at the heart of some of the company's IP. The funding is limited to the programming of the technology framework and pays half the salary for a team of between 10 - 15 developers working on the project. Wagner says the government has provided Gameloft with a lot of assistance and advice in setting up the company in its early stages, which was one of the deciding factors for the French company in coming to New Zealand.