Opinion: Pwning those noobs

Opinion: Pwning those noobs
Woot! With sales of $300 million last year and earnings up 86%, Kiwi game designers have every reason to feel like economic Super Marios.

Check those numbers: New Zealand-made mobile games had more than 130 million downloads  last year, in an industry that grew its earnings by 86% to $36.3m, according to a survey of our Game Developers Association members. Most of that cash came from smartphone and online game exports. That's a big leap since 2011, when the association's survey revealed 46% growth and the creation of more than 100 jobs.

And last year it rang up $133m of retail sales and an estimated $162m of digital sales, the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association says. That's a retail value of nearly $300m.

The barriers to creating games have dropped − you don't have to create a company, hire a big team, wear out shoe leather and clock up air miles to woo big international publishers anymore. Almost anyone can get hold of a software development kit for a smartphone OS and get started developing apps for app stores.

The health of any sector in tech and business can be determined by its potential to attract new talent.

A look at the projects surfacing on crowdforming platform Kickstarter since it launched here this year show the groundswell of activity in independent game development in New Zealand. Christchurch engineer Brendan Duncan took to the platform with his< role play offering 3D Virtual Tabletop, while Wellington drag queen LaQuisha Redfern listed another role playing game, LaQuisha’s Odyssey.

Musician Iain Brandram-Adams is seeking funding for audio software he built for this genre.

Formal, high level qualifications are also an indicator of a sector's health. 

Auckland’s Media Design School offers degrees in game programming and game art, and its graduates are starting their own games firms − as well as joining the big names. That will further propel job creation and fuel the next generation.

The school expects its recent partnership with PlayStation Europe will see young Kiwis create games for this platform by year’s end.

That’s evidence of a training ground in touch with global industry needs and a clever strategy to put New Zealand talent on the map.

The games industry is firmly established as an export winner in the creative sector. Its trailers are as worthy of going viral as those produced for movies. 

On the negative side, the sector is suffering skills shortages as much as the tech sector overall. But being the cool kid means it has more potential to overcome the problem. It's easy to see why game development has more appeal than other tech-based professions across software, hardware, marketing and sales.

The end result is something fun and entertaining − and it's a world the target demographic gets locked into at an early age.  

The audience is diversifying too, which means a growing pool of candidates to potentially work in the industry, and grow export earnings from games.

Gamification, which borrows the principles and rules of games and transplants them into business-focused endeavours, is broadening the understanding of games. 

Marketers, app makers, productivity and people management specialists alike see the power in the psychology of things like scoring points, beating your best, rising through levels and getting rewards.

So how can the Kiwi technology sector give its image a spruce up on the back of the wave ridden by games?

First, by tapping into a broader audience. When the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association surveyed 805 New Zealand households it found nine out of 10 had at least one device used for gaming.

That’s taking the market beyond sweaty young geeks, with a fast-growing population of older players and near parity between the genders.

It’s a harder road, but it’s worth targeting more than just young males. It’s also worth looking offshore. Emphasising the creative development process that can accompany software across the board, not just game development, is potentially a successful strategy. It could hook young recruits as game developers have done.

 Second is getting gaming’s success stories into the public eye. Those whirrs of publicity boost tech as whole and that needs to continue.

It would also pay to piggyback on the rise and rise of new devices. Gaming has seen most growth in mobile, and that’s where Kiwi software development could benefit, along with potential growth in hardware and product design as gadgets morph into the new.