Blasting off: RocketWerkz scales up with Tencent investment and big game project

Dunedin based game development studio RocketWerkz is increasing its staff for an upcoming large scale project following investment from Tencent. And founder Dean Hall says it’s just the beginning.

RocketWerkz has been ramping up its hiring process over the last 12 months for an upcoming unannounced large scale project after a recent investment from Tencent. Coming on the heels of their VR title Out of Ammo, they have begun pre-production on their next flagship project while also developing a handful of smaller games at the same time.

“The focus of the studio is as a ‘creative factory’ and not on developing technology,” explains Hall. “We are focused on PC games, new genres and cooperative multiplayer experiences. We are inefficient, rebellious, and unconventional.”

He’s not all talk, either. During the past year RocketWerkz had been hiring developers from some of the world’s largest game studios, including Bethesda, Crytek, Creative Assembly and Bohemia Interactive. The idea, Hall says, is to amass an all-star team from across the games industry to work alongside local New Zealand talent. “If you want to go work on crazy projects at the bottom of the world, let us know.”

Hall founded RocketWerkz in 2014 after previously living a life that can best be described as a 21st century version of Indiana Jones. After graduating from the University of Otago, he spent a year in London and three years in Prague. Somehow he also found time to summit Mt Everest in May 2013, becoming the 42nd New Zealander to do so in the process.

Dean Hall.

But despite his feats of derring-do, Hall also isn’t shy about discussing his love of gaming – a love which he says permeates the culture at RocketWerkz. “All of us are hardcore PC gamers, and so we want to make hardcore PC games.”

He’s also keenly aware of the sheer scale of the global games industry. “Globally the games industry is worth more than the movie, music and television industries combined.” Games such as Skyrim and Call of Duty, he says, can make more than a billion dollars in revenue in just a few days – far more than any film ever made by the likes of Sir Peter Jackson or anything starring the original Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford).

Locally, the industry is doing pretty well financially, too. Kiwi game developers raked in $88.9 million in the financial year ending March 31, 2016, according to an independent survey of 38 New Zealand Game Developers Association studios. Though it’s a small part of the $16.97 in revenue worldwide, it’s still a new record for New Zealand.

Yet Hall insists there’s other reasons why RocketWerkz is based in Dunedin. “Many of our staff members want a change of pace for their lifestyle,” he explains. “People’s money just goes further.”

Then there’s the traffic. “It take me like six minutes to drive to work. Eight and I’m pissed off.”

Local government has also been supportive of RocketWerkz, Hall says. “Local government support has been great. People are just in their creative zone [here].”

He says he can’t reveal to much about the game under development, but says pre-production work began this past April. “It usually take about three years for a AAA (large-scale) title. We’ll keep growing.”

It’s hard to argue that the success of the globe-trotting game maker hasn’t been anything but incredible (just look at the surprise success of Out of Ammo), but Hall isn’t quite as all about the fortune and glory as the man with the hat and whip has somewhat resembled. Rather, he says RocketWerkz is but one example of Dunedin carving a niche of itself in the global creative market. “This is the region’s time to shine,” he says. “There’s lots of cool things happening here]. We’re just one example of cool stuff going on.”