Before Covid-19, the gaming industry in New Zealand was on track to be worth around a billion dollars by 2025, having grown 34 percent annually.
Though the pandemic has slowed things down for the industry, reaching the billion-dollar mark is still plausible, with exports from the gaming industry reaching a whopping $276 million in 2021 alone.
Leanne Ross, Executive Director of the New Zealand Game Developers Association, says the gaming industry in the country still has “untapped potential” and generates more revenue than the global film and recorded music industry combined.
However, the global industry has changed drastically in the past 10 years which has allowed New Zealand-based companies to grow and improve in quality with evolving technology.
Sam Ramlu, Director and Founder of studios Mad Carnival, M Theory and Method, agrees as she says that as technology develops, they were “always exploring ways to reach different audiences”.
The most significant change to the industry is with mobile games emerging as a major new channel. New Zealand’s biggest gaming studio in Wellington, PikPok has become the leader in the mobile game development space.
Ross adds that the industry is focusing on increasing diversity, with Auckland based Maui Studios working with Apex Legends to bring a Māori wahine character, Mad Maggie to the game.
Diversity has become one of the biggest pushes in the industry as of late, not including the teams behind the development of the games.
Ramlu wants to create games with more females, more people of colour and less violence, something that is lacking across the spectrum and something that everyone could enjoy playing she says.
“We want to provide games that are wide reaching, stimulating and accessible, bringing friends and family together through play and moments of fun.”
Rick Stemm, Design Manager and Narrative Designer at PikPok says the company’s main goal is to court diverse audiences because they recognise that everyone can be a gamer, a theme reflected in their titles.
Stemm says that diversity is important not just in games, but in social issues.
“We should be celebrating diversity more, which is why it is important to us to have diverse people in our team so we can appeal to the diverse audiences,” he says.
He adds that PikPok wants to celebrate the range of people playing its games and reach a wider audience. Stemm says this can only be achieved by telling their stories, whether it be through character development, incorporating diversity in the storytelling, use of music and more.
“The average gamer is not a white male who is 22-years-old, it is everyone.”
Looking at the gaming industry as a whole, Stemm says the New Zealand sector has the potential to become leaders in diversity for games.
“We have so many diverse people and a rich indigenous history, with those things and our position in the world, we can absolutely become leaders in the industry,” he says.
The world is heading into an age where everyone will be a gaming native, playing at least one game in their life, making representation even more important Ramlu adds.
Compared to previous generation, the younger generation will have different experiences with gaming, witnessing endless options for games fit for anyone and everyone.
“Gaming in New Zealand has been growing for a while now. People still get shocked at how big the gaming industry is,” she says.
Ross agrees, saying that “there’s never been a better time” to join the New Zealand gaming industry which excels in exporting original intellectual property, which has proven to be profitable and sustainable.
“While still vastly undervalued culturally compared to other creative industries like filmmaking, there is no doubt that gaming is now a more widely accepted pastime, if not quite yet a fully celebrated business endeavour,” she adds.
Stemm says the New Zealand sector is “totally punching above our weight”, with many of the launch titles of Apple Arcade coming from local game studios.
The tech industry in New Zealand is not overlooked based on how much the country offers to the global market, he says.
Recently, technologies such as VR and AR are rising in the gaming world as the hardware becomes more accessible.
Ramlu’s studio M Theory has been working with Oddboy to release a VR game – Wanderer.
Having started in 2003 in the creative technology industry, Ramlu and her company, Method, have been at the forefront of the using the latest technology for the development of its games.
But she admits that at times it was hard. Often, Ramlu would create new things with the latest technology, but at the time of development it would not be prolific, or sometimes they grasped to the idea “too early”.
“We’ll be two steps ahead, but people will still be catching up and then they get immensely successful from jumping on the train later,” she says.
Ross says the quality of games New Zealand produces continues to grow in international prominence, which is why 97 percent of the revenue is exported.
“That revenue has consistently grown, almost doubling since 2018,” she adds.
She says that New Zealand has become a great place for game development, already having recognition for visual effects and a time zone convenient to the two largest markets, Asia and America.
Despite the country’s specs for game development, New Zealand remains one of the most expensive places in the world to make video games due to the lack of policy encouraging the growth of the game development industry.
But with any growing industry, the government has also recognised the potential gaming has on New Zealand’s economics.
Ramlu’s studios has grown since her start in the early 2010s to now, having received a $250,000 grant from New Zealand’s Centre of Digital Excellence which will fund Mad Carnival’s second studio in Dunedin.
Looking into the future of gaming in New Zealand, Ramlu could not predict what it would look like in three to five years.
With technology continuing to improve and develop, the limitations for games are beginning to break down and more innovations are coming out, giving new possibilities for the future. Ross says New Zealand just needs to continue to showcase that “we have a globally-renowned technical and creative industry bringing out storytelling to the world in weightless, sustainable exports that grow our economy”.