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Grabity grabs New Zealand gaming glory – is world domination next?

Super Mario. Pokémon. Call of Duty. Grand Theft Auto.

What do all these video games have in common, apart from the fact they’re all, well, video games? They’re also mega hits – with each making more money than most movies do. Now, a Kiwi company is hoping to get a piece of this veritable mountain of money.

Grabity may just be New Zealand’s Next Big Thing after winning KiwiGameStarter, the New Zealand Game Developers Association’s startup programme for interactive games businesses. Developed by Auckland-based Team Ninja Thumbs, Grabity uses real-time physics simulations to create puzzles and gameplay environments as robots duke it out with each other in a futuristic test centre environment. In other words, think the epic showdowns as seen in the Transformers movies, but with a bit more brain power required to figure the whole thing out.

For their win, Team Ninja Thumbs will receive $10,000 sponsored by Callaghan Innovation plus software and business mentoring support worth over $20,000.  Also as part of their prize, Grabity will receive three months’ rent in The Arcade Auckland games coworking space, and mentoring from some of New Zealand’s most successful game developers.

Noah Falstein, Google’s Chief Game Designer, was head judge. He said there were several things about Grabity that impressed him – not least of which was its tongue-in-cheek humour. “The Grabity team had all the ingredients for a successful startup business: a novel product, a great team and a clear business plan,” he said. “Plus the prototype had the judges laughing and enjoying ourselves almost instantly – a great user experience.

And he had some nice things to say about Aotearoa’s games industry, too. “I was impressed by the quality and diversity of game products and gameplay styles I saw here in New Zealand. The KiwiGameStarter entrants would be contenders at any indie game competition I’ve seen worldwide.”

A total of 30 entries were received for the 2016 KiwiGameStarter, with four finalists pitching to an industry panel during this year’s NZ Game Developers Conference. KiwiGameStarter, run by the New Zealand Game Developers Association, aims to help early-stage games businesses develop prototypes of games that are ready for investment or crowdfunding campaigns. It is supported by Callaghan Innovation, law firm Hudson Gavin Martin, marketers IndieDevKit and The Sound Room.

New Zealand’s game development industry grew 13 percent last year, reaching $88.9 million in earnings from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. Almost all of that revenue (92 percent) came from exports of interactive software and online services. In other words, it’s an industry that’s growing – despite the shutdown of the country’s largest game studio, Gameloft, which cost about 160 jobs.

“Interactive entertainment software continues to be one of New Zealand’s most innovative and fastest growing exports, growing from $20 million to $89 million in annual exports in the last five years,” said NZ Game Developers Association chairperson James Everett. “The KiwiGameStarter programme provides a fast-track for a budding developer to showcase their talent and hopefully go on to make a make on the industry globally.”

Sounds like a new high score is well within reach.

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