This year’s NZGDA survey of the country’s gamedev industry revealed plenty to celebrate, a couple of slightly misleading stats, and a couple of ongoing concerns.
The good news is that there’s been growth over the period of the survey, the year ended March 2015.
There are now 568 FTE jobs in the sector, almost 31% up on the 2014 number. Earnings also grew, but by a much more modest 3%. That number is not an indicator of anything awry, however. Just as NZ’s film industry has seen very few features heading to cinema screens this year, much of the gamedev community has spent much of last year developing new or maintaining existing titles rather than releasing new.
Unlike filmmakers, who often don’t see much of a tail from their releases, the gamedev community grew its income last year essentially off updates and expansions to pre-existing titles. $78.8 million flowed into the industry’s collective coffers, 82% of that (c$65 million) from digital exports.
Since the survey period ended in March, new releases have started to flow from the larger studios with Outsmart’s Bloodgate, Gameloft Auckland’s Ice Age Avalanche and PikPok’s Monsters Ate My Metropolis arriving, as well as Grinding Gear’s major The Awakening expansion of Path of Exile.
The areas of concern for the industry remain pretty much as they have in previous years – mostly the uneven playing field that exists between game development and other forms of screen content creation when it comes to state support.
Two areas of particular concern exist: early stage development and the PDV support under the NZSPG.
NZGDA Chair Stephen Knightly notes that the gamedev community is a close-knit bunch, good at supporting its members’ development. The established personnel and studios have good business relationships around the globe and are able to help newer companies navigate the territory of stepping up through contract or publishing deals.
It’s a concern to the NZGDA that all the companies employing more than 10 people are over six years old. Knightly also notes that of those larger companies, all bar one of the most successful had support when they started out. There’s no shortage of new blood. The Auckland and Wellington monthly meetups attract almost 300 attendees, most of them early-stage developers.
It strongly suggests that the gap in the pipeline is support for early development work. Compared with films and TV projects, games cost less to develop and can often find support or be monetised at earlier stages. Grinding Gear raised funds during Path of Exile’s development with beta releases. The winner of last year’s KiwiGameStarter, Eyemobi’s Phantasmal, is available via Steam’s early access.
The government’s PDV grant excludes game projects, unlike equivalent schemes in other competitor countries such as Canada and the UK. A quarter of US states operating screen incentive programmes include game development in their schemes. It seems odd NZ continues to look the other way given the amount of work that flows in to major post and digital companies, most publicly to Weta and Park Road. The principle behind the whole NZSPG is that it facilitates or generates work that would not otherwise be done here, so it creates new income. The principles and results are no different when applied to game development: new work from overseas clients leading to more income, training and upskilling opportunities, which in turn enables local individuals and companies to generate their own IP.
Government does offer some support to game developers through NZTE and Callaghan Innovation, although the latter doesn’t really get involved with supporting creative endeavours. The “traditional” funders of screen content are limited both by available budget and local content criteria – although Path of Exile would have passed the existing points test.
In the meantime, the industry is running the sophomore edition of its own support programme, KiwiGameStarter, which will this year assist two projects.
Entries for the $25,000 NZGDA KiwiGameStarter initiative close next week. The annual conference, NZGDC, will run 10 – 11 September.