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NZGDC12: inaugural conference success

Half the weekend, prime gameplaying time for those who enjoy it, was devoted to the inaugural NZ Game Developers Association (NZGDA) conference, hosted by Media Design School on Saturday. From high up above Albert Street, attendees could also occasionally peruse another popular pastime over last weekend, as V48Hour teams scurried around, shot and scurried off again.

The NZGDA conference was a success before it began. It sold out its 200+ tickets weeks in advance – and could have sold out three times over, according to organisers. It was an indication that it’s an idea whose time has come or that organizers underestimated the likely popularity of the event.

Either way, those quick enough to secure tickets were treated to a full day of compact 25-minute sessions. The challenge was which session to attend as, for most of the day, the conference was running three simultaneous sessions in each slot.

One of the more interesting if useless bits of information on offer was that, as of 2011, there are now more smartphones than toilets on earth, although how that research was done is anybody’s guess.

More intriguing, as the conference was spread over four floors, was the challenge of moving 200+ people in four lifts during the five-minute changeovers between sessions.

Of the 240 people there, most were already working in the industry. A few students and other aspirationals, and a very small smattering of film and TV folk, also snuck in. At $40 for the day, there was no good reason not to be there, taking advantage of information and free drinks (aka networking opportunities) on offer.

Amazon sponsored a pitch competition for startups, offering a $2000 credit as prize and, as happens at AnimFX, sponsors’ wares were doled out to lucky winners of the business card draw at the end of the day. Even those not lucky enough to leave with a free gift went straight to free drinks courtesy of sponsor IGEA.

If there was a criticism of the day, it would be that 25 minute sessions were too short for some of the speakers to delve deeply into their respective topics. Despite that, in an example many other conference organizers could copy, the programme ran to time throughout the day.

The great and the good of the local industry were present, either presenting or supporting. Sidhe’s Mario Wynands, probably the most recognizable and certainly one of the more senior faces of the local games industry, kicked off the day.

NZGDA head Stephen Knightly closed it off with some appropriate cheerleading – noting the gains the industry has made over the last decade, particularly in credibility with government and other public agencies. Celebrating the success of the inaugural conference, he committed the NZGDA to organising a bigger event second time around.

In between, speakers from local and international companies shared information and experience – some of it of a highly technical nature. Of the less tech-heavy sessions, there was plenty of information on offer applicable to a broader community of content creators than just game developers.

Looking to the future of the industry, the major announcement of the weekend was embargoed until today, the news that conference hosts Media Design School has achieved NZQA accreditation for two three-year undergraduate degree courses, the Bachelor of Creative Technologies (Game Art) and Bachelor of Software Engineering (Game Programming).

The new courses expand on the diploma courses currently offered and will feed the industry in the same way MDS and other tertiary institutions have courses feeding students into animation and VFX companies.

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