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SPADA 2014: let’s play

NZGDA Secretary Stephen Knightly, PikPok’s Mario Wynands and the NZFC’s Naomi Wallwork presented on how and why the game development and film/TV might work more closely together or, given the lack of activity to date, together.

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Panel (l – r): Naomi Wallwork, Stephen Knightly, Mario Wynands; and moderator Tim Thorpe

First up, Knightly gave a quick overview of some numbers to dispel a few common if inaccurate conceptions. While there might be popular awareness of blockbuster franchise titles such as GTA V, their sales accounted for only c20% of all game sales, which is a flip of the sort of numbers films do. Blockbuster movie franchises take the bulk of the box office while everything else carves up the remainder.

GTA V did a billion dollars worth of sales on its first day on release: Avatar took 18 days to hit that total. So, the numbers are big and therefore, by implication, the 80% of spend not going on GTA V and the like is a very substantial amount of money indeed.

For NZ game developers the outlook is a healthy one. For the last three years, the industry has double its earnings, which sat at c$80 million for the last year. 90% of that income comes from overseas sales and only 12% of it from contract/service work.

Source: NZGDA

Source: NZGDA

In other words, the industry is in rude health off creating and exploiting its own IP, something that can’t yet be said of the film and TV production sector – even if 2014 has been a considerable improvement over 2013.

Picking up the baton, Wynands continued to dazzle with zeroes for Africa in a presentation that was an abbreviated version of one he’d given a week before at Animfx.

PikPok is 17 years old, at least if one counts its time as Sidhe before it established the PikPok brand for its own (mostly) mobile games. It has c80 full-time employees (“not contractors”, moderator Tim Thorpe noted). Across its body of mobile work, including those games made for third parties, its games have been downloaded over 190 million times. When the company launches a new product, which it does roughly once a quarter, it has direct access to c150 million customers for marketing that new product. It’s one hell of a mailing list by any criteria.

Of PikPok’s own IP, its Into the Dead game has been downloaded 35 million times. It cost c$450,000 to develop and bring to release, including marketing costs. A further $600,000 or so has been spent adding new content since release and that, Wynands said, was going to continue. Initially released for iPhone and iPad, the game later added Android. A few days before the SPADA Summit, it was released on Facebook. While not giving away the bottom line, Wynands shared that spending over a million on the game wasn’t remotely an issue because of the amount it was returning.

Keep Calm and Kill a Zombie

Keep Calm and Kill a Zombie

Perhaps predictably, a sequel is in the works.

Wynands explained briefly some of the opportunities that building a large customer base around the company had created, not least of which was the ability to sell 30,000+ copies of the soundtrack to Shatter, numbers most NZ album releases would love to claim.

Specifically addressing film properties, Wynands explained that the company had made games for a number of clients, especially DreamWorks (Rise of the Guardians, Madagascar, Turbo, How to Train Your Dragon). With Fox PikPok has been the publisher for the game accompanying The Maze Runner.

For NZ film and TV, there’ve been no “real” games created to date, although there’s been some dabbling. A banner game has accompanied The Dead Lands and Knightly’s company InGame has a transmedia app in development for TVNZ. SPP also released an app to accompany the final series of The Almighty Johnsons, although it wasn’t a game.

Explaining the routes to monetisation for games, Wynands suggested two. The “traditional” model for a game on a disc was akin to a video release. A publisher pays a developer to make a game, then the box price goes to cover physical production and distribution costs, and the retailer’s share. The publisher recoups on whatever terms and – if you’re a lucky dev – there’s a bit left over of which you get a share. If the product is a major franchise, there’ll be merchandising and other opportunities might be able to get a cut of, depending on the deal done.

For the model of free to play digital games, now far and away the dominant model for mobile games, the income came from in-app purchases such as cosmetic items or gameplay modifiers, and from various forms of advertising. The difference is that shipping something digital to the US or Europe is a cost-free exercise and the retailer (Apple or Android’s AppStore) takes a straight 30%, leaving 70% for the developer and publisher. As with console games or film & TV, if the project is a winner, there are merchandising opportunities.

Wynands explained that the Angry Bird creator Rovio emplyed around 100 people working on game development and around 400 working on marketing, merchandising and other exploitation of the game – the TV show and upcoming movie, for example.

IMG_AngryBirdsMoney

For the NZFC, Wallwork said it was easy to be envious of some of the numbers Wynands and Knightly had quoted, but that envy was a two-way street. Despite a lot of effort lobbying, the changes made to incentive schemes following the Screen Sector Review continued to leave games out in the cold.

The government argument ran that (regardless of artistic merit) games are a commercial artform, and government should direct its funds towards support for non-commercial cultural activity.

However, with a more or less global market easily accessible (with the possible exception of North Korea), the lack of human resource capacity for game development in NZ is a missed opportunity to earn export dollars. The NZGDA argued for assistance at early career stage – the equivalent of supporting short films, if you like – to accelerate developers from scratch to the point where they could confidently complete a commercially viable project.

Regardless of the lack of success at convincing government to include games in funding or incentive schemes, there are some ways in which the NZFC can offer support without contravening its obligations under the governing legislation. The NZFC Act was introduced in 1978, “the same year Space Invaders came out”, Wallwork noted. Both are looking a little dated.

Wallwork offered an overview of the ways in which the NZFC could support.

Via its Professional Development programmes, the NZFC would support one game developer to attend GDC in San Francisco next year. The NZFC has already supported the NZGDA to bring in international speakers for its own conferences.

The NZSPG specifically excludes game development as a primary activity. However, the scheme can support production of transmedia elements that are associated with a qualifying form of production, such as the game of the movie.

Knightly reckoned many would have no trouble passing the sort of cultural content points tests applied to film and TV projects. Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile, for example, was created by a team almost exclusively Kiwi, features Kiwi landscapes, has a story based on Maori tribal structures. It also has 9 million users and, since its release there earlier this year, has become the most popular online game in Taiwan.

The NZFC’s Business Development Scheme would have liked to have seen more applications from groups including some expertise in the game development field, but only saw one. The next round of the scheme, if indeed there is another, isn’t calendared as yet.

Through its own production funding the NZFC can support transmedia content, such as a game, to accompany a feature.

Knightly suggested that documentary projects particularly lent themselves to transmedia exploitation (if not necessarily games) without the need for new asset creation because they frequently amassed large amounts of research and interview material that didn’t make it to final cut.

The potential for activity is there. As with most things, the advice was to plan early – preferably at development stage. Film and game dev move at different speeds and to different timetables.

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