Following on in our series of articles welcoming you to the Pacific region, we now turn to the current state of Kiwi development.
Unlike Australia, which suffered a significant downturn five years ago, the New Zealand Game Developers’ Association President Stephen Knightly was proud to be able to report that Kiwi development stayed its course and has continued steady growth year on year throughout the rough times.
"There have been games studios in New Zealand for 30 years or more, but about 7 years ago, when digital distribution became viable, New Zealand got in early – New Zealand got in first",explains Knightly.
Necessity as much as prescience saw New Zealand developers diving head first into both the mobile app store space and desktop digital distribution at day zero.
The very first Apple app developer (even before the existence of the Apple App Store) was a Kiwi studio called Polar Bear Farm, while one of the launch apps available day one for the original iPad was from Majic Jungle (The Blockheads), a game called Chopper 2.
The last time a boxed product was shipped out of New Zealand was Rugby Challenge 2: The Lions Tour Edition, a popular if regionally-specific sports game which came out over a year ago from Sidhe, who, aside from being one of New Zealand’s largest developers, and is now better known as PikPok.
"Ten years ago in New Zealand, the games [development] industry was small," Knightly continues. "And so we’ve only had upside. We’ve never had a period, say, where mid-market console developers doing contract work went backwards. We haven’t been through the experience that Australia or the United Kingdom have been through where their industry slowed – we’ve only experienced upside from the transition to digital."
Gameloft currently has a studio in Auckland, which Knightly says was originally intended to house some 60 people, but has grown to 160 since it was created with a mere 15 developers in 2010, with the NZ Herald seeing fit to highlight the rush of employment as a ‘hiring boom’ last year.
While New Zealand has three major universities which are turning out strong graduates (AUT University, Victoria University and the Media Design School), Knightly reports that 100% of them have been hired into the industry, and that there’s still a talent shortage.
"So we probably have growing pains, talent-wise now," Knightly explains. "The gap in New Zealand has been for those experienced developers who can come along and be a team lead or a senior member of the team."