Category Archives: video games

Digital New Zealand 2020: The state of video games in New Zealand

Last week, the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) released the latest of its Digital New Zealand reports and the findings reveal that two-thirds of New Zealanders play video games and nine out of 10 households own a video game device.

DNZ2020 studied 801 New Zealand households and 2,255 individuals and the research was undertaken by Bond University and shows that New Zealanders enjoy and engage with video games with a consistently positive outcome on their overall health, education and well-being.

The average age of a video game player in New Zealand has remained at 34 years old, the same age found in the DZ18 report released two years ago and around half of those playing video game players are women and girls. Older New Zealanders also continue to be attracted to games, with 42 per cent of those aged 65 and over self-identifying as gamers. In fact, 78 per cent of video game players are over the age of 18.

The study also exposes the perception of the true power of video games and how they affect the lives of New Zealanders.  A large percentage, 87 per cent, says it helps them keep up their general knowledge, 70 per cent say it helps them connect with others and 65 per cent say it improves their overall life satisfaction.

Dr Jeff Brand, Professor at Bond University and lead author of the report since its inception, says the reasons New Zealanders play games continues to broaden from their heritage of recreation and entertainment.

“With more than 10 years of research behind it, Digital New Zealand 2020 (DNZ20) gives us a gold standard into who plays video games, how they play, and why they play. Whereas in the early years, this longitudinal research helped overturn stereotypes of the average gamer, in recent years we have started to understand the deeper reasons why people play.”

“While fun is still first and foremost for New Zealand gamers, it is by no means the only reason. We found a diversity to how New Zealanders use games – from education and upskilling, to preserve social and emotional connections and as a powerful health and wellness tool in staying fit and reducing stress.”

The Digital New Zealand study also highlights how videos games are making an impact on New Zealand’s cultural footprint in the global technology ecosystem and the digital economy, with video game sales in New Zealand growing at a rate of 15% CAGR between 2013 and 2018. The latest report shows that 72% of adults believe making video games in New Zealand benefits the economy.

When it comes to training a workforce, video games are a very useful tool and 29 per cent have used video games to train workers with new skills. Interestingly, this year we saw New Zealanders of working age taking the lead in average time spent engaged with video games, with typical working age adults spending 90 minutes playing per day on average compared to the national average of all ages being 88 minutes per day.

Furthermore, the report shows the importance of video games on developing critical thinking skills. In fact, 65 per cent of parents see video games as a valuable teaching tool for STEM.

“We need to harness games as a powerful tool in building a strong and competitive future for New Zealand. The inherent problem-solving nature of interactive game play hones critical thinking and strategy skills,” said Dr Brand. “These skills can easily be applied in a professional environment, and in fact we found that New Zealanders of working age were more likely to spend longer on average playing games than those under 18 years of age.”

Ron Curry, CEO of IGEA, said, “Digital New Zealand 2020 showcases how important video games are for New Zealanders. Far from the stereotype of being a solitary pursuit, in fact we found that video games continue to facilitate a shared experience for families, friends and co-workers. Video games are a key influence on all aspects of society – at home, in the workplace, and in schools. The reasons New Zealanders are playing is becoming more nuanced – it’s not just for entertainment but also to learn and connect.”

Other key findings of the Digital New Zealand Report 2020 include:

  • New Zealand households mostly use PCs to play video games – The most popular way to play games is with a PC (72 per cent), while 65 per cent of households use a smart phone to play, and 19 per cent of households own a virtual reality headset.
  • The average New Zealander’s consumption of games has increased – The average total daily video game consumption is 88 minutes, up from 85 minutes in 2018. Breaking this down by demographic – working age adults play for the longest, averaging 90 minutes a day, whereas retirement age adults play for 79 minutes. Children sit in the middle, playing video games for an average of 84 minutes a day.
  • Video games play a vital role in ageing positively – Older New Zealanders cite the role video games play in positive ageing, with the main uses cited as being to keep the mind active, have fun and be challenged.
  • Video games play a critical role in connecting parents with their children – Parents increasingly place importance on the impact video games have on forging a connection with their children. The research shows that 42 per cent of parents play games with their children in the same room, and 33 per cent play online games with their children.
  • Parents are still cautious when it comes to ensuring safety online – 84 per cent indicate they have talked with their children about playing games safely online, with 91 per cent of parents aware of parental controls, up from 88 per cent in 2018.
  • Video games continue to educate – Games continue to play an important role in a teaching and training setting. Sixty per cent of the parents surveyed said that their children use video games for educational purposes in school and 48 per cent believe that games can imbue their children with greater confidence at school.

I also spoke to Dr Brand last week about some of his findings and I’ll post that interview once I’ve got a spare moment to write it up.

The Witcher on Switch: What is this magic?

I have to admit I was sceptical when I first heard that CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher Wild Hunt was coming to Nintendo’s hybrid console.

Well, colour me surprised and intrigued as it’s on the Switch and by all accounts, isn’t too bad, at least if this hands-on from Digital Foundry is anything to go by.

And if that analysis isn’t enough, BandaiNamco has released a 40+minute gameplay overview featuring commentary from CDPR community manager Paweł Burza and senior quest designer Paweł Sasko, Senior Quest Designer about Wild Hunt and the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions.

Go have a watch.

The Witcher Wild Hunt releases on Nintendo Switch in October. 

Industry plan could create a billion dollar interactive games sector, report predicts

I’m a strong supporter of the New Zealand video games industry: We’re a small country but have some superb development talent on our shores up and down the country.

Well, a new report says that an industry development plan for New Zealand’s interactive media and games sector could create a billion dollar export industry by 2024. Introducing a coordinated plan that invests in emerging talent and allows interactive media to access existing screen industry programmes would create hundreds of hi-tech and creative industry jobs.

Produced by the New Zealand Game Developers Association with support from NZTech, WeCreate and government agencies, the report looks at the social, educational and economic benefits of interactive media such as games, apps, simulations and virtual reality.

“Interactive media combines two of New Zealand’s strengths – our tech sector and creative industries,” says Cassandra Gray, chairperson of the New Zealand Game Developers Association. “Our aspirational, yet achievable, goal is to see New Zealand become a billion dollar exporter of interactive media, sitting alongside our successful film and software sectors. We’ve made a strong start, but our sector is still young and growing.”

The report identified interactive games as the greatest potential creator of new jobs and export earnings. While New Zealand’s games industry earned over $143 million in 2018, the global market is worth $258 billion. Gaining one percent of the global video games market would generate $258 million in new exports. The sector has grown 39 per cent annually for the last six years, and if an industry plan and government support maintained this growth rate then the industry would be worth one billion dollars in 2024.

“Forty years ago our film industry partnered with the Government and we now have a multi-billion dollar screen industry. Twenty years ago our music industry did the same. Our interactive and games industry has reached the stage where it has the capability, skills and international opportunity to similarly contribute significant jobs, exports and social benefits,” says Gray.

The skills developed in interactive entertainment are also being applied to education, mental health and business apps. For instance, fifty nine percent of New Zealand children have used educational games at school.

The report also covers the rise of esports, indie games, virtual and augmented reality, serious games, and Māori and indigenous interactive storytelling.

Interactive media currently slips through the cracks of Government culture, media and innovation policy. To coordinate the industry plan the report calls for the establishment of the New Zealand Interactive Commission, modelled on existing creative industries agencies the music and film commissions, and an interactive innovation fund. The report also recommends that Government screen and cultural programmes be modernised to include interactive media.

Globally, several countries have recently introduced interactive industry programmes. Finland, with a population similar to New Zealand, has an interactive sector worth $3.8 billion annually – 25 times the size of ours – as the result of government support.

Many of the report’s recommendations are already being implemented and will be discussed at the New Zealand Game Developers Conference next month at Te Papa. The Game Developers Association has already increased the support package for its Kiwi Game Starter startup challenge and is introducing a student day, mentoring programme and an industry skills working group.

You can download the Interactive Aotearoa report from www.nzgda.com.

My Friend, Pedro review: bloody acrobatics & a sentient banana [Nintendo Switch]

If I can make one suggestion when you fire up Deadtoast Entertainment’s side-scrolling shooter My Friend Pedro, it’s this: Do so wearing a decent set of headphones as it has a soundtrack that your ears will thank you for.

Based on an Adult Swim Flash game, My Friend, Pedro, the sound track is driving and relentless and fits perfectly into the on-screen carnage as you (our hero) shoot, pirouette and tumble your way through a 2.5D world, goaded on by … a talking banana. Yes, you read that right: A sentient, talking banana. That banana is Pedro and he offers advice on what to do.

My Friend, Pedro is described by publisher Devolver Digital in its marketing as a “violent bloody ballet about friendship and imagination” and it’s the perfect description: A twin-stick shooter, the game delights in slow motion acrobatics (think Max Payne’s bullet time) as you bound off walls and catapult off weighted doors, kicking 10-gallon drums (and eventually body parts) into foes & dodging automated turrets as bullets fly and heads explode in clouds of of red mist – all punctuated by that marvelous soundtrack (notable pieces are being Requium for Rose & Junkyard King).

This is a game that celebrates forward momentum, too, rewarding you with inventive moves and speed – then scoring you at the end. Every now and then an image of Pedro’s face (actually, do banana’s have faces?) will subliminally flash onto the screen: If Pedro’s smiling, he likes what he sees. If he’s frowning, he’s not impressed so you’d better do better.

My Friend, Pedro is also the sort of game that is perfect for the Switch’s portability and one that you can play in bite-sized chunks when you’ve got a bit of spare time in the evenings, thanks to the size of the levels, but the controls did take a bit of getting used to, as I felt I had to contort my fingers at times to do pull off some manouevers.

Devolver Digital is impressing me more and more with its support of quirky, indie titles [another excellent title is BroForce, which also plays perfectly on the Nintendo Switch]  and with My Friend, Pedro, Devolver has another winner on its hands.

‘Tis the season for E3, hear ye, hear ye … trailers & videos incoming!

As my Twitter feed keeps reminding me, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3, for short) is underway in Los Angeles this week, when [most] of vidya game’s biggest  publishers and developers showcase the games they’ve got coming out in the next few months [and over the next year or so].

A notable absence this year is PlayStation: It decided to forgo E3 for reasons.

I suspect they’ll have a strong presence at the Tokyo Game Show later this year and Gamescom in Germany, which makes sense, to be honest, especially focusing on the TGS which is, after all, in Japan.

OK, so all the major players had their pre-show press conferences yesterday and today [Xbox, SquareEnix, Bethesday, Devolver Digital, Ubisoft and EA], but rather than dissect them frame by frame, announcement by announcement, I’ve had links to trailers and conferences emailed to me … so I’m going to let you do the hard work [is that lazy??]

CD Projekt Red, the studio behind The Witcher series, revealed a new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 & while it didn’t reveal any actual game play [which is a little annoying], the release date [April 16, 2020] was announced at the show by none other than Bill & Ted star himself Keanu Reeves [who seems to be the “it” guy right now]. He’s also featuring in the game. Here’s the trailer. Keanu appears at the end.

Xbox announced it had acquired Tim Schaefer’s Double Fine Productions [you’d still better look after the backers – including me – of the Fig campaign that actually funded the game, Tim!], the beta version of Game Pass for PC, which I signed up for given I’m a born-again PC gamer, and at $NZ6.95 a month, it seems incredibly good value for money, and already hads a pretty good line-up of games so far [Metro Exodus, Wolfenstein 2, Football Manager 2019, Void Bastards], and like its Xbox counterpart, more games will be added as the service grows. It also revealed Project Scarlett, it’s next next-gen console that is apparently going to be “4 x more powerful than the Xbox One X” [and, according to one Xbox Twitter account it would be the most powerful console it had ever designed, but it did say that about the Xbox One X, right?] Details were light on the ground on Project Scarlett, though, given it’s not releasing until the end of 2020. It also showed a cinematic trailer for the next game in the Halo series.

SquareEnix showed off its Final Fantasy 7 remake, and it looks pretty impressive – and I’m not a fan of the series. Here’s the battle system in action:

It also announced Outriders, a new game from development studio People Can Fly [the company behind the very good Bulletstorm], and a Marvel Avenger’s game, which will come out next year. Here’s trailer for those two, too.

Bethesda showed off, among other things, more of Doom Eternal

Wolfenstein Young Blood

Ghostwire Tokyo

Phew, I’m tired after all that. I don’t have anything about EA or Ubisoft but Ubi announced a new Watchdogs game set in London & another entrant in the Ghost Recon franchise, and EA showed off Respawn’s Star Wars game The Force Unleashed 3 Jedi Fallen Order.

Anything catch your eye?

Update, Wednesday, June 12: Ubisoft have sent through a shite load of emails today but here’s some of the key titles it showed.

Watchdogs Legion 

Assassin’s Creed story creator mode

and God & Monsters

A Plague Tale: Innocence in pictures

A Plague Tale: Innocence, from French developer Asobo Studio, has come out of nowhere, really, with little fanfare and hype, and so far, it’s the sleeper hit of 2019 for me.

I bought it the other day on PC (true story: I got the conversions wrong so thought I was paying around $NZ45 for a $US37 game but actually ended up paying $58) and I’ve been blown away from the moment I started playing. After about two hours playtime, I’m still blown away by the game.

Set in France during the time of a devastating plague (I’ve no idea what time period), Amicia and her brother Hugo must escape the British Inquisition soldiers hunting down Hugo. To make matters worse, swarms of rats are a crucial element that Amicia and Hugo have to survive against.

This isn’t a review of the game, or even a preview, it’s really just to show just how jaw-droppingly good looking this game is on PC. I get the odd hitch every now and then but I’m playing on Ultra graphics settings with an AMD RX580 GPU and it just looks phenomenal.

Chances are I’ll post some thoughts when I’m done with A Plague Tale: Innocence. So far, all those thoughts are incredibly positive.

 

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Pint-sized review: Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11: Finish him!I’ll get this out of the way right off the bat: I have no skill when it komes to the Mortal Kombat games. Skill, Mortal Kombat & me are not words that should be placed togther in the same sentence.

This is how Mortal Kombat games go for me: I fumble my way through the tutorials, telling myself that I know what I’m doing & what buttons do what , then  pretty much just stab at random buttons during fights, hoping that I actually konnect with my foe before he/she delivers a fatal blow & rips my spine out my arse.

So it is with MK11: I merrily went through the tutorial, doing what I was told, then starting playing the game proper – and sure enough, it quickly descended into me just mashing buttons until things happened. It wasn’t pretty, I tell you.

Long story short for MK11 is that the brutality of the former games is back once again & while it’s a rare thing for me to actually be in the right on-screen position to deliver a flawless fatality, I can attest to how brutal those climactic moves are after seeing my much-better-at-games teenage son deliver them. Look, if I do manage to pull off a fatality, it’s probably happened by accident and not due to my ability.

I’ve long been impressed with the dynamic environments in the most recent MK games, and this one doesn’t disappoint, letting players use the environment to deliver the hurt to opponents in creative ways. The game’s kutscenes/movies (which at times err on the too long side but are, thankfully, skippable) are top notch, too, and I could happily sit and watch them if they were presented in a long-form movie format.

If you’re squeamish at the sight of virtual gore – and MK11 is dripping with eye-popping, bone-crunching, vital organ-smashing moments – this NetherRealm’s latest isn’t the fighting game for you, and if I’m being honest, I did question at times the sheer graphic nature of the brutality – and I’m a person who had no problem watching the combat sequences in a movie like John Wick 2.

Look, fans of the series will welcome MK11 with open arms, reveling in the opportunity to punch an opponent’s still beating heart out through their rib cage, but for newkomers who just want to give the series “a crack” to see what it’s like, Mortal Kombat 11 probably isn’t the best starting point. You have been warned.

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