NZ video game development industry on the up and up

Looks like things are on the up and up for the New Zealand video games development industry, with the sector earning $203.4 million dollars during the 2019 financial year – double the $99.9m earned only two years earlier in 2017.

The figures come from the annual NZ Game Developers Industry Survey conducted by independent researcher Tim Thorpe and is for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. It canvassed 39 interactive, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and edTech companies. The 10 largest studios earned 93% of the industry revenue, employed 77% of the workforce and are now 10 years old on average.

New Zealand Game Developers Association Chairperson Cassandra Gray says the results are the “fruits of the last generation of New Zealand interactive studios’ hard work”.

“Our opportunity is to support the next generation of creative tech companies to join them,” she says.

Fifty nine per cent of studios expect significant growth (greater than 10%) in the coming year. In the last year, eight New Zealand-made apps debuted the new Apple Arcade service, NinjaKiwi’s Bloons TD6 topped Apple’s paid games charts, Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile was one of the top ten played PC games in the world, RocketWerkz opened a second studio in Auckland, and Valleys Between by Little Lost Fox won the Best Feel Good Game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards.

The companies involved in the survey employ 683 creative and hi-tech workers, an increase of 133 new jobs this year. A Creative NZ and NZ On Air study, A Profile of Creative Professionals 2019, found that game development was one of the best paid creative occupations in the country and 31% of the roles in the industry are programmers, 29% are artists, 24% for game designers or producers, 12% for management or marketing.

Nearly half of the studios (47%) said that skills shortages were limiting the growth of their business – and this had intensified since last year. Gender diversity remains a concern for the sector, with 21% of employees identifying as female or non-binary, and attracting early stage development funding and attracting investment for expansion continue to be the biggest growth challenges to the industry.

The educational benefits of simulations and interactive training continues to be recognised, with 24% of New Zealand interactive studios having made games or apps for businesses clients or government departments and 20% have made games for educational institutions.

The surveyed developers make interactive media for a range of devices and global markets, with 63% making mobile apps, 53% producing PC games, 38% concentrating on console games, 22% making augmented reality apps and 19% making virtual reality games.

When I used to write full-time for a living (a few years ago now), I had a wee bit to do with several NZ game developers and was impressed with what I saw, especially from studios like Flightless, based in Mt Maunganui (RTS game Element, Doomsday Vault & Bee Leader) and Sidhe (now called Pik Pok),  and I had a tour of the Grinding Gears studio a few years back. Here’s to a strong future to all Kiwi game developers.

Element: The realtime strategy game for those who don’t have lots of time for RTS

element_005According to Tauranga, New Zealand game developer Flightless, Element is a real-time strategy game set in space “for people who don’t have time to play realtime strategy space games”.

The game is currently on Steam Early Access for PC, Mac and Linux, and over the years, I’ve covered games made by Flightless (most notably its iOS game Bee Leader) so was lucky enough to get a Steam code for Element.  As you can see from the screen shots, it’s got a really nice art style to it and colour palate. I also hear it was received favourably at this year PAX Aus, and, frankly, I can see why.

element_008Element’s story is set in a time where you are onboard a space craft escaping a decaying solar system. You must visit each planet, mine enough element and defeat the enemy to progress to the outer planets and beyond. You’ll build attack and defence units and assault enemies while mining the planet you’re on for valuable resources using the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

I’ve had a few games of Element and things start off easily, with just a few enemy units to get rid of, but as the game progresses it gets harder, and you find yourself having to flick between mining resources and attacking enemies. You’ll find yourself rotating the planet as you plonk down defensive units then target enemy attack units, hoping to shoot them out of the sky before they destroy your base.

I think Flightless are on the money when they said Element is a realtime space strategy game for those who don’t have time for realtime space strategy games which, let’s be honest, require hours and hours of time to play. I like that Element is the sort of game that you can play through one or two campaign then call it quits for the night but still feel satisfied.

Here’s me playing through Element’s tutorial level:

I’m really liking Element so far and I’ll continue working my way through its planets. No doubt things will get tougher as it progresses, with tougher enemies and challenges, but I love its art style and, importantly, it’s a realtime strategy game that has mission campaigns that are short enough for busy people, like me (and I’d say you too, dear reader) so I don’t have to dedicate a million hours to progress.

I love, too, that Element is from a New Zealand developer that I’ve followed closely over my years as a games writer.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Element.