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Wellington's game development industry is one to watch

By Dorien 14 Sep 2017

Aurora44's game Ashen
Aurora44's game Ashen set to be released in 2018

I head up sector development for the Creative Industries at WREDA, helping the sector grow, reducing barriers to growth and helping attract talent and investment.

Creative Industries are those industries that create IP (intellectual property) and are able to charge for it. For example, the arts, design, film and television, music, writers, software developers, architects and game developers all fall under this umbrella. 

Last week I was lucky to fly to Auckland to attend the annual New Zealand Game Developers Conference at AUT.  The game development industry is an important part of Wellington's creative industries and has the potential to grow significantly in the next ten years.

The industry is growing year on year. In 2012 it bought $19.6M into the New Zealand economy, fast forward to 2017 it now brings $99.9M annual revenue into the economy - 97% of this revenue comes from exports. In the last year alone it has grown 12% and is expected to keep growing at a hight rate.

So, I thought it was timely to highlight some of Wellington's game development industry.

Density of game studios highest in New Zealand

New Zealand's game development industry statistics
NZGDA 2017
Photo credit: NZGDA

Wellington is home to eight game development studios, just behind Auckland which has 13 studios. With only about one-third the population of Auckland, that makes the density of studios in Wellington the highest in the country.

We also have some of the most successful and iconic names in New Zealand’s game industry here in Wellington, including:

  • PikPok - it’s founder Mario Wynands leads a team of about 80 developers on Willis Street
  • Aurora44 - founded by Derek Bradley, it began with a team of two in 2013 and now has a team of 35 developers (and growing), based at Avalon Studios. They are currently developing a game for Xbox called Ashen, which is a third-person, action role-playing game about forging relationships.
  • Magic LeapWellington is the base for Magic Leap's Australasian branch which is based in Miramar and connected to Weta Workshop
Pik Pok founder Mario Wynands
Pik Pok founder Mario Wynands

Furthermore, Wellington is also home to a number of smaller 'indie' studios.

These studios help create a productive network in Wellington for small satellite start-up studios, founded by talent and fostered and educated by the large successful studios. This organic growth environment attracts talent and investors, a very productive eco-system to grow this sector and keep the developers and studios here in our region.

We’re competing with cities globally for game developers as well as studios, Wellington is very well placed to be one of the most attractive regions in the world to establish, plus grow, world-leading studios. Watch this space…

Highly innovative and rapidly growing sector

This sector is highly innovative, diverse and super-cool, everything they do seems 'unexplored territory'. Their business venture looks like a real quest:

  • business-models - selling to the world through the app-store/getting millions of downloads and being paid for it
  • intense use of analytics - everything they do is measured
  • team cultures - ultimate inventors of bean-bags, diversity and team culture with a high emphasis on employee wellbeing, including mental health
  • connectedness and openness - there’s a huge feeling of collaboration between the studios, CEO’s of the larger organisations give back to the community, sharing of information

When the keynote speaker started it immediately became clear that you can throw any pre-conceived ideas about this sector overboard. Aurelie Le Chevalier is a young Canadian woman GamePlay Programmer. Aurelie has so much passion for games and imagination, for story-telling and mathematics, for weapons and conquering a quest – she made me consider becoming a programmer too! From Montreal, she loves AI (artificial intelligence) and is interested in data-driven gameplay systems.

The closing keynote was Delaney King who has 20 years of game development under her belt. One of her favourite games is Sonic. That resonated with me, I remember that game from when my kids were younger and loved it too. Delaney is a badass woman with great humour. She described how she sits on the bus and looks around her at all the people going to work – realising that what she’ll be doing all day is putting ‘armpit hair’ on one of her main game characters, all day long. Imagine that kind of dedication and detail.

If you have any comments or questions on the game development industry, or on any of our high-growth sectors here in Wellington feel free to pop a comment below. Also, remember to sign up to our WREDA Business eNews if you are keen to hear what WREDA is doing to help the Wellington economy, industry events or the latest cool invention from a Wellington business.

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