Things are good, but there's room for improvement.
People have been making videogames in New Zealand for about as long as videogames themselves have existed. In the last fifteen years, however, the preeminent purveyor of game development in this country has undoubtedly been Wellington-based Sidhe, a company which now goes largely by the name PikPok.
Founded in 1997, by Mario Wynands and friends, the company has since produced more than 20 high profile titles across all manner of devices - including game consoles, handhelds, and now - more and more - mobile phones and tablets.
They've made games based on Rugby League, surfing, football, movie licenses, and more, working both for paying publishers (an arrangement referred to as "work for hire") and on projects funded internally.
Right now, the industry is in the middle of a massive change, both with the transition to the next-generation of consoles and thanks to the impact of a wide variety of touch-based portable devices and the mass-market consumer interest that they bring.
To find out how this change is impacting the local industry and what other sorts of issues they're facing, we asked Sidhe / PikPok's Mario Wynands to give us the lowdown on the state of the gaming nation.
"There's certainly a lot of similarities between the Australian and New Zealand industries," Mario pointed out, by way of an introduction to his position on the topic. "I think the key difference - in terms of how our respective countries have evolved - is Australia was quite embedded in console "work for hire", and kind of successful, but never really got to the point where it was doing a lot of original IP."
"By contrast, the weakness we had here was that - apart from ourselves - there was no momentum in terms of being able to get those contracts. So in New Zealand, if I can speak to the opportunity first, we were forced into a position where we had to self-publish via mobile, flash, or PC download, in order to be able to get our games to market."
"That's where the market shifted to; all of a sudden there's a resurgence in indie PC gaming, suddenly the very restrictive mobile industry opened up completely with the introduction of smartphones and tablets, flash gaming was seeing a huge uptake."
"So there's all this opportunity where New Zealand is kind of sitting there and we're creating very creative content, that is being soaked up by the western world; we're getting real momentum now and we've seen great success stories over the years like Dave Frampton from Majic Jungle - one guy, creating a series of games [Chopper, Chopper 2] that have had millions of downloads each. We have no limit to the upper potential; there's huge opportunity."
"But, as a country, there are things that are holding us back. Partly cultural, and partly just because of the environment we're in. From a cultural side, New Zealanders are too quiet; we're too humble, and that makes us really bad at selling. We want our content to speak for itself; we want to put a game out there and hopefully people notice it; if it's good enough, people enjoy it."
"You can do that in New Zealand; you can be a great New Zealand band and everybody will hear about you because you're in New Zealand and it's the whole three degrees of separation [thing]. But we need to get really loud on an international scale to get above the noise in the marketplace. I mean, there are thousands of games released in the app store every single day, and we need to find a way to elevate our message above that noise and expose people to that content - our stuff is so good, relative to the size that we are. We're punching above our weight, but we need to get louder; we need to get more American."
"There are other things as well; we have a do-it-yourself culture, but it's not quite an entrepreneurial culture in the way that other countries approach it. As business owners, we're very reluctant to take on external capital and we have - locally - a venture capital market which is very risk-averse anyway."
"While there are some avenues, with government funding (and I can certainly thank Tech New Zealand for being very supportive of the technical side of the industry), there's a lot more opportunity there I think for government to get in behind the creative side and actually build the IP."
"The real opportunity here is not just creatively being as successful as the film and music industries, where the quality of our work is recognised all over the world, but there's IP that we're building (that we own) that has intrinsic value and that is creating royalty streams that actually have much higher profitability than what the film industry has, for example."
"If we grew the games industry to the size of the film industry in New Zealand, we would be bringing in exponentially more revenue to the country than what the film industry is right now. There's huge opportunity but there's some fundamental things that we need to do in terms of really finding ways to better expose our content to the world, and actually capitalizing on this market opportunity where we have all these people selling stuff online and doing great work but really needing a bit more capital, a bit more support to get to the next level."