From digital to dollars: gaming gets serious

The burgeoning games industry is making money for Kiwi exporters – and an increasingly diverse gamer audience with more devices than ever is force to be reckoned with.

Two pieces of new research highlight strong growth in gaming, with a local survey showing mobile games made in New Zealand have been downloaded more than 130 million times in the last year, with industry earnings up 86 percent annually to $36 million. That’s coupled with income of $31.4 million from exports of smartphone and online games, according to a Game Developers Association (NZGDA) survey of 33 of its 40 studio members.

Association chair Stephen Knightly says barriers to global market entry to for Kiwi game makers have dropped and the sector is reaping the benefits of its long-held focus on niche international audiences to overcome the small size of the domestic market. “New Zealand studios have built up their loyalty and brand names as much as software,” says Knightly. “The great thing about that is we’re creating original IP that creates sustainability, compared to other industries, like film which is more project based.

“Gaming is now firmly established as one of the core sectors of New Zealand’s creative economy. The success of New Zealand’s games industry continues to come from digital distribution via app stores and websites and the fact that we develop own our ideas.”

Kiwi studios are as adept as their international counterparts at producing franchises with loyal followings, he says.

Wellington’s PikPok’s Super Monsters Ate My Condo was nominated for a UK BAFTA award, and its game Into The Dead is used by the Guinness Book of World Records when officially judging the world’s best mobile gamer, the association says. Locally-created games have also been heavily downloaded recently – Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games has over 3.2 million PC gamers; Bloons Tower Defence 5 by NinjaKiwi was a US Top 50 grossing paid iPhone game; The Blockheads by Majic Jungle was a number one US iPad game and number two US iPhone game with over 7 million downloads, while MiniGolf Matchup by RocketJump was the number one iPhone game in 28 countries with over 10 million downloads, NZGDA says.

The gaming audience is also increasingly diverse and mainstream, says Knightly.

That’s backed by numbers in the newly-released third annual Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) Digital New Zealand 14 report, by Bond University in Australia.

Of the 805 New Zealand households (2337 individuals) of all ages surveyed, nine in 10 had at least one device that was used for interactive gaming. A growing number of devices is making gaming more accessible to an audience beyond the stereotype of geeky young men, says the report’s author Dr Jeff Brand, professor at Bond University.

“We do have a fast growing population of older gamers in New Zealand and we’re getting much closer to parity with female gamers,” says Brand. “People do stereotype this medium even though it’s in 94 percent of New Zealand households.”

PCs are creating a growing number of social media gamers, while more people are playing games on mobile phones and tablets. But he says newer devices aren’t taking away from the number who use PCs and consoles.

The number of New Zealanders playing games on tablets has doubled to 22 per cent in the last two years, according to IGEA’s findings, while 44 percent play games on their smartphones. PCs and consoles are still used by the majority of New Zealanders, with 60 percent of households using a PC to play video games and 53 percent using a console.

According to IGEA, Kiwis aged 51 and over mainly play games to keep their mind active, while the majority of interactive gamers are adults (71 percent of gamers are aged 18 plus). Nearly four in five parents use games to educate their children, according to the report.

Knightly says the increasingly mainstream gaming audience is a key one for marketers to target.

Selling advertising space in games now makes up 32% of revenue of the revenue made by Kiwi studios, an increase from 14 percent the previous year, NZDA says.

“The growth is due to the fact those game studios are reaching such huge audiences. Even if those audiences aren’t buying any virtual goods you can get an extra revenue stream from advertising to them.

“New Zealanders are lapping up those online games, they’re a great way to bring a brand experience and a brand promise to life.”

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