Government report urges support for gaming and interactives industry

New Zealand could have a billion dollar interactive media and gaming industry within five years, a new government report has found.

The Interactive Aotearoa report called for a planned approach to growing the sector and the setting up of an Interactive Commission, similar to the Film Commission, to provide seed funding for fledgeling companies.

The New Zealand Game Developers Association wrote the report.

Spokesperson Stephen Knightly said while the industry was worth just under $150 million a year, it was a relative minnow compared to the sector globally, which was now worth $250 billion, more than film and television combined.

“We actually have global publishers, global investors, coming to New Zealand, wanting to invest in New Zealand-made games or virtual reality simulations. And we actually don’t have the pipeline of studios to put in front of them. So we’re actually turning down and missing some of those investment opportunities.”

The report called for the establishment of an Interactive Commission that fledgeling developers could pitch ideas to.

The best ones would gain seed funding to enable them to build up enough scale to make them attractive to big overseas investors willing to put in the money required to create the next Fortnite or World of Warcraft.

“At the moment too many New Zealand start-ups think a little bit too small. Or just like a film, there’s actually a fair bit of content you have to create. There’s just a budget that’s required to make a decent prototype that you could test with a real audience and proves that people would want to buy it.”

The industry was not just about games.

Dunedin-based Animation Research made virtual reality health and education software doing everything from making children familiar with CT scanners so they didn’t have to be sedated, to putting prisoners in a garage as part of teaching them maths.

Its managing director Ian Taylor said any strategy for the sector needed to look long-term, and he was nervous about talk of growing it to $1 billion within five years.

“We need to be careful about how we put this together and how we move it forward and really the targets and goals because if you make the target too high, too soon, then this will kind of flash and burn.”

Ian Taylor/Photo:RNZ

New Zealand Game Developers Association chairperson Cassandra Gray said interactive media played to the country’s strengths, its technology and creative industries.

“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,” Ms Gray said.

“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.

“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.”

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford/Photo: RNZ

Game developer Dean Hall, from RocketWerkz, said government help for the industry could not just be about tax breaks along the lines of those given to overseas filmmakers.

“Overall it’s about fostering the industry, which means making sure that we have people coming through who are considering it as a career and making people able to grow new businesses that make those video games not just supporting the existing big ones.”

As yet there were no promises from the government about what sort of money it might be willing to put into an Interactive Commission.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said he looked forward to “continuing discussions” with the sector.

This story originally appeared on Radio New Zealand.

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