2016 AGM Report

The 2016 Annual General Meeting of the NZ Game Developers Association Incorporated was held at on Wed 3 August 2016 at AUT University, Auckland. Here are the reports reflecting on the last year’s progress from departing Chairperson Stephen Knightly.

Chairperson’s Report

Stephen Knightly, Chairperson for 2015/2016. From the Annual General Meeting of the NZ Game Developers Association Incorporated, held at 5pm Wed 3 August 2016 at AUT University, Auckland.

The NZGDA’s purpose is to represent, grow and support the success of New Zealand’s game development industry and community. Both are in great health and have so much more potential. Interactive entertainment is a global, fast-growing, digital weightless export that brings pleasure and can communicate messages powerfully. For many of us it’s our dream job. It has the potential to be a great contributor to New Zealand’s prosperity.

NZ’s Game Dev Industry continues to boom

NZGameExports2016v2

Today we released the results of our annual independent survey of NZ game studios.

New Zealand’s game development industry grew 13% last year to earn $88.9m in the year ending 31 March 2016 according to an independent survey of 38 studio members. Almost all of that revenue (92%) came from exports of interactive software and online services.

The industry continued its strong growth even in the face of the closure of the country’s single largest studio, Gameloft New Zealand, in January. Despite 150 jobs being lost as a result of the local subsidiary of Paris-based multinational Gameloft abruptly closing its doors, employment in the sector only decreased by 93 fulltime equivalent jobs to 475 as of 31 March 2016. This suggests the sector created 60 new hi-tech jobs in the last year. New Zealand studios forecast 98 new jobs in the coming year. Gameloft’s closure hasn’t slowed our industry’s growth and ultimately strengthened our ecosystem it would seem. We have a healthy cohort of mature studios, and it is heartening that Gameloft’s closure was primarily due to corporate takeover bids rather than the quality of the game developer based in Auckland.

The survey has already been reported on by the NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz, National Business Review, Newstalk ZB and more, and we have shared the findings with key government agencies.

While we know that the game development industry in New Zealand still has huge upside and more potential to grow, we should also acknowledge what we have achieved. During the recent Australian Senate enquiry into their game development industry, it was reported that the NZ’s industry revenues in FY2014 were greater than our colleagues in Australia’s – despite Australia having five times the population. The Meetups in Auckland and Wellington are larger than many in major world cities, and we get positive feedback about the strength of our community from international visitors.

How has NZGDA Done?

The real credit for this growth goes to the hard-working and risk-taking game developers and game studios, but we’d like to think that a successful industry association supports their growth and business by providing a platform to connect, collaborate, hire, get advice, sub-contract and promote.

Here are some metrics about the NZGDA’s activities in 2015/2016:

  • 1098 members
  • 620 nzgamedev Facebook Group members
  • 1821 nzgda Facebook Page likes
  • 2292 members of the Auckland GameDev Meetup Group
  • 480 attendees at the NZ Game Developers Conference 2015
  • 26 Game Developers received NZGDA GDC 2016 Scholarships
  • 6 travel grants to GDC 2016 provided thanks to the NZ Film Commission, Dry Cactus and Callaghan Innovation.
  • 18 business plans and playable prototypes submitted to Kiwi Game Starter 2015
  • $15,000 of Kiwi Game Starter prize money direct to NZ game developers
  • 54 business or partner meetings were held at GDC that are being actively pursued or have led to an ongoing business relationship.
  • 228 job applications were received by NZ game studios during March 2016 around GDC
  • Over 200 email conversations or requests via info@nzgda.com

 

These metrics relate to activities directly run by the NZGDA, but we also support, encourage and sometimes even sponsor many other activities in the community such as the Meetups in Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin and events like Global Game Jam, Play By Play and AnimFX. If these didn’t exist or fell over for some reason, we’d step in to ensure they happen somehow. In addition to the NZGDA-run The Arcade Auckland, there are four other games-related coworking spaces around NZ (Level Up Wellington, Epic Christchurch, Epic Westport and one in Dunedin).

Activities

Here is a link to our 2016 Activity Plan, which we shared in our newsletter and website earlier this year, showing which have been implemented.

Major activities like NZGDC, KiwiJam, KiwiGameStarter, GDC Kiwi Cocktails, GDC Scholarships are now established annual activities. The introduction of The Arcade Auckland coworking space, thanks to support from ATEED and the hard work of NZGDA Board Member Joe Chang, has also been a major milestone. It is a bustling hive of developer activity everytime I visit the new premises in Eden Terrace. The Arcade Auckland originally had it premises at Motat, and while we moved on to premises that better met our needs, we developed valuable educational and community links to Auckland’s premier technology museum and held several public events there.

There’s been an impressive volume of activity for a volunteer-run organisation. On reflection, the items that didn’t happen are primarily due to not being required or requests not being made. For example, we only helped two tertiary institutes find guest speakers this year as most institutes now have strong industry relationships of their own, but it’s still a role we can play.

One activity that is still on our wish-list is some form of Advisory Board, a group for studios and game developers who want to contribute their expertise to the industry alongside the elected NZGDA board. We want to be able to capture and make the most of the enthusiasm and offers of support we receive from so many people. For instance, there is a sizeable team of non-board volunteers contributing to NZGDC right now. During the year we also came very close to getting a games accelerator programme funded and had partnership conversations about a digital Maori culture programme, but these were unfortunately not to be at the moment.

Our activities are intended to form a pipeline of steps that developers can take as they progress along their career from student to employment to indie to manager (or whatever their individual path may be). We need to lay the path down in front of developers as they go. It would be irresponsible of us to encourage more game dev students if there were no jobs for them. We know from our survey and experience that early stage funding is the biggest need in our industry, so we created the KiwiGameStarter to support a handful of indie startups in the absence of meaningful government support. I’m proud that in addition to the sponsorship from Callaghan Innovation, we invest our own surplus funds directly into game development teams. We put our money where our mouth is.

We have a diverse mix of members and activities. It is fantastic that our members include students, indies, educators, serious games developers along with professional game developers. There is value in having all of them under one roof mixing together – doubly so in a small country like New Zealand. Students want to network with and learn from pros. Pros want to be inspired by indies. Serious games devs want to leverage game design insights for their projects.

Compared to so many other industries we are very inclusive, but must continually strive to do more. We have free membership, online signups, casual and open Meetups and receive a high volume of email requests and questions. We have over 1,000 members yet there are less than 500 fulltime professionals in our industry locally – so we clearly cater for more than studios and businesses with our activities. Gender diversity continues to be a strategic issue for the industry and requires action now and constant attention to create ongoing longterm improvement. On other measures of diversity, such as ethnicity and even age (both young and old) I think we do better. I also want to acknowledge “introvert diversity.” Not everyone gets up front to showcase their work at a Meetup, and there are some quiet regular attendees who come to life when you get them talking about their projects one-on-one. For them, the Meetups and community are a safe space.

One of my favourite Meetup moments of the last year was the Year 13 student who came along to check out what a career in game dev versus other forms of software engineering might be like. She was talking with two game developers who shared their experiences of university study, majors, crunchtime, team dynamics and what they found mentally stimulating about game dev versus corporate work. At the end of the chat they both gave her their business cards and suggested she send them her CV when she graduated or followup with any questions, as she had just been talking with two very successful CEOs (one in gaming, one in software). It’s great that we have an informal and open industry where anyone can connect like that.

Finances and Admin

We are a volunteer-run not-for-profit association, dependent on the goodwill of busy people to run our activities and finances and on the goodwill of a handful of industry sponsors. Through a lot of hard work and strategic relationship building we have had a surplus for the past few years, but a bad year would be easy to have. We should plan responsibly for that.

The financial goal for the association has been to have cash reserves that would cover one year’s operations. So if sponsorship dried up we know we could still run NZGDC, Meetups and hopefully the KiwiGameStarter. I am pleased to report that our financial reserves have now reached this level.

There is a huge amount of not-so-visible activity that the NZGDA gets involved in that the collective membership doesn’t see. A lot is at the individual level: replying to emails from startups, students, teachers, potential sponsors and dreamers (whom we want to encourage). As chairperson I have averaged one coffee a fortnight giving advice or feedback to someone. And I am not the only one: many other board members, industry leaders, and particularly tutors at educational institutions are often called upon.

I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of the NZGDA Secretary and The Arcade Auckland Manager, Joe Chang. His role at The Arcade is part funded by ATEED, where he is supported by part-time Administrator Krystal-Rose Thompson, who are kept busy sharing opportunities, news and events with our members. In my opinion a future goal for the Association should be to hire some form of Executive Director, CEO or full-time Administrator, like many other Associations do. There is no shortage of work, relationship management and opportunities for the industry to embrace.

Conclusion

I’m stepping down after four terms as Chairperson of the NZGDA over five years, and have made many close friends here in that time. My personal journey has spanned starting the Auckland Meetups (and the now-defunct Auckland Game Works and Playmaker communities), organising the first Auckland Global Game Jam, officially incorporating the NZGDA, curating the first NZGDC, funding the KiwiGameStarter and lots of conversations with government, media and supporters. Each activity has built on the last, and each has been picked up in turn by another community volunteer.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed and participated in what is surely one of the most vibrant and innovative creative communities in New Zealand. The NZGDA is your association, and its great to see record numbers of people standing and voting in our election this year. All the best to our new Chairperson James Everett and the NZGDA Board for 2016/2017.