“We started with just three of us in a flat in Lower Hutt, and we’ve grown it to a company that earns tens of millions of dollars and creates hundreds of jobs.”
PikPok – the globally renowned studio that has been delighting players with compelling gameplay, evocative art, and immersive audio design since 1997 – celebrates its 25th birthday this year.
A fitting milestone then, to take a look back through the archives and pay tribute to the personal and professional journey of the man who believed the motto “a rising tide lifts all boats” and whose work in the last quarter of a century created a veritable ocean swell that propelled the New Zealand games industry into the big leagues…
Stalwart, industry pillar, spokesperson, godfather, “knows how to party”; just some of the phrases you’ll hear used to describe the man at the helm of PikPok during these last 25 years.
A widely respected figure, not just in the New Zealand game dev community, but also the global business community, Mario has helped to both build our national industry, and raise its profile on a global stage.
Wellington-based studio PikPok is New Zealand’s oldest game development business and one of the top 10 that account for 95% of our industry’s revenue and 78% of its workforce. It’s 190+ strong staffing team fill four floors of a central Wellington building.
But back in 1997, Wynands was in his 20s when he co-founded Sidhe Interactive with Tyrone McAuley and Stuart Middleton. The trio were inspired to chase the dream of game development by Final Fantasy VII.
It’s hard to imagine a New Zealand without a strong game dev community, given how it looks today. Yet Mario remembers the 90’s and how lonely making games in Aotearoa could be…
“There wasn’t really much of a community so that we could tap into local knowledge, either. There were some old school programmers like Mark Sibly and Simon Armstrong, who had success on the Amiga with things like Skidmarks and Blitz BASIC, but there wasn’t really a local community to tap into to learn how to do things.”
Not only has his studio created globe-spanning franchises but PikPok has also, crucially, been an important training ground for many of the staff, and studio leaders, of new independent studios set up around New Zealand in recent years.
“A lot of the studios that have been successful in New Zealand, almost all of them have come out of PikPok or have got their start there or were tangentially related to them,” says NZGDA Chairperson Chelsea Rapp, holding the industry leadership position that Mario himself volunteered his time and passion to for almost a decade.
PikPok began as a work-for-hire outfit, doing contract game development for companies like Warner Bros Games and Activision, and creating games for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo platforms.
Everything changed in 2009 though, when PikPok joined the movement towards mobile games after starting to invest in its own intellectual property a couple of years earlier.
Early success with a Flick Kick Football game and follow-ups led to its hugely successful Into the Dead zombie game and sequel.
Over the years PikPok has released multiple critically and commercially successful games including Rival Stars® Horse Racing, Into the Dead® and Into the Dead 2, Super Monsters Ate My Condo™, Shatter® and more, which have been recognized with BAFTA, DICE Award, IMGA, and Pocket Gamer nominations, as well as included on App Store and Google Play best of year lists.
These and other free-to-play games have been downloaded more than 500 million times, with most of the company’s estimated “tens of millions” in annual revenue coming from in-game purchases and advertising.
This year, PikPok continued it’s ethos of growth, calculated risk and innovative collaboration, when it acquired Columbian-based studio Wizard Fun Factory who will become PikPok’s first overseas studio. Adopting the PikPok brand, the new studio will be supporting the development of both new and legacy PikPok games, and is expected to grow beyond the team of 20.
So what have the last 25 years taught Mario? What would he change, if anything, and what does he hope the future holds for his team, and the wider New Zealand industry?
We caught up with him to find out…
0:00 – Intro
0:30 – How does it feel to have a business that’s turned 25?
1:32 – When the company was formed in 1997 did you ever think about what the company might look like in a couple decades time?
3:38 – Is there another challenge that you faced back when you started that you don’t think is an issue anymore for new developers?
5:35 – Do you think there is still a need to be present in the US to be as successful as you want to be?
7:52 – Are you traveling a lot these days?
9:46 – Does PikPok have a 25 year roadmap from here onwards?
13:35 – Is there anything you had hoped PikPok would’ve achieved by now but hasen’t?
15:50 – Do you remember that moment in 2009 when that pivot to mobile happened?
21:10 – What kind of qualities does it take in a person or a team to navigate a changing industry?
24:45 – What is the most important thing to you in the next 25 minutes, 25 weeks & 25 months?
27:27 – Outro