NZ Interactive Games 2021 Survey Results
9 December 2021

New Zealand game studios created over 200 jobs during lockdown

But Australian tax incentives and border restrictions put 300 more jobs at risk, according to latest survey findings.


New Zealand’s video games industry created 222 new jobs during 2020’s lockdowns. While the industry grew employment 30%, the potential to create over 300 future jobs is at risk from an aggressive Australian tax incentive targeting the industry and covid-19 border restrictions.

The number of people employed in the industry increased by 222 jobs to 969 full time equivalent jobs, an increase of 30% on the previous year. New Zealand studios estimate they will have 331 more job vacancies in the coming year, but are worried that they won’t be able to fill them. 

“While our local industry has been on a clear trajectory of growth and global success, the continuation of that is not guaranteed. While Australia’s tax incentives will undoubtedly lure overseas studios to relocate there, New Zealand’s potential lies in the creation of our own intellectual property. Investing in growing and exporting that IP differentiates our strategy from our neighbour’s and holds the key to exponential revenue growth. 

There are further challenges created by the continuation of closed borders for a country that had increasingly relied on importing experienced tech talent from overseas, so it’s worrying, but unsurprising, to hear that some New Zealand studios are looking at expanding into Australia instead of expanding locally.”


New Zealand interactive media and video games studios earned $276 million in the FY2021 financial year. 97% of the sector’s revenue came from exports of weightless digital products or services. This highly scalable and weightless nature means their potential to generate accelerated growth can translate into an immediate increase in high-quality jobs and export revenue, and with minimal impact to national climate change objectives.

Overall, industry earnings were similar to the previous year’s revenue of $271 million. While global games audiences boomed during lockdown, New Zealand businesses were hit by the US Dollar exchange rates which grew by 19% during the period of the survey. 

Global Competitiveness

Worth over $250 billion annually, video games are the largest sector of the entertainment industry worldwide New Zealand is already home to established and globally successful studios, with the largest studios an average of 12 years old. The 12 largest studios earned 91% of the year’s revenue, and they employed 77% of the workforce. 

However, of those top 12 studios (accounting for 749 jobs), 58% said that they were considering relocating some of their operations to Australia to take advantage of their incentive programme. If even half of these relocations take place in 2022, it would be a huge loss to New Zealand in what should continue to be one of our most productive and fastest-growing digital sectors. In terms of productivity, the sector earned $285,000 per employee. This brings the industry’s average compound annual growth rate (CGAR) since 2014 to 34% per annum. 

The potential of such continued growth creates benefits across New Zealand, as digital businesses can – and increasingly are – based in regions as much as main centres. They are also in constant need of skills, with the median salary being around twice the national equivalent.

Opportunities and Challenges

331 new jobs are predicted by studio owners for 2022, should New Zealand manage to navigate the neighbouring tax incentive risks.  In particular, studios are looking to hire over 150 new artists and visual effects technicians. 47% of the planned hires in the next year are for artists, whereas last year only 25% of vacancies were for artists. 

Game development relies on talent in almost all creative disciplines, from screen and visual arts, to music and sound, and writing and design. The making of games then holds obvious crossover with the film industry, where technical tools are also on the rise, as evidenced by the recent purchase of Weta Digital’s tool team by games engine Unity.

However, challenges remain for the growth potential of the New Zealand games industry. The top five business issues affecting games businesses were a shortage of experienced staff, covid-19 international travel, attracting early-stage development funding, attracting further investment and the readiness of graduates.

Existing issues that the New Zealand Game Developers Association already works to address, according to Rapp, and challenges which won’t be helped by additional changes on the horizon:

“For a sector like ours to grow, the businesses within it need to grow and be able to attract senior-level talent. The New Zealand games industry requires investment and skill development in order to support the creation and growth of small independent studios who can then develop more intellectual property and employ more New Zealanders. Support for the interactive media sector is paramount if we wish to remain competitive in this high-growth area.”

The figures quoted come from the annual New Zealand Game Developers Industry Survey. 

Now in its 11th year 63 interactive, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and education tech companies contributed, up from 42 last year.


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