Is NZ missing out on a digital gold rush?

Video games are a multibillion-dollar global entertainment industry, and experts say New Zealand should be doing more to seize the opportunity.

Gaming is worth $524m to New Zealand, thanks to companies like Grinding Gear Games.

The Auckland-based developers' fantasy action game "Path of Exile" is played by millions of people around the world, and the company is now worth over $100m.

"That sounds like big impressive figures. What I think people don't appreciate is that it's peanuts," says Stephen Knightly from the New Zealand Game Developers Association.

Peanuts, perhaps, in comparison to countries like Finland.

Despite having a population and GDP similar to New Zealand’s, Finland's gaming sector is now worth $4.2 billion, thanks to a period of direct government investment.

Is NZ missing out on a digital gold rush?
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Green Party Spokesperson for IT Gareth Hughes says investing in gaming isn't just good for our economy but also the environment.

"Unlike dairy and tourism where there's a limit to how many tourists we can put down in Fiordland or dairy where we're literally seeing the impacts we be too many cows on our paddocks -there is no limit to the exports of software code of games."

The gaming economy's growth in recent years has been immense, from $102b in 2012, to around $200b today.  

For comparison, global box office sales last year totalled around $57b, with music revenue totaling around $25b.

Minister for Digital Media Clare Curran recently commissioned a study to profile the NZ gaming sector and says Government help is overdue.

"Gaming has fallen between the cracks, to be honest, in terms of its eligibility for getting any assistance from government."

Mr Knightly agrees, saying he is concerned small studios aren’t getting enough support.

"We've got one generation of successful game studios but they're all ten years old. Our level of entrepreneurship has gone backwards in the last ten years, our number of startups is actually declining."

Is NZ missing out on a digital gold rush?
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One way to help gaming startups could be providing more access to funds from the New Zealand Film Commission, which received $300 million last year for domestic and international grants alone.

And game development isn't the only part of the industry New Zealand could cash in on.

Twenty-seven countries worldwide already officially consider gaming a sport and Duane Mutu from Let's Play Live says we should be next.

"Sport New Zealand is in late discussions with the New Zealand E-sports Federation looking at recognising it as a sport. That is very very close."

But like the development arm of gaming, Mr Mutu says e-sport needs more investment.

"There is actually zero funding towards the space from any sports perspective so to me it seems crazy in that sense because in reality if you put it in, it will come back out tenfold."

The International, an e-sport tournament for the game 'DOTA 2', had a prize pool of $35 million in 2017 - close to double the total prize pools for the Tour De France and the Masters golf tournament combined.

Whether or not you you'd call the players 'athletes', their audience is immense.

Is NZ missing out on a digital gold rush?
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Take popular Battle Royale game Fortnite. At any one time on game streaming site, there's up to 1.5 million people watching the game be played.

Last month alone fans watched 123 million hours worth of gameplay, translating to roughly 14,000 years worth of total viewing time.

Mr Mutu says being formally recognised as a sport in New Zealand is only the start.

"Whether we agree rightly or wrongly whether it should be an Olympic sport it's not going to be 'if', it's going to be 'when'."

The results of the government's study are due out later this year but industry advocates warn we need to act fast to not fall behind the rest of the world.  

Watch the video for the full story.

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