New Zealand gaming innovation on display at GDC 2023, but at great risk of being poached by Australia

The annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) is underway in San Francisco, celebrating the fastest-growing entertainment industry on Earth, with Kiwi innovators in attendance. 

But due to a lack of industry support in New Zealand, some may only be coming back only to pack their bags again.

The GDC is the frontline of gaming technology, where the world's 3 billion gamers get to find out what they'll be playing next.

"If you have a hit game, you get tens of or hundreds of millions of people playing your game and there are New Zealand games, New Zealand studios who achieved that level of success," Stephen Knightly of the NZ Game Developers Association told Newshub.

Global gaming revenue is over NZ$350 billion annually - bigger than music and movies combined.

It's even taking over television, with HBO's acclaimed The Last of Us being a faithful remake of the acclaimed game.

And it's not just a foreign success story - some of that innovation is happening in our own backyard.

"The games industry in New Zealand is probably one of our unsung rising stars and it's been growing 30 or 40 percent every year," said Knightly.

Aotearoa's game industry doubled its revenue in 2022, generating $407 million - outcompeting Australia's $303 million.

But due to significant tax incentives now offered in Australia, some of our leading game developers say that lead could evaporate.

"We are seeing poaching from overseas studios, Australian studios, that are armed with great big wads of cash from the Australian government," said Knightly.

Other countries got into the game early. Finland, a nation of a similar size to New Zealand, has invested in gaming for decades. 

Its sector is now worth over $5 billion.

But for Kiwi studios like Metia and their game Guardian Maia, it’s not just money at stake, but mana. 

"That game is so entrenched in te reo Māori and New Zealand, it's all about Aotearoa and the last thing that we really want is for our game to not be developed in Aotearoa," said Metia Interactive managing director Maru Nihoniho.

But they say they may have no choice.

"It would be silly of us not to at least take a really serious look at having it done because the game can either get made or not, right?"

The Government has been consulting with the video game sector on additional support, but our developers say time has almost run out

"If there isn't a clear signal soon I think any new jobs in the New Zealand games industry will be created in Australia," said Knightly.

That could mean game over.