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Careers 2013: Game studios bolster industry

Mobile development skills in demand in New Zealand's burgeoning game development industry

New Zealand's gaming industry started as a small niche within the larger technology sector, but is now becoming a force in its own right.

The New Zealand Game Developers Association estimates there are around 30 to 35 full time game development studios in New Zealand, ranging from small operations to larger "dev houses" like Sidhe Interactive or Gameloft.

Stephen Knightly, chairperson of the New Zealand Game Developers Association, says the breakdown in staff for these organisations is 40 percent programmers, 40 percent digital artists and creative people, and the rest business and marketing.

Knightly says the number of people with game development specific skills in New Zealand is relatively low. Universities and technical institutes have only recently been promoting specific streams for the industry. IT workers with a passion for gaming are sought to fill the gap.

"Games are a lot like any other application. They need robust networking, strong security, and management of large databases - all skills you learn working in IT," says Knightly.

Custard Square is an Auckland-based game development studio that specialises in online casual gaming.

Begun in 2009 with a team of two, the company has grown exponentially to 16 staff - ranging from programmers, digital artists and even a dedicated story writer.

Custard Square develops games internally, with kids virtual world game Dinosawus as its anchor project, attracting around 300,000 users per month. The studio also does dev-for-hire work for larger studios like Disney.

This outsourcing work has fuelled Custard Square's growth in the last two years.

To support more story-led game development, Custard Square is looking for experienced developers with C++ skills and animation specialists.

Studio director Chris Bulman says that much like the enterprise IT space, finding senior level staff is difficult.

"Even more so, in some ways, because of how young the industry is in New Zealand," he adds.

Bulman says larger game houses like Sidhe, PikPok, and Gameloft are helping to bring experience to the industry. New and often unproven developers and animators get the chance to cut their teeth, taking their experience with them when they leave.

"It's still pretty difficult though because we're pitching for them, along with other players in New Zealand and overseas," says Bulman.

Custard Square is putting its hopes on graduates from New Zealand technical institutes, particularly the Media Design School in Auckland. In the last year the studio has hired two graduates from the School.

Bulman says the School's courses accurately reflect working in a real studio environment, giving graduates an understanding of the development and production cycles that are involved in games.

"That's an invaluable skill for us. People don't understand that game development is a lot like film production, there's a lot of energy and work that goes into each cycle and we need people who can work to that," says Bulman.

He says mobile app development skills are hot in the industry, with the rise of casual gaming on iOS and Android devices. Custard Square ports most of its games to mobile devices using a custom built framework that lets the company to continue programming in C++.

His advice for anyone looking to get into the sector is to create one or two small casual games for their portfolios, something which he says he looks for in new staff.

*This article is part of Computerworld series on ICT careers. See also: New ICT projects continue to boost staff demand, What are large employers looking for? and Tech roles in hot demand.


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