15 Sep 2017
The arts are at the heart of all creative endeavours. This was brought home to me in a very real way at this year’s New Zealand Game Developers Conference, which was held last week in Auckland.
Creative New Zealand was pleased to sponsor the NZGDC Art stream for the first time this year. While that might seem a bit left-field, it fits in well with our five-year advocacy strategy, through which we’re building up relationships with the wider creative sector. We see our friends in the creative industries as allies in helping to show the value of the arts to New Zealanders.
The New Zealand games sector itself is big business. The New Zealand Game Developers Association has just put out the results of its annual survey, which show the sector reaching $100 million in export earnings for the first time. The Association reckons it could be a billion dollar industry within a decade. Of the sector’s 500 hi-tech creative export jobs, 28 percent of these are artists. Artists are also one of the highest in-demand roles, second only to programmers in terms of desired skills.
These figures are impressive. But of course, the numbers mean nothing without an amazing product; great visuals, music and stories are all vital to create games that people want to engage with.
There was a real generosity of spirit on display at the conference where around 500 eager attendees headed along to hear from more than 100 speakers. It was great to see such collegiality and genuine willingness to share knowledge, impart wisdom and seek inspiration amongst these undoubtedly talented and creative New Zealanders.
The Art stream in particular had a wonderfully diverse line up. Emma Johansson from Runaway spoke about building a successful art team from the ground up, including managing her brother! Sam Batty from Aurora 44 had a line I really liked, which linked to the conference theme ‘Luck by Design’. “Being lucky is about making the effort to put yourself into opportunities.”
In a fascinating session, Inge and Jack from S1T2 (Story 1st, Technology 2nd) explained some of the intricacies of Baroque and Romantic art theory and how those movements influence the look and feel of a lot of games. Craig Warne from Scarlet City Studios gave some brilliant insights into how music and sound shape emotional experiences, often without players even knowing it, making them ‘more real’.
The Narrative & Storytelling stream speakers were also fascinating. Maru Nihoniho from Metia Interactive spoke about her journey with Guardian, originally an adventure game concept with a strong Māori heroine that has taken a new direction as an interactive fiction piece.
I also enjoyed Amie Mills from TVNZ whose talk on interactive storytelling and how narratives now move from screen to other platforms and back again, help keep audiences engaged. Her references to classics like the Viewmaster, Choose Your Own Adventure books and Myst brought back a lot of fond memories for this Gen X-er! Fun (and/or potentially scary) fact: 85 percent of New Zealanders now have devices in their hands as they’re watching TV.
As part of our conference sponsorship, we were also able to support a few creative types to attend. They’ve since told me about how the gathering helped reaffirm their passion for making cool things, how gaming is now more than just entertainment, and how people love immersing themselves into new worlds and cultures that engage their imagination beyond what the real world can.
The impression I was left with was the huge opportunity that exists for artists to get involved in the field – one which will grow massively in the next few years – and the amazing, supportive, creative environment that they’ll head into. Game on!