Kiwi gaming inventors steam ahead

Games from a college business accelerator programme are going global next month, writes Jayne Atherton.

Chris Skelton/FAIRFAX NZ

Two games development teams at the Media Design school in Auckland have invented games which have been accepted for sale on the international gaming marketplace "Steam".

Two games developed by entrepreneurial Auckland students have been accepted in record time for listing on a global website dedicated to commercial games distribution.

Games development team "It's Fine" at the Media Design school in Auckland (Pictured, left to right) Brianna Fromont, ...
Chris Skelton

Games development team "It's Fine" at the Media Design school in Auckland (Pictured, left to right) Brianna Fromont, Claire Barilla, Tom O'Brien, Brian Rochat, and Kelsey Scheurich.

The games, called 'Dolly' and "Split" have been created in the studios of Auckland's Media Design School. 

Starting out as academic projects, they were taken up by the school's new business accelerator programme and introduced to the world via the online gaming community, "Steam Greenlight."

US-based Steam Greenlight is owned by Valve which is one of the world's biggest game development studios. And each of the Kiwi games was accepted in a record 10 days after votes poured in from international gamers who tested out the prototype.

The game "Split" was developed by a team of students at the Auckland Design School.
Chris Skelton

The game "Split" was developed by a team of students at the Auckland Design School.

Now, both games are being polished in preparation for launch on the fully commercial site "Steam" next month and both teams have won scholarships to the Games Development Conference in San Francisco in March.

It's a first success story for the Media Design School's year-old Studios programme, which aims to develop students' design and game development skills but also to hone their business know-how to propel them into a commercial career.

The five-strong Split team has formed its own company to market the game called "It's Fine" and hopes to develop more in the years to come.

The "Split" game  follows mini-cubes through a fantastical journey of opportunity and challenge.
Chris Skelton

The "Split" game follows mini-cubes through a fantastical journey of opportunity and challenge.

Team member Tom O'Brien said: "We are thrilled by our success as we were only second year students at the time of developing the game and really didn't expect it to get such a warm reception on the international stage.

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"The game is based on a puzzle - a cube with splits into mini-cubes which go on a journey through different environments. The aim is to reassemble the original cube at the end of the journey."

First year student Blake Wood is the designer of "Dolly", a whimsical game which allows gamers to experience the world of a young woman facing death from a terminal illness.

Blake Wood, a student at the Auckland Media Design school has developed the game "Dolly" which has been accepted for ...
Chris Skelton

Blake Wood, a student at the Auckland Media Design school has developed the game "Dolly" which has been accepted for sale on the international gaming marketplace "Steam".

Wood, who gave up a job in graphic design to go back to college to follow his dream of becoming a games artist said: "I am really surprised by the success of the game and really looking forward to getting it launched and onto the market."

The school's accelerator programme offers students industry mentorship and help with licensing and other regulations to allow them to commercialise their academic projects..

Programme director, Jackie Young said both games showed a level of sophistication and maturity which was remarkable to young people at their stage of development.

"Typically, a game, if it is going to get through the Steam process for example, will take about four weeks or more to be accepted and many never are," she said.

"To have two make the cut in such quick time is truly remarkable and a sign that they will be very successful once they are listed and available for purchase."

Careers in games development have become increasingly popular in the last five years, with a rising number of students with degrees wanting to enter the industry.

A survey of games developers, carried out by the International Game Developers Association last year, revealed that more than a third of people entering the industry had a specialised degree relevant to game design and development, with a further 26 per cent holding a degree which was directly relevant.

The international video game industry's revenue was estimated to be $81.5bn US dollars ($125bn) in 2014 and in the US and Canada alone employs 60,000 people.

In New Zealand the direct contribution of the games industry to the national economy was $98m in 2014, with the total contribution estimated at $239m, providing 2,305 full-time jobs.

Media Design School's communications manager, Annaliese Jackson said: "the emergence of digital distribution platforms such as 'Steam' are rapidly diminishing the factors fo distance from the main gaming markets, and as a consequence the industry is growing quickly in New Zealand.

"Games development is no longer a niche industry. It's a growing source of foreign exchange for the country and is a potentially lucrative career for those who choose it."

 - Sunday Star Times

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