The earnings from locally-developed games grew a whopping 86 per cent during the past year, an independent survey of New Zealand Game Developers Association members has found.

The survey – which is based on Statistics New Zealand's Screen Industry Survey – canvassed 33 studios who between them released 55 commercial video games in the 2013 financial year.

The 86 per cent rise took annual earnings to NZ$36.3 million dollars, the majority of which (NZ$31.4m) came from exports of smartphone and online games.

“The investments in skills and jobs reported in previous years’ surveys is now paying off in real profits and international recognition,” said NZ Game Developers Association chairperson Stephen Knightly.

“Gaming is now firmly established as one of the core sectors of New Zealand’s creative economy. New Zealand studios are demonstrating sustainable growth and winning huge audiences globally in a highly competitive market.”

Only a small percentage (16 per cent) of those earnings was from contract work – the rest came from original IP, said Knightly.

"The success of New Zealand’s games industry continues to come from digital distribution via app stores and websites and the fact that we develop and own our ideas,” he said.

“Original IP means we have higher margins and grow audiences over time. Many of the hit Kiwi games aren’t one-offs but are franchises with loyal fanbases that will earn money for several years to come,” says Knightly.

However, New Zealand also had a strong reputation internationally, with 18 per cent of studios producing a game for an international film or TV studio in the last year, including Dreamworks, Disney, BBC, Lionsgate and Hasbro.

Notably, advertising space in games made up 32 per cent of all revenue – up from 14 per cent the previous year.

Elsewhere, game development jobs grew 18 per cent during FY2013, and there are now 448 full-time equivalent professional game developers in the country.

Knightly said there is now pressure to find experienced programmers and game designers, with 44 per cent of studios reporting that skills shortages were constraining the growth of their business.

"While our industry continues to demonstrate impressive growth, there is a very real risk that the brakes may be applied in future," said Knightly.

“Game development is a serious career option these days and we’re attracting very bright and creative people to the industry, but we could do with more.”

To combat this, the NZ Game Developers Association holds an annual conference and two game jams, participates in the AnimFX conference and is launching a mentoring programme.

In addition, this year the Media Design School began teaching two Bachelor degrees in game development and game art, and several universities now offer game development papers.

Some FY2013 highlights:

  • Wellington-based PikPok's Super Monsters Ate My Condo was nominated for a UK BAFTA award, and their game Into The Dead is used by the Guinness Book of World Records when officially judging the world's best mobile gamer
  • Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games has over 3.2 million PC gamers and was featured on the homepage of the world’s largest online PC game store Steam
  • Bloons Tower Defence 5 by NinjaKiwi was a US Top 50 Grossing Paid iPhone game
  • The Blockheads by Majic Jungle was a #1 US iPad game, #2 US iPhone game with over 7 million downloads
  • MiniGolf Matchup by RocketJump was the #1 iPhone game in 28 countries with over 10 million downloads
  • Turbo Racing League by PikPok had over 30 million downloads
  • Robot Unicorn Attack 2 and Giant Boulder of Death by PikPok were both #1 US iPhone games
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by Gameloft received 17.5 million downloads
  • Littlest Pet Shop by Gameloft received 15 million downloads
  • Wonderzoo by Gameloft received 10.5 million downloads
  • Browser-based MiniMundos by Smallworlds reached 3 million Brazilian players
  • PikPok’s sister label Sidhe launched All Blacks Rugby Challenge 2 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.