Dunedin’s game development industry has had a strong start to 2021, with seven new and emerging local studios revealing an exciting mix of entertaining and serious game projects funded by the first New Zealand Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) grants. Details were released at a CODE update and grants launch event in Dunedin on Friday.

Of the seven funded in round one, the two Start Up production funding recipients included:

  • Ōtepoti Games Company Limited led by Kylie Jackson, funding of $146,586 to develop the game Pae Moana.
  • Gfactor Technologies led by Rhys Gardner, funding of $150,000 to launch CoDriVR, an educational driving simulation game.

The five Kickstart prototype funding recipients included:

  • Spookysoft led by Stef Animal, received $21,528 to prototype My Year of Penguins, a fun series of educational micro-games aimed at ages 4 and up.
  • Nutriblocks Ltd led by Claudia Leong, received $40,000 to prototype Nutri Islands, an educational game focusing on healthy eating outcomes for children.
  • Court of the Peacocks Tail Ltd led by Edward Stutters, received $27,260 to prototype the People’s Diplomacy educational game to assist peace studies.
  • Atawhai Ltd received $36,100 to prototype the game Toroa, which centres on the journey of a toroa across the Pacific and back to its chick at Taiaroa Head.
  • Lachlan Scown received $12,800 to prototype the game Māriri, which entails building a New Zealand garden, growing trees, food and attracting birds.

While currently in early development phases, the first projects are expected to be ready for market validation or further investment by year end.

The Hon Dr David Clark, Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, says, “It’s pleasing to see CODE reach another important milestone in the development of New Zealand’s game development industry.

“Having been involved in the design of CODE when in Opposition, it’s great to see CODE become a reality and leverage the amazing gaming talent in Aotearoa.”

The event also marked the opening of the second Kickstart and Startup funding rounds, along with a new Scale Up category, which will provide matched funding to established Dunedin gaming companies looking to grow their presence in the market. There will be an available funding pool of $500,000 across the three categories in this second round.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins commended the strong Dunedin-inspired themes running through the game concepts, “It’s fantastic to see our city’s stories and unique environment celebrated through this medium, providing a platform to educate, entertain and promote what makes Dunedin so special.

“These stories, combined with the strength of Dunedin’s innovative entrepreneurs further reinforces the exciting potential of CODE.

“Given the scale and growth of the global gaming it’s an excellent time for Dunedin to be forging a solid path into the industry, especially given the benefits of weightless exports that aren’t adversely affected by border, freight or supply chain challenges.

“I look forward to seeing the ideas that come forward as part of this next funding round.”

Tim Ponting CODE Establishment Director, says, “We’re pleased to be able to support such a variety of applicants in our first round, from single person companies prototyping interesting, tightly-scoped games for entertainment to larger serious games with strong social outcomes at their heart.

“We’re already seeing new studios being founded which would not exist without CODE funding, and these are just our first steps to building a sustainable, growing and diversity-inclusive industry here.

“We’re on a journey alongside our grantees, mentoring and supporting them in their growth and we’re excited to be able to contribute to the city’s evolution as a tech and innovation hub.”

Since its inception in late 2019, CODE has already achieved good progress on several projects which were part of the original vision and identified new opportunities to build on. MoU’s have been established with iconic names in the business including JPGames in Tokyo, whose founder was instrumental in games such as Final Fantasy, and most recently educational providers Future Games, based in Stockholm, who have been working with Otago Polytechnic to develop vocational training programmes and content that will be aligned well with leading international practice.

To date, educational pathways into the gaming industry have been limited in New Zealand, but the work underway as part of CODE is seeking to address this. In conjunction with Abertay University in Scotland, the University of Otago is developing tailored curriculum which could include piloting a pathway for developing games and serious games via its SHIFT programme and game studies pathways as part of its undergraduate courses in computer or information science, information science, digital humanities and software engineering.

The appointment of a Visiting Chair in Computer Game Development will follow in due course, adding to Dunedin’s appeal as the national seat of learning in an emerging industry.

CODE is supported by funding administered by the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) and facilitated by Enterprise Dunedin.

Application details for the second grant round can be found at www.dunedinnz.com/code/code-funding