Nearly $450,000 has been allocated to seven established and start up digital game developers from Dunedin as part of the Centre of Digital Excellence’s (CODE) first contestable funding round.

This reflects CODE’s manifesto committment to establish a funding pool administered by private industry aimed at attracting young talent into game development. The funding is part of the $10m allocated to CODE from the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) to establish, grow and support the Dunedin game development ecosystem.

Of the seven, two applicants were successful in their bid for the Start Up funding, which offered a prospective $50,000 – $150,000 per applicant. The Start Up fund is aimed at experienced game developers wanting to branch out to work on their own game idea.

Five applicants were awarded Kickstart funding, ranging from $10,000 – $40,000 per applicant. This fund is aimed at Dunedin-based game developers who have a proposal that needs further funding or external investment to develop into a prototype. It is expected that up to five new studios and potentially twelve new jobs could be created as the result of the funding.

Dunedin Mayor, Aaron Hawkins, says, “This funding enables tangible steps towards achieving CODE’s purpose – to grow a $1b video games industry in Aotearoa, maximising economic and social outcomes, working from a Dunedin base.

“It will encourage the development of new businesses, new studios, and new jobs, while growing the community of skilled digital game developers in the city. As a result, Dunedin’s reputation as a hub for skills and talent will rise in a thriving international industry.”

Following a contracting process, the grant funding will be paid incrementally to successful applicants as different milestones are met. Mentoring from industry experts is provided as part of the programme to help build capability and ensure successful outcomes.

An independent trans-Tasman assessment panel which included senior industry and technical experts, were impressed by the original thought that lay behind the applicants’ game ideas, and the depth of experience to be found in Dunedin.

CODE Establishment Director, Tim Ponting, says, “There were strongly localised themes within the successful applications, variously featuring the natural environment to support tourism and conservation, Māori partnerships, sustainability, health, education and civic awareness.

“Our city’s stories and our strengths clearly have a universal and commercial appeal. The industry has shown sustained growth over the last ten years from the largest companies in the sector. CODE is focused on developing a pipeline of the next generation of studios and in doing so they will create employment and grow.”

When the Kickstart and Start Up funds opened for expressions of interest, 56 expressions of interest were received and from that came 24 applications, narrowed down to seven successful applicants. Industry commentators have indicated that the level of interest from local developers in Dunedin is high compared to similar initiatives in Australia.

A third funding category, Scale Up is currently being developed and will open for applications in 2021. This will largely target studios, supporting them by matching their own funding input to push harder on a product or existing company to get it further on to the market.

The grants are part of an initial $700,000 earmarked for contestable funding in 2020 and 2021. During the establishment phase, they are being facilitated by the CODE project team, led by Dunedin City Council’s Enterprise Dunedin.