18 Feb 2020

Dean Hall: the NZ gaming industry needs a boost

From Lately, 10:45 pm on 18 February 2020

There's a massive skill shortage in the New Zealand video game industry and it's time the government helped out, says Dean Hall, founder and CEO of the Kiwi studio Rocketwerkz.

Rocketwerkz chief executive Dean Hall in the company's Dunedin headquarters.

Rocketwerkz chief executive Dean Hall in the company's Dunedin headquarters. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Knowing that it’s very hard for game designers to get their first break in the industry, Hall's original idea for Rocketwerkz was to hire a lot of young New Zealanders.

But he quickly realised that in order for this to work, he’d need to first hire a lot of senior game designers to train them. Currently, only 10 percent of staff at Rocketwerkz's Auckland studio are junior designers.

“We’ve really struggled to basically be able to grow those skills in. I really feel for young people…how do they get these jobs and where do those jobs come from?”

Making a video game is much like making a film, he says. 

“It’s really about the creativity that’s put in it. A lot of your day to day is actually problem-solving, sitting around a room with a whiteboard, and we require quite high social skills, very high creativity.”

A number of Dean's staff are ex-Weta Digital, but it’s difficult for him to compete with an industry that receives government subsidies.

“If Weta Digital has been going for so long and they still require $41 million of public money… is that industry sustainable?

“I think if you give one industry access to funds, and I might add that video games are specifically excluded from the screen production grant, then you’re making an artificial playing field. This is kind of what I’d describe [as] some childish decisions that happen from politicians that have really far-reaching consequences.”

The New Zealand government shouldn’t be surprised that there is a massive skill shortage in the video game industry here, Dean says.

To solve this, the government will need to work directly with the industry to find jobs for young people, he says.

“Otherwise we are never going to solve the skill shortage long-term.” 

Dean Hall has a long history working in the video game industry in New Zealand. He worked at Wellington-based video game studio She Interactive (now Pikpok) before spending time overseas, selling his game zombie apocalypse game DayZ and heading back to New Zealand to found Rocketwerkz.