The History of Gaming in NZ
For a country with a comparatively small population, New Zealand has always punched well above its weight across the sporting arena. Yes, the national cricket and rugby teams may not have had quite the dream 2022 with the All Blacks suffering in particular, but over the decades they have certainly seen some incredible world-beating performances.
It all comes down to the fact that, as a nation, New Zealand is a competitive one. Perhaps it’s a desire to be regarded as seriously in the sporting world as their neighbours across the Tasman Sea. Or it might just be an innate sense of competitiveness in the national character.
Whatever the reason, it manifests itself as a love of games and gaming that has endured over many decades and which has involved all kinds of sport.
The European influence
It would be fair to say that it was the first influx of European settlers back in the early 19th century who introduced a whole new raft of games to the country. A long way from home, the playing of familiar games like billiards, cards and dice no doubt helped them to acclimatise themselves in their new land.
At around the same time, many Chinese came to the country in search of opportunities. They brought with them a number of games that involved betting including mah jong and the less well-known pakapoo and fantan.
In the 1880s a new craze was born – horse racing. This also saw the invention of what may have been the country’s first gambling machine.
This was called the “Totalitor” and was an automated way to place bets and receive any winnings due, all without the services of the bookmaker.
However, the powers that be were not happy with the popularity of this and other forms of gambling – something that saw it being banned in 1910 and not legalised for another 90 years.
The video games boom
Jump forward to the 1970s and another big revolution in gaming took place. While the rest of the world was getting to grips with game consoles from names like Atari and Amiga, licensing law meant many games weren’t distributed in New Zealand.
This led not just to the nascent video games industry in the country, it also New Zealand’s own console arrive on the scene. Called the “Sportronic2 its initial game selection was limited to simple titles like Pong but this didn’t hinder its popularity.
So before long many New Zealand homes had one of these consoles, something that had been helped as the console was sold as an accessory to TV sets made by the same manufacturer.
By the 1990s and the arrival of the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, New Zealand had caught up with the rest of the world. Since then, the uptake of gaming has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Figures released in 2021 show that an incredible 73% of New Zealanders play video games on a regular basis. And, with this proportion of the population playing, it’s obviously not all young adults, as is the popular misconception.
In fact, the average age of the New Zealand gamer is 35. There’s also a fairly even gender spilt with 48% of gamers being women.
The online casino explosion
Another gaming revolution has been taking place ever since gambling was legalised again in 2003. In line with many other countries in the world, online casinos have become exceptionally popular in New Zealand.
Around 13% of the population enjoy this alternative to visiting the bricks and mortar versions that can be found in the major population centres like Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
As a result, there has been a large growth in the number of casino providers operating in New Zealand, all competing for new players. Many do this not just by offering a wide selection of games but by also offering very generous welcome bonuses.
Because slots games, or pokies, are so popular in the country, often these offers include free spins on selected games – an incentive that is impossible for many people to pass by.
Designing games as well as playing them
We’ve already mentioned that the country pioneered its own console back in the 70s. hand in hand with this came the rise of the New Zealand gaming industry.
One of the first major games to be developed and launched was the 1986 game Laser Hawk for the Atari console. Inspired by the possibilities of building an industry, the Media Design School in Auckland then launched its now famous game design course.
Countless graduates are now working in the field in New Zealand and the sector is undoubtedly going from strength to strength.
In March 2021 it was announced that there had been a $121 million rise in profits over the previous 12 months, a phenomenal 42% growth over the period. In all, total revenue generated in 2020 was $NZ 324 million.
One of the biggest names in the sector is undoubtedly Grinding Gear Games who have been responsible for many titles over the years. These include Path of Exile, the massively successful cross-platform RPG.
The only issue that the industry faces at the moment is a lack of trained developers to meet the demand of this fast-growing sector.
However, as the popularity of gaming continues to grow in the country, and the many excellent courses now available train more developers, industry sources see this as a temporary blip.
So, all in all, gaming in New Zealand not only has a long and eventful history, it has a very bright future too.