ASB and ExportNZ Stories: PikPok’s game theory
New Zealand’s tech sector has been on a path of exponential growth for several years now, and it is showing no signs of slowing down. Wellington-based videogame developer and publisher, PikPok, is one of the companies setting NZ tech alight on the global stage.
But New Zealand has never been known for its gaming exports, and the world is well-served by gaming powerhouses from the US, Japan, and beyond. So, what is PikPok’s game theory? How have they been dealing with the competition and strategizing their exceptional performance?
Mario Wynands, PikPok’s co-founder and CEO, took some time out of his day to provide us with his insights on being one of New Zealand’s leading tech exporters.
Who is PikPok? What do you do and why do you do it?
PikPok is a videogame developer and publisher, based in the heart of Wellington. We make a wide array of games including sports, action, and collection titles, developing for platforms including mobile, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo. Our content is distributed in over 200 countries and territories, in up to 25 different languages, and we’ve had over 400 million downloads of our games to date.
We do it because we are a team that loves to create and entertain. A collection of story tellers, technologists, data analysts, artists, and administrators, we come together over a shared love of the craft and collaborate to shape experiences we hope the whole world can enjoy.
New Zealand’s interactive media and gaming industry has grown at 39 per cent annually for the last six years and our exports in this space could be worth $1 billion by 2024. What unique assets does New Zealand have that have been driving this growth?
Fundamentally, New Zealand is uniquely positioned with respect to the wide range of cultural influences we embrace. We have strong traditional ties to Australia, the UK, and the US, but also have heavy exposure to South East Asian and Pasifika countries and markets. We are a melting pot, consuming a wide array of local and international stories, which in turn inspires us as we then craft our own stories to tell back to the world. That ability to create and present broadly relatable content has seen past international success in film, music, and fashion, and is now a key factor behind the growth of the local games industry.
Overseas consumers don’t often associate New Zealand with great technology or game development. From a marketing and branding point of view, what are the challenges companies like PikPok are facing to shift perceptions and create awareness of NZ tech?
For the most part, videogame consumers don’t often know or care where their games have been made as long as a quality, value for money experience is on offer. In that respect, a lack of consumer awareness of New Zealand capability is neither a help nor a hindrance.
Where it does matter is industry recognition, and that is where we have made strides in recent years. Internationally successful games have been coming from multiple studios here for several years now, and overseas investors, publishers, licensors, and talent are taking notice. That increasing interest is critical for the local games industry to continue our rapid growth.
You have a big team here in Wellington. Is New Zealand doing enough to equip people to be high performers in your industry? What could be improved to make sure new employees are work-ready?
For the most part, New Zealand training institutions have been doing a good job of preparing entry level talent. Places like Media Design School in particular have balanced programs which were shaped in consultation with industry that cover artistic, technical, business, and communication skills. Graduates have been able to hit the ground running, and that pipeline of entry level talent has been fundamental to helping us grow our team to 170 people.
But access to overseas talent and expertise has also been critical to our growth and success. Around a third of our employees are foreigners who we have recruited to bring in specialist knowledge and experience that doesn’t otherwise exist in the local market. These imports have helped us improve processes and sophistication of content which has been crucial to raising the quality and returns of our games.
Obviously, in the current situation, this presents a huge challenge for an industry undergoing rapid expansion which has only accelerated during the pandemic. We ourselves have multiple new foreign employees who are stuck overseas, with visa applications now stalled for over six months and unable to fly here for the foreseeable future. In the face of a national economic downturn, the government needs to be doing a better job of supporting the needs of those industries such as this one which can help pull the country back out. It has been disappointing to see border exemptions and visas granted for the higher profile “work for hire” film industry while the videogame industry which is on a steeper growth curve and creating New Zealand owned intellectual property is left wanting and facing the prospect of turning to problematic cannibalisation.
Finally, PikPok’s games are used by people all across the globe. What are the main lessons you’ve learned about making your products attractive to consumers from different countries and cultures?
In a highly competitive and noisy global market, quality and a distinctive personality is key to standing out. But that only gets you so far, and you have to back that up with a consistent level of experience and ongoing and responsive support for all users.
Ahead of release, usability testing is an important part of our process. Our games need to be intuitive to use and play at a fundamental level, so it is important for us to tune them to the point where they are instinctive to use, regardless of your language or cultural preferences.
After release, we are also responsive to both hard and soft usage data. We leverage software telemetry and our internal analytics team to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our software in the context of player behaviour, paying particular interest to where we might have shortfalls in particular markets, and evolve the games in response to that. We also cultivate and engage with international fans communities, paying attention to their discussion and proactively seeking their feedback and ideas which helps us shape and validate our content and feature roadmaps.
Ultimately, you need sustained responsiveness to issues and opportunities. “Fire and forget” is not a pathway to export success.
This story has been provided in partnership with our major sponsor, ASB. Like us, ASB are passionate about the export community and helping them succeed on the world stage.
ASB provides expert advice alongside the right financial tools and online solutions to make exporting easier. Find out how, by clicking here.
Contact: Fergus Grenfell
Phone: 027 323 3516