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New Zealand Game Developers Association Prepares For Industry Growth With Executive Director Appointment

Industry positions to achieve billion-dollar earnings by 2024.

The not-for-profit New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA) has been primarily volunteer driven, and delivered, since its inception in 2001. In the decade since the industry has boomed, growing 42% annually to reach earnings of $271 million in the year to 1 April 2020. Now today, at the Annual General Meeting, members agree to membership investment and the association announces the appointment of its first Executive Director.

Leanne Ross joins the organisation in the newly-created Executive Director role from Otago Polytechnic where she was Director of Marketing, Sales & Communications. Leanne also served as a Non-Executive Director on the Startup Dunedin Board and as a Trustee for the Insert Coin to Play Trust in Invercargill, providing easier access to technology for children.

Leanne sought people working in the local games industry after emigrating to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 2016 while searching for game-based events for her autistic son, for whom Ross credits her passion for interactive media development;

“Like most people my age I grew up playing video games with my brother. They provided an escape from the unsafe streets of pre-peacetime Belfast that we were living in. But when my son was diagnosed with autism in 2010 I researched everything I could find that would help his social communication.”

From Angry Birds on an iPad, to the Playstation game Skylanders that “taught him to read” through subtitles, Leanne credits gaming as one of the reasons her son now excels socially and academically;

“Now aged 13, people are regularly shocked to discover that he has autism. He loves school, he attends chess club and plays saxophone without noise cancelling headphones on… and he unwinds by playing games online. As for many people with disabilities, the accessibility of games empowers him to participate in team activities and online communities. Diversity and inclusion are real drivers for me.”

The New Zealand games industry has amassed many achievements in recent times - from the recent sale of Ninja Kiwi to Swedish company Modern Times Games for NZ$203 million (one of the largest startup exits in New Zealand history), to the launch of the New Zealand Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE) backed by $10 million from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund (which has funded dozens of new studios in its first year of operations). However, the studios and individuals who make up the sector still face new challenges ahead.

New Zealand Game Developers Association chairperson Chelsea Rapp says that the Executive Director appointment has been a long time in the making, and comes at a pivotal moment for the industry;

“We are thrilled to have Leanne join our vibrant and growing team as Executive Director. The interactive media sector has seen unprecedented growth over the last few years, and this has only confirmed the need for dedicated organization leadership. She brings to the role a wealth of experience, skills, and expertise that is needed to support our ever-growing community of game developers.”

Prior to 2020, Leanne Ross taught at the University of Otago Business School where she partnered with the Highlanders super rugby franchise and introduced eSports to the Sports Marketing curriculum. Leanne was previously the Marketing Lead for Dunedin-based game development studio Runaway. She credits her time there for her appreciation of the people and passion behind the games;

“There are so many highly skilled and dedicated people in this industry. Their work ethic and value base, their commitment to their craft and the experience of the end users, were like nothing I had seen anywhere in the world. So I understand the responsibility of this role in representing them, advocating for their needs, and supporting their success.”

Ross also notes the wider impact of such a role for the New Zealand economy, claiming that success for the games industry is success for the country overall;

“This sector creates high-value jobs, it grows our economy, and develops skills that are crucial to the workplaces of the future. The international nature of the sector results in higher and more sustainable exports plus it brings international investment into New Zealand. It also draws attention to New Zealand’s creativity, culture and stories by highlighting them on a global stage.

I feel hugely privileged to be given the opportunity to be part of realising this success, for New Zealand game developers and the country as a whole.”

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