Curious about this year’s New Zealand Game Developers Conference (NZGDC)? 

Whether an industry novice or a seasoned pro, the conference is a wonderful hub for both professional development and tracking industry growth. 

Held in Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington from August 2-6, the event features a variety of panellists, workshops, and celebrations for those enthusiastic about the game development industry. 

This year, the theme of the conference is adaptability, a common theme for many workplaces during the past year. Between remote work and Zoom-only meetings, the shift to online COVID-19 friendly practices has been felt across the industry.

The 2021 NZGDC is a celebration of the new solutions discovered across the gaming industry. 

Speaking to the organizers, they highlighted NZGDC’s “focus equally on actionable and inspirational content, while providing networking opportunities within the New Zealand industry…We want to highlight how Kiwi developers have come up with new ways of doing tasks and solving problems. We’re all adapting in different ways, whether it’s striving for equality in the workplace, having to learn new tools & programs as technology advances, or adapting to shifts in the gaming industry and following market trends, platforms, genres and changes in player behaviour.”

Their goal with this year’s conference is simple, “to help New Zealand developers progress their skills, provide opportunities for them to advance their careers (free headshots, hiring booths, etc) and give them the chance to network with others in the industry. We also promote diversity and inclusivity by supporting and encouraging underrepresented groups in the industry”. 

As for the conference highlights, they’re hoping attendees will look forward to an “exciting conference, to be opened by David Clark, featur[ing] a collection of  Kiwis who are remarkably successful in the gaming industry. Sara Clemens, the COO of Twitch, will call in digitally, moderated on-site by Twitch Partner Lorien Gugich. Sam Barham, the Creative Director at Balancing Monkey Games (which published the wildly popular non-violent city building game “Before We Leave”), will present in person”.

Looking for a quick rundown of the rest of the conference events? We’ve got you covered.

Day 1 – August 4: Workshop Day

NZGDC kicks off with a series of six different workshops: Art Portfolio Reviews, Story Mapping, Building Tools Inside of Unreal Engines, Unity ArtEngine and PlasticSCM, Unreal Engine 5 Early Access Guided Tour, and a Roundtable with the Steam Team at Valve.

While many of the offerings provide a great forum to brush up on skills and professional development, this year’s workshops also highlight the revolutionary new advances in game development, such as the Unreal Engine 5 Early Access. This new software boasts a virtualized micropolygon geometry system, fully dynamic global illumination, robust animation capabilities, and more. The Early Access Tour promises to be an exciting look at this newest industry tool, one whose focus on visual development and realism pushes the limits of game graphics.

Day 2 – August 5

August 5 kicks off the first day of conference talks. Hear from a variety of industry professionals, including talks on managing player engagement, visual design, and building an equitable work environment. Of note this year is a panel focusing on transgender industry workers and diverse game storytelling, part of NZGDC’s commitment to diverse speakers.

Not to be missed is the opening talk and keynote speech by Twitch COO Sara Clemens, who will be joining the conference virtually. A highlight of this year’s conference is the mix of digital and in-person speakers, allowing many top industry professionals to join from around the world.

Finish off the day with a visit to the Indie Biz Showcase, where you can directly experience the latest games developed in New Zealand. New Zealand games are becoming more of note on the global stage, with Umurangi Generation (a Māori video game) being nominated for 3 Independent Games Festival awards and winning the Grand Prize. This Showcase is the perfect place to catch up on the next work of local innovation.

Finally, unwind at the We’re in Games Social (WinGS), a catered social event focused on diversity and inclusion in the industry. This is a particularly exciting event for those who identify as part of a minority group, as it fosters the perfect space to connect with professionals from a similar background. 

Day 3 – August 6

The second day of conference talks includes a dedicated room for Unreal Engine talks throughout the day. Following the sneak peak at Unreal Engine 5, the focus here is on creating unparalleled visual and audio, as well as preparing to migrate current capabilities over to Unreal Engine 5. 

Building on the success of games, such as the aforementioned Umurangi Generation, there are also special talks on developing new narratives. These include Maori storytelling and building nonviolent games. Talks such as these place NZGDC on the cutting edge of game development. More than a third of the games presented at E3 [the premier launch conference for new games in the US] were non-violent, a notable increase from 2019. Knowing the basics of how to deliver this newly sought-after storytelling has become key for those in the industry.

This is also the night of the official NZGDC Networking Afterparty. Grab your cocktail attire and mingle with other guests, speakers, sponsors, and industry professionals. 

Student day – August 7

The student conference is an extra day geared exclusively at students hoping to enter the game design industry.  

If you’re into the artistic side of things, have your portfolio reviewed by professionals from PikPok and CerebralFix, or grow your skills through a technical design seminar with an Outerdawn specialist.

Technical geeks can attend events such as Unreal Engine development and fine tuning with Epic Games, or ‘A Game in 24 Hours’ with PikPok.

Other seminars have speakers presenting on video game music, resume creation, games writing, and incorporating neurodiversity into VR gaming. Consider this your crash-course in all you need to know about entering the industry. 

This year’s NZGDC is certainly shaping up to be an exciting one, tackling both the basics of game design and keeping updated with industry trends.

You can check out the full programming of NZGDC and buy tickets here.