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Early Games Production in New Zealand

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THEME: Internationalism: Worlds at Play This paper reports on research into the early history of computer and video games in New Zealand. It focuses in on the anomalies of the availability and supply of game systems to this small nation, and its burgeoning market of players, particularly in the 1970s and 80s. Several early consoles (the Vectrex, Coleco and Intellivision) were not released in New Zealand. At the same time, however, there was a significant local production scene. At last count, six different companies were involved in arcade machine manufacture, and there are at least four different early consoles that were made in New Zealand (Sportronic, Tunix, Fountain, Videosport). Handhelds were both imported from Asia and (part) manufactured locally. On the microcomputing front, an important early site for home gaming and the programming of games, computers like the Sega SC-3000 (which made it into few markets outside of Japan) were a big success in New Zealand, spawning several magazines and many user’s groups. This illustrated paper will present an overview of this largely unknown history. It draws on in depth archival research, interviews with key industry participants and collectors. It will discuss why the availability of games in this market differed from more mainstream ones, and what some of the factors were that contributed to game technologies finding their markets (or not). These include the small size of the overall market, a lack of distributors, local tax restrictions and import licensing, and the practice of ‘dumping’ excess stock. These factors not only ensured a time lag between when games were released internationally and in New Zealand, they also seem to have created the conditions for a local manufacturing scene. Also significant are the resemblances between local products and internationally recognisable ones: the locally written ‘clones’ of classic games like "Scramble" and "Panic" whose relations to the ‘original’ need to be understood in terms of homage and esteem as well as being functions of what was technically possible. Local programmers drew inspiration from others’ concepts, as distinct from their code. This research has been conducted for an exhibition on the social history of gaming in New Zealand, to open at Te Manawa museum in late 2005
Contact: Melanie Swalwell, Media Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealan,
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