Australia's gaming industry shows that cities need to rethink their creative economy

This, but Australian. Image: Getty.

Various cities in Australia have developed creative economy policies with the aim of diversifying their economy. These policies are about attracting and retaining entrepreneurs and firms from the creative industries sector, such as the music and fashion industries.

Creative economy policies were often based on the cluster concept developed by Michael Porter in the 1990s. This was the case for the creative city strategy in Brisbane and also for the more recent music industry policy in Melbourne.

Brisbane has been very active in this area. The objective was to be less dependent on natural resources in the future. Planning initiatives such the Kelvin Grove Village are examples of economic development strategies based on the cluster concept that translated into planned projects. Positive steps are also being taken to provide affordable spaces for creative workers, too.

But recent research on the video game industry in Australia has shown that new technologies have greatly influenced the production of games. The industry functions as a “networked community” and not strictly as spatially bounded clusters. The use of new platforms such as the internet enables small companies to produce games from remote areas.

Industry structures are changing

The composition of the industry has changed significantly since 2006-07, with the closure of several development studios that focused on console games, such as Krome Studios. A variety of platforms – Unity 3d, mobile phones etc – is now available to game developers.

With the shift from console games to mobile phone games, the industry has changed dramatically. The nature of the demand has changed too: consumers of video games are now looking for a quick and fast experience.

Disparity Games, operating from Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, is an example of these new successful companies located outside the main cluster. The people behind Disparity Games are two video game developers working from home in an idyllic environment. The map below shows the location of video game firms in Queensland, with some of those companies operating from the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Digital connectivity has led to a wider dispersion of video game companies in southeast Queensland. Image: author provided.

In an interview with the author, one of the game developers explained why they decided to move their company to Noosa:

After the collapse of large studios we decided to go indie. With the smaller indie companies, everyone is more supportive. We have meet-ups on marketing, technical issues, game testing. We are exchanging knowledge at those events, [so] we don’t need to be based in the city anymore to be part of the community.

New technologies enable new ways of working

These studios have demonstrated that self-publishing is a viable business model in Australia. Independent developers can now bypass traditional international publishers.

New technologies have thus had the effect of reducing the size of video game companies and increasing their number. This is verified in Queensland, which has become specialised in developing mobile phone games.

New technologies such as the National Broadband Network (NBN) have changed the way video game developers produce games and where they produce them. With the NBN, a small video game company can literally produce a game from anywhere.

Co-working spaces allow creative workers to get together only when they need to. Image: janelleorsi/flickr/creative commons.

If they already have the professional connections, developers can work on the same game with different experts located in different cities. Face-to-face interactions are important, but this does not mean anymore that video game developers need to be located in the city at all times.


In that sense, creative economy policies should think about flexible ways to accommodate creative workers in the city. The opening of co-working spaces in South Bank or the River City labs are good examples in Brisbane.

This research shows it is time to go beyond the cluster type of economic development policies to attract and retain creative workers and firms in cities like Brisbane.

Instead of planning creative neighbourhoods or districts, which are often not affordable for start-up companies, policies should aim for flexible solutions such as co-working spaces. Those are more adapted to an era in which new technologies are to a certain extent changing the geography of creative industries based on technological innovation such as the video game industry.The Conversation

Sebastien Darchen is a lecturer in planning at the The University of Queensland,

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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