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.

 
 
 
 

The ATM is 50. Here’s how a hole in the wall changed the world

The olden days. Image Lloyds Banking Group Archives & Museum.

Next time you withdraw money from a hole in the wall, consider singing a rendition of happy birthday. For today, the Automated Teller Machine (or ATM) celebrates its half century.

Fifty years ago, the first cash machine was put to work at the Enfield branch of Barclays Bank in London. Two days later, a Swedish device known as the Bankomat was in operation in Uppsala. And a couple of weeks after that, another one built by Chubb and Smith Industries was inaugurated in London by Westminster Bank (today part of RBS Group).

These events fired the starting gun for today’s self-service banking culture – long before the widespread acceptance of debit and credit cards. The success of the cash machine enabled people to make impromptu purchases, spend more money on weekend and evening leisure, and demand banking services when and where they wanted them. The infrastructure, systems and knowledge they spawned also enabled bankers to offer their customers point of sale terminals, and telephone and internet banking.

There was substantial media attention when these “robot cashiers” were launched. Banks promised their customers that the cash machine would liberate them from the shackles of business hours and banking at a single branch. But customers had to learn how to use – and remember – a PIN, perform a self-service transaction and trust a machine with their money.

People take these things for granted today, but when cash machines first appeared many had never before been in contact with advanced electronics.

And the system was far from perfect. Despite widespread demand, only bank customers considered to have “better credit” were offered the service. The early machines were also clunky, heavy (and dangerous) to move, insecure, unreliable, and seldom conveniently located.

Indeed, unlike today’s machines, the first ATMs could do only one thing: dispense a fixed amount of cash when activated by a paper token or bespoke plastic card issued to customers at retail branches during business hours. Once used, tokens would be stored by the machine so that branch staff could retrieve them and debit the appropriate accounts. The plastic cards, meanwhile, would have to be sent back to the customer by post. Needless to say, it took banks and technology companies years to agree common standards and finally deliver on their promise of 24/7 access to cash.

The globalisation effect

Estimates by RBR London concur with my research, suggesting that by 1970, there were still fewer than 1,500 of the machines around the world, concentrated in Europe, North America and Japan. But there were 40,000 by 1980 and a million by 2000.

A number of factors made this ATM explosion possible. First, sharing locations created more transaction volume at individual ATMs. This gave incentives for small and medium-sized financial institutions to invest in this technology. At one point, for instance, there were some 200 shared ATM networks in the US and 80 shared networks in Japan.

They also became more popular once banks digitised their records, allowing the machines to perform a host of other tasks, such as bank transfers, balance requests and bill payments. Over the last five decades, a huge number of people have made the shift away from the cash economy and into the banking system. Consequently, ATMs became a key way of avoiding congestion at branches.

ATM design began to accommodate people with visual and mobility disabilities, too. And in recent decades, many countries have allowed non-bank companies, known as Independent ATM Deployers (IAD) to operate machines. The IAD were key to populating non-bank locations such as corner shops, petrol stations and casinos.

Indeed, while a large bank in the UK might own 4,000 devices and one in the US as many as 12,000, Cardtronics, the largest IAD, manages a fleet of 230,000 ATMs in 11 countries.


Bank to the future

The ATM has remained a relevant and convenient self-service channel for the last half century – and its history is one of invention and re-invention, evolution rather than revolution.

Self-service banking and ATMs continue to evolve. Instead of PIN authentication, some ATMS now use “tap and go” contactless payment technology using bank cards and mobile phones. Meanwhile, ATMs in Poland and Japan have used biometric recognition, which can identify a customer’s iris, fingerprint or voice, for some time, while banks in other countries are considering them.

So it’s a good time to consider what the history of cash dispensers can teach us. The ATM was not the result of a eureka moment of a single middle-aged man in a bath or garage, but from active collaboration between various groups of bankers and engineers to solve the significant challenges of a changing world. It took two decades for the ATM to mature and gain widespread, worldwide acceptance, but today there are 3.5m ATMs with another 500,000 expected by 2020.

Research I am currently undertaking suggests that ATMs may have reached saturation point in some Western countries. However, research by the ATM Industry Association suggests there is strong demand for them in China, India and the Middle East. In fact, while in the West people tend to use them for three self-service functions (cash withdrawal, balance enquiries, and purchasing mobile phone airtime), Chinese customers consumers regularly use them for as many as 100 different tasks.

Taken for granted?

Interestingly, people in most urban areas around the world tend to interact with the same five ATMs. But they shouldn’t be taken for granted. In many countries in Africa, Asia and South America, they offer services to millions of people otherwise excluded from the banking sector.

In most developed counties, meanwhile, the retail branch and the ATM are the only two channels over which financial institutions have 100 per cent control. This is important when you need to verify the authenticity of your customer. Banks do not control the make and model of their customers’ smart phones, tablets or personal computers, which are vulnerable to hacking and fraud. While ATMs are targeted by thieves, mass cybernetic attacks on them have yet to materialise.

The ConversationI am often asked whether the advent of a cashless, digital economy heralds the end of the ATM. My response is that while the world might do away with cash and call ATMs something else, the revolution of automated self-service banking that began 50 years ago is here to stay.

Bernardo Batiz-Lazo is professor of business history and bank management at Bangor University.

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