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.

 
 
 
 

On Walter Benjamin, and the “Arcades Project”

Passage Verdue, Paris. Image: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1940 a small group of refugees were turned away at the French-Spanish border. Having fled the Nazi invasion of France, they hoped to find safety in Spain. One of their number, a German-Jewish philosopher and writer, intended to have travelled onwards to America, where he would certainly be safe. So distraught was he by the refusal he met at the border that he took his own life.

The writer in question was Walter Benjamin, the prominent critical theorist who has contributed so much to our understanding of urban society, and he died with a manuscript close at hand. When asked previously if the briefcase of notes was really necessary to a man fleeing for his life he had replied, “I cannot risk losing it. It must be saved. It is more important than I am.”

The work that Benjamin died protecting was the Arcades Project. It was to be his magnus opus, intended by the author to illuminate the contradictions of modern city life. But it was never finished.

To Benjamin, the subject of the work, the arcades of Paris, were relics of a past social order, where consumerism ruled. The arcades were a precursor to the modern mall, lined with all sorts of shops, cafes and other establishments where visitors could buy into the good life. The area between these two lines of businesses was covered with glass and metal roofs, much like a conservatory: it gave visitors the high street feel in an intimate, sheltered and well-lit setting. You can still find examples of such places in modern London in the Burlington and Piccadilly arcades, both off Piccadilly.

Such arcades proved hugely popular, spreading across Europe’s capitals as the 19th century progressed. By Benjamin’s time, though, his type of shopping area was losing custom to the fancy department stores, and in Paris many of them had been obliterated in Haussmann’s city reforms of the 1850s and ‘60s. Whereas Parisians could once visit 300 arcades, now only 30 remain.

Through his research Benjamin started to see the arcades as representative of a pivotal moment in social history: the point when society became focused on consumption over production. Buying the latest fad product was just an opium, he thought, dulling senses to the true nature of the world. By bringing light to this, he hoped to wake people up from the consumerism of the 19th Century and bring forth some kind of socialist utopia.


He also warned that this shiny veneer of progress was hiding the true state of things. Instead, he revered crusty old cities like contemporary Marseilles and Moscow, where social life was more honest. In this way, Benjamin contributed to the intellectual movement focused on stripping away the excess of revivalism, standing alongside architects such as Le Corbusier. 

Through his newspaper essays throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Benjamin also became one of the first thinkers to focus on urban isolation. His suggestion that we can be most alone when among such a dense mass of other people is something many in modern cities would sympathise with. His work wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he saw cities as our salvation, too: laboratories from where society’s problems can be worked out.

It was 2000 before an English translation of the unfinished the Arcades Project was published, but by then the work had already had a significant impact. Just as he stood on the shoulders of giants such as Baudelaire and the Surrealists, modern thinkers have drawn on his work. Benjamin's concerns about common architectural forms can be seen to inspire modern architects such as Laurie Hawkinson, Steven Holl, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The city of Paris itself was as much a part of the Arcade Project’s inspiration for Benjamin as was his intellectual predecessors. In his letters he repeats that it felt “more like home” than Berlin, and his days were spent marvelling at how the old and the modern exist together on the Parisian streets.

How groundbreaking the Arcades Project really was is hard to say. The fact it wasn’t finished certainly scuppered Benjamin’s plans to wake society up from its consumerist slumber, but that doesn’t make the work inconsequential. His fairytale of steel and glass is as much about the relationship between its author and Paris as it is a theoretical work. By putting the city as the main subject in human’s social history he laid the groundwork for future generations of thinkers.

Benjamin was lost to the tragic tide of the 20th century history, and his death marked the end of the project which could have changed the way we think of the urban landscape. Even if you shy away from the grandiose or don’t buy into his promises of socialist utopia, reading the work can still offer some eclectic factoids about 19th century France. At any rate, it must be acknowledged that the man gave his life to the betterment of society and the cities in which we live.