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.

 
 
 
 

Worried Guildford will be destroyed by Chinese trains? Then you might not be very nice

A South West Train at Waterloo. Image: Getty.

Despite the collapse of everything else that more-or-less worked in 2008 Britain, before the Hunger Games years began, some things remain constant. One of the things that’s near-mathematical in its constancy is that, when a new train contract is let, people on both sides of the political spectrum will say extremely stupid things for perceived partisan advantage.

This week saw the award of the contract to run trains to the south west of London, and unsurprisingly, the saying stupid things lobby was out in force. Oddly – perhaps a Corbyn-Brexit trend – the saying of egregiously stupid racist lies, rather than moderately stupid things, was most pronounced on the left.

As we’ve done to death here: rail in Great Britain is publicly run. The rail infrastructure is 100 per cent publicly owned, and train operators operate on government contracts, apart from a few weird anomalies. Some physical trains are owned by private investors, but to claim rail isn’t publicly run would be like claiming the NHS was the same as American healthcare because some hospital buildings are maintained by construction firms.

Every seven years or so, companies bid for the right to pay the UK government to operate trains in a particular area. This is the standard procedure: for railways that are lossmaking but community-important, or where they are within a major city and have no important external connections, or where there’s a major infrastructure project going on that’ll ruin everything, special measures take place.

The South Western England franchise is not one of these. It’s a profitable set of train routes which doesn’t quite live up to its name. Although it inherited a few Devon and Dorset routes from the old days, its day job involves transporting hundreds of thousands of Reginald Perrins and Mark Corrigans from London’s outer suburbs and Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire’s satellite towns to the grinding misery of desk jobs that pay a great deal of money.

(If your office is in the actual City of London, a fair trek from the railway’s Waterloo terminus, then you get the extra fun of an extra daily trip on the silliest and smelliest Tube line, and you get even more money still.)

Anyway. The South Western concession went up for auction, and Scottish bus and train operator First Group won out over Scottish bus and train operator Stagecoach, the latter of which had run the franchise for the preceding 20 years. (Yes, I know 20 isn’t a multiple of 7. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can and you wouldn’t enjoy it.)

First will manage the introduction of a bunch of new trains, which will be paid for by other people, and will pay the government £2.2bn in premiums for being allowed to run the service.

One might expect the reaction to this to be quite muted, because it’s quite a boring story. “The government does quite a good deal under which there’ll be more trains, it’ll be paid lots of money, and this will ultimately be paid back by well-paid people paying more train fares.” But these are not normal times.


First Group has decided for the purposes of this franchise to team up with MTR, which operates Hong Kong’s extremely good metro railway. MTR has a 30 per cent share in the combined business, and will presumably help advise First Group about how to run good metro railways, in exchange for taking a cut of the profits (which, for UK train franchises, tend to be about 3 per cent of total revenue).

The RMT, famous for being the least sensible or survival-oriented union in the UK since the National Union of Mineworkers, has taken exception to a Hong Kong company being involved in the railways, since in their Brexity, curly sandwich-eating eyes, only decent honest British Rail has ever delivered good railways anywhere in the world.

“A foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense,” the RMT’s General Secretary Mick Cash said in a press release.

This is not true. Partly that's because a 30 per cent share of those 3 per cent profits is less than 1 per cent of total revenues, so hardly making a killing. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s misleading to call MTR “state-owned”. While it’s majority owned by the Hong Kong government (not the same body as the central Chinese state), it’s also partly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. More to the point, this a really odd way of describing a transport authority controlled by a devolved body. I wouldn’t call the Glasgow subway “UK-state owned” either.

So this fuss is intensely, ridiculously stupid.

There’s an argument – it’s a bad argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be properly privatised without government subsidy.

There’s an argument – it’s a slightly less stupid argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be returned to the public sector so we can enjoy the glory days of British Rail again.

The glory days of British Rail, illustrated in passenger numbers. Image: AbsolutelyPureMilk/Wikipedia.

But to claim that the problem is neither of these things, but rather that the companies who are operating trains on the publicly run network are partially foreign owned, makes you sound like a blithering xenophobe.

In fact, if you think it’s reasonable for a Scottish company to run trains but not for a Hong Kong company to run them, then that's me being pretty bloody polite all things considered.

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