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.