Creative Territories: Exploring Innovation in Indie Game Production Contexts and Connections

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac of Arts Creative Ind and Education


The Creative Territories Research Network will bring leading international and UK scholars, indie game developers and creative industry stakeholders into dialogue to support the development of scholarship and creative practice within this fast-developing field of video games production.

The UK video games industry contributed £947m to UK GDP last year, and grew by 4% with numbers of studios increasing from 329 to 448. This growth is underpinned by the micro business and small-to-medium enterprise sector that has developed out of major studio rationalisations post-recession. New technologies and markets - especially in apps for mobile and tablet - have also provided the conditions for this emerging indie games production. This research network will examine this transformation of the young but highly significant - economically and culturally - video games industry to identify how it makes possible new kinds of cultural production, collaboration and creativity. Its principal task will be to evaluate the dynamics of this lively collaborative game production activity as a response to changing technological, media cultural and economic conditions. The goal of the research is to formulate and to 'map forward' the key processes and connections that represent commercially viable, creatively sustainable and culturally valuable pathways for the development of this sector so that it lives beyond its early 'bubble' and makes a significant difference in video game production as both economically and culturally valuable form.

'Creative territories' is the theme and focus of the network's exploration. Indie game developers are self-organising in collaborative and sometimes co-located relationships - such as that of project partner, the recently established Bristol Games Hub. The network will examine these collaborations in different places around the UK and internationally (in the Netherlands in particular) to identify and assess the practices and values that sustain creativity oth commercially and as an inherently cultural and social activity. Creative Territories will identify the quality and cultural value of relations between actors, involved participants and constituents in the overlapping local, regional and wider territorial levels in which creative cultural production takes place.

The research network will stage an international and interdisciplinary dialogue, gathering participants around three workshops to examine two related aspects of indie game collaboration: 'Commerce, Culture, Creativity' takes commercial, practical, technological and social aspects of indie game collaborations to analyse how the three C's are co-constitutive for their sustainable elaboration; 'A Maturing Industry' examines how indie games' transformed design and production practices can change the significance, aesthetic possibilities and status of video games as a major digital media cultural form. The first workshop will be hosted by the Bristol Games Hub and will examine indie game collaboration close up, providing a comparative case study for considering other developments. The second will be hosted by academic project partner, Professor Joost Raessens of the University of Utrecht, bringing network participants into contact with researchers and games networks in the Netherlands such as the Dutch Game Garden. The final workshop will take place at the University of the West of England, Bristol's Digital Cultures Research Centre, and will concentrate on engaging key creative industry organisations and stakeholders in the network's dialogues concerning a viable and maturing indie games sector.

The Creative Territories Research Network will stage a timely and relevant cross-disciplinary dialogue. It will build and consolidate nascent relationships between indie game researchers and between academia and industry. Network activity will produce insights and support the development of collaborative research proposals and future projects.

Planned Impact

Commercial Sector
For UK indie game developers project participation will support their evolution from fledgling freelancer or micro-business to sustainable operation. Network membership will build profile and reputation. The unique opportunity for critical exchanges with a group including international academic thought leaders (Jenson, Pearce, Simon) and indie game networks (Dutch Game Garden) will bring insights and ideas for games producers developing their own co-located spaces. Workshop meetings and conversations with leading researchers/thinkers around the 'Commerce, Culture, Creativity' strand (Raessens, Chapain, Dovey) and with successful indie practitioners (Pinchbeck and Curry, Rawlings) will build new collaborative relationships with other indie game producers, researchers and creative industry organisations. In a field where cutting-edge innovative work is being undertaken there will also be secondary knowledge exchange about key talent, skills, and creative technologies that can enable new production approaches and foster UK innovation. Creative Territories' emphasis on the cultural value and situatedness of creative practice - particularly via the Maturing Industry strand of workshop discussions -will inform companies' appreciation of how to leverage the value in the networks they inhabit and co-create. It will also bring ideas and insights likely to influence experimentation with game projects and design processes.

For creative economy stakeholders network activities and exchanges will provide insight in how to maximise development through better understanding the ecosystems that support micro businesses to become sustainable. The final workshop will engage key stakeholders and industry support bodies such as UKIE (Osman Iqbal, Research Analyst), Creative England (Charlotte Acrkill, Southwest Games Lab), GameCity (Andrew Nicholls), Launch Birmingham (Pia Pearson), and IGDA UK. Key people from these organisations will generate a variety of impacts for the wider creative industries through their numerous information pathways. The insights from the network will be made available through the print on demand Good Hubbing Guide, the takeaway from the network, the impact of which will be achieved in no small part by the attention generated by these key influencers

Longer term benefit: The Future of Digital Games
Indie game developers are playing an increasingly significant transformative role in what video games are able to do, mean and express in contemporary digital culture. This project supports this potential of indie games to play a significant role that parallels that of independent filmmaking in the history of film culture - that of providing valuable alternatives to standard commercial processes and genres of 'experience design', of challenging expectations and stereotypes of what games can offer as 'entertainment', and nurturing difference, new talent, innovative styles and techniques, and new modes of engaging participant communities. Not only the industry and its aspiring creative constituents but the wider communities within which they work will benefit in the longer term by being offered a better choice of more mature interactive and participatory media recognisable and valued as part of the creative territories they inhabit together.
Description The Creative Territories network explored emerging collaborations between independent and startup game making enterprises in shared workspaces. We found that business and culture are symbiotically linked-there is no economy without culture, and this is especially the case with the "experiential" products of the creative economy like video games. Taking care of economic development has to take care of culture just as much as cultural policy must always consider how it makes possible sustainable forms of work, play and self-realization for the individual members of the community. Making a commercially successful industry that will last more than a few years, and that will take root in a community, a region and a nation and become part of its identity: all this is what makes a truly valuable "creative territory".

We found that

• Creativity is a socially enabled and commonly held cultural asset.
• New tools and new markets mean that indie games can work at a micro business level developing new producers and new talent.
• Whilst the games industry is a global marketplace its production is always local.
• Micro game businesses benefit from co-location and collaboration opportunities to give them shared know-how and to enhance their profiles.
• Hubs and their networks can provide innovation test beds that ameliorate the boom and bust cycle of the AAA games industry.
• Creative businesses will thrive and become sustainable when they are embedded in their regional economies.
• Greater diversity produces better innovation.
• Diversity requires active inclusion practices.
• The value of hubs and their networks increases sharply when independent mentors and producers are attached to start-ups.
• Different regions will produce different kinds of hubs in terms of the local community of practice they are part of, the kinds of games they produce, the kinds of talent they develop and processes they use.

For Hubs and Their Members:

• Be open to new people and new talent: hubs need a regular refresh of the beneficiaries.
• Operate as a hub for the surrounding community of game and creative makers via events, social media and collaboration with other groups
• Develop an inclusion practice not just a policy.
• Hubs should work with their regional schools, colleges and universities to maintain their talent flow and help transform perceptions of games as creative career.
• Create open and accessible opportunities for 'non members' in the local community to engage and exchange.

For Those Supporting Games and Creative Economy:

• Recognise the resilience-building hubs can do for fledgling game businesses and include it in your plans for strategic support.
• Use the critical mass of the hub for staging and promoting events, initiatives, and for consulting the grassroots of the industry.
• Volunteer run hubs will do even more for their members and local game maker networks with some staff support for manager, mentor, marketing and funding search roles.
• For School, Colleges and Universities: Explore opportunities for fruitful exchanges, teaching visits, placements and research with the hub (remembering they are not Microsoft but several independent creative producers busy growing viable businesses).
Exploitation Route We produced the Good Hubbing Guide as an accessible 'takeaway' from the project to disseminate our major findings to independent game makers and creative economy networks involved in growing video game businesses and practices.

Talks and workshops at relevant game developer and creative economy meetups will aid in bringing our findings into discussions about growing the business of game production in a sustainable and culturally valuable way.

The network members are considering follow on projects to foster a stronger engagement of indie game maker groups in their localities -- for instance through involvement in education and community activities that are responsive to the new profile of the games industry as more distributed, diverse and smaller scale.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description The Creative Territories Project and its major outcome, the Good Hubbing Guide, have contributed to the formation of an association of independent game developers who are or who are planning to collaborate in co-located arrangements around the UK. Creative Territories network members Tomas Rawlings (Bristol Games Hub) and Alex Darby (Leamington Spa Arch Creatives) have both been involved in the formation of this network, named the Hub of Hubs, and both testify to the influence their participation in Creative Territories has had on their contributions to the founding of this association. Both have also testified to the role the Good Hubbing Guide has played in shaping the discussions and the direction of the association's activities.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

Description Creativity, Culture and Economy: The Creative Territories Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and discussions about the Creative Territories project approach to creativity development as collaborative endeavour.

New contacts initiated with game design programme at Winchester School of Art.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Indie Game Collectives and Contexts: A half-day workshop/meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact This half-day event at the Bristol Games Hub involved local and regional game creatives and members of the local community in discussions about indie game development growth in the local area and in similar developments in the UK. Discussion and debate about how creative economy development fits into local community concerns, eg. about gentrification, were explored robustly, and challenges and opportunities facing collaborations of indie game makers were also examined. How to relate the different kinds of 'territory' indie game makers inhabit in both economically and culturally sustainable ways were explored and debated.

After the event constituents from the local area and the Bristol Games Hub engaged in further dialogues about the Hub's place in the local neighbourhood.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Meeting with Game developers (Bristol) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Around 25 residents of the Bristol Games Hub attended a discussion about the Creative Territories project and indie game development collaboration models, which generated discussion, ideas about projects to support game maker networks, and interest in the project's themes.

Several hub residents proposed suggestions for how creative sector support for small and startup firms could be improved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014