I had spent the last four years in my Ph.D. studying how the games industry around the world is organizing in hubs, nodal points where the community of game developers and entrepreneurs establish a process of mutual collaboration. I had found the potential of these initiatives in promoting the development of local clusters. In this journey, I made dozens of interviews and visiting eight different hubs in six countries personally. Today I’ll start a series of articles sharing some of my discoveries, beginning with the mapping of sixty-nine different initiatives in seventy-five spaces around the world.
What's a Hub?
There is no consensus on the definition of a hub. In a broader way it can be defined as a physical or virtual place that brings people together. For policymakers, it's a general term to a place that provides space for work, participation, and consumption.
The book Creative Hubs in Question: Place, Space and Work in the Creative Economy (2019) addresses that hubs have variously been understood as co-working spaces, studios, incubators, accelerators, districts, quarters or zones and/or a mix of all of the above. "The lack of clarity - let alone consensus - is particularly troubling given that policy makers, research councils, consultants and governments have been so quick to promote and endorse the value of creative hubs as a catalyst for innovation and growth in local creative and cultural economies, as well as for producing urban regeneration." (p.2)
Despite the everyday definition that connects a hub generically to its infrastructure form (a building), I follow the British Council Creative Hubs Report (2016) when they advocate a nuanced understanding as places that enables the practitioners to fit their process to the context (regional community). Or, as they said: "nests for freelancers and micro SME’s to gather, connect and collaborate" (p.4).
The main reference for this theme in the games industry is the Good Hubbing Guide: Building Indie Game Maker Collectives (2015), that looked at the emergence of small independent game creator collectives, with the aim of obtaining guidance on them as part of the growth in the production of independent games, and also to consider how to support them.
In my research, I mapped all spaces exclusively dedicated to the digital games sector, permanent or formed by specific programs (such as incubation and acceleration), which in addition to a work office, take over communities offering a series of services that they favor collaboration and knowledge exchange. Excludes any generalist hubs, whether for technology startups or for any sector of the creative economy, even if they supported game companies and developers.
Where they are?
The graph below highlights the geographical proportion of these initiatives, with a predominance in Europe, followed by North America, as the major regions where these hubs are established.
In this context, what the geographical distribution shows us is that although North America is the largest global market for IJD, both in production and consumption, Europe is emerging as the main focal point of this initiative, especially Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. One hypothesis for this scenario is the fact that an emerging industry, which has enormous companies but is not dominated by large global corporations, allows for a greater proliferation of independent ventures. With the United Kingdom, the focus is on local pioneering in the approach of the Creative Industries, with policies and incentives for the development of these hubs. Likewise, in Scandinavian countries, there is a prominent role in promoting public initiatives for the formation of these spaces. The absence of European countries' leading role in the global industry stimulates the demand for policies to stimulate the sector.
In the USA and Canada, the dominant production centers of the industry, the spin-off effect generates a diverse scene of independent production, but an enormous part of the workforce ends up being absorbed by large corporations.
It should be noted that there is the possibility of the existence of unmapped initiatives, especially in Asian clusters. The absence of records may result from an eventual linguistic limitation of keywords, or from barriers to entry on the Chinese Internet, which uses search and indexing mechanisms different from those accessed in the West. However, the absence of initiatives identified in the mapping can also show that there are still no such spaces, especially in the Chinese and South Korean markets. One of the hypotheses for such an absence would be in the characteristics of the industry in the countries mentioned: both have a production chain focused on online and mobile games, whose scalable production and distribution flow favors the concentration of larger companies, or production communities with a more competitive organization, in flows closer to the scalable market of startups.
The figure above shows the growth in the number of active hubs by region over time. We can see that the phenomenon is noteworthy, with its appearance in the last decade and a greater incidence of new initiatives in the last five years. This phenomenon, despite pointing to a trend for the sector, is not exclusive to digital games. Coworking spaces have exploded in major cities around the world since their inception in 2005, grouping together in the inner creative suburbs of cities. The trend of these spaces follows the new work organizations in the post-industrial economy, reflected especially in the creative industries and in the startup chain.
List of Hubs
If you like this theme, follow me to the next article, where I'll start to address the distinct categories of hubs, and the business models that sustains these initiatives.
And if you notice the lack of any hub that's not listed in this map, let me know in the comments!