Innovation in the Australian Interactive Entertainment Industry: The Halfbrick Story

Dr. John BANKS
Senior Lecturer, Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

The global games industry sources contributions from numerous production hotspots, including Australia. Despite facing significant challenges recently, there are opportunities for growth for Australian developers, especially by developing games for mobile devices. One recent success story of the Australian industry is Brisbane based Halfbrick Studios, developer of the hit game Fruit Ninja. Halfbrick not only survived the global financial crisis, but grew strongly, moving rapidly from a fee-for-service model developing licensed properties to becoming an independent developer and publisher of in-house titles, generating revenue both through App downloads and merchandise sales.

Amongst the reasons for Halfbrick’s success is their agility and adaptability for organisational transformation through which the developer addressed different technical platforms, user dynamics, business models and market conditions. Our ongoing research into the innovation processes and practices of Halfbrick, including interviews with senior managers and developers, identified a strong focus on workplace organisational culture, with staff describing a company that pursues flat, team-based practices and devolves as much control as possible to the teams directly.

This model of organisational management is reflected in both David Stark’s (The Sense of Dissonance 2009) idea of heterarchy, and Gina Neff’s (Venture Labour 2012) concept of venture labour, and provides a different perspective on the industry than that offered by traditional political economy critique of gaming conglomerates. Whether such a model represents the future of the games industry, or is merely a ‘Prague Spring’ before such companies are swallowed by traditional industry players remains to be seen. However, as the process of rapid and uncertain transformation plays out, it is important to pay attention to emerging modes of organisation and workplace culture, even whilst they remain at the margins of the industry. This paper will draw on the research with Brisbane’s Halfbrick Studios to describe and analyse these emerging models of organisational and workplace culture in the videogames industry.