The city’s digital industry is maturing. Can you keep up?

If you have a smart phone or tablet but haven’t heard of Fruit Ninja, that addictive game where players basically slice fruit with a sword to score points, then you’re in the minority. With estimates of a billion downloads and counting, it’s the second most successful paid mobile app ever produced – and it’s one of a suite of games developed by Halfbrick Studios right here in Brisbane.

Truth be told, the digital development community in Brisbane are a little tired of people using just one – albeit globally successful – game to define an industry which has the potential to radically boost the local economy and propel the city further into the global spotlight.

The newest start-up in the game development space in Brisbane is pretty great. No, really, that’s the name of the company, Prettygreat. Right now it’s a small team of three, all of whom walked away from Halfbrick Studios a couple of months ago to form their own development company. Despite being without a physical office space yet, they’ve already investigated five new game prototypes and identified one that looks likely to go into full production shortly.

You may have seen former Halfbrick Chief Marketing Officer Phil Larsen as part of the Team Brisbane campaign last year. As the new Managing Director of Prettygreat he’s even more excited about the evolution of the city and, more to the point, the new game they’re working on, which the trio hope will provide a fantastic platform from which the start-up can springboard.

“All signs are good right now, there’s nothing (in the early development process)that poses a problem so… we’ve pretty much got our first Prettygreat game, but at this stage that’s all I can tell you,” he says.

“Ideally we’ll have our first game out October-ish, could be earlier.”

Perhaps surprisingly, they’re adamant there is no pressure at all to replicate the success of Fruit Ninja.

Once their first game is released, they want to collaborate with other companies and expand. Interest is already quite strong.

“We’ve had people from all over the world wanting to talk to us, about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and how we could partner with them,” admits Larsen.

“We’re talking to all kinds of people in the entertainment world, in the gaming space, as well as people who work for other companies who are just interested in games and want to learn more about them.

“We want to make ourselves more available to talk to people like that and talk about how interactive design can really boost engagement for fans and audiences in all kinds of industries.”

Digital in Brisbane is like that – full of people interested in sharing their journey, insights and knowledge.

The digital community encompasses everything from gaming (Halfbrick, Defiant, Prettygreat), robotics, spatial technology, web, software and app development to online marketing, retailing and platform businesses like Wotif (also established in Brisbane), online video production (Brisbane-based Hoodlum Entertainment exported its Secrets and Lies cross media project to the US last year), software developers like Croomo and start-ups with the potential to scale up quickly thanks to technology.

Cat Matson

Brisbane City’s Chief Digital Officer Cat Matson

The city recognises the role digital has to play in its future. When Brisbane hired its first Chief Digital Officer two a half years ago it was only the second city behind New York City to do so.

Current CDO Cat Matson says the appointment of a CDO to lead the Digital Brisbane strategy was a decision made with an eye towards the long game.

“It was an investment to ignite change that would benefit the business community and people,” she says.

“It is critical to see the big picture and at the same time, the commercial outcome.”

Recently the city also announced an Australian-first Chair in Digital Economy, a partnership between Brisbane Marketing, PwC Australia, QUT and the Queensland Government, which will explore new opportunities for industry-academia collaboration.

At the time, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the appointment was crucial to the city, “embracing digital technology in all its forms… and creating an environment where great business ideas are born and ultimately become internationally scalable.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia CEO Luke Sayers believes digital technology is fundamental to Australia’s future prosperity.

“Innovation and digital technologies together (could) increase Australia’s productivity and raise GDP by 3.5 per cent and $136 billion over the next 20 years,” he says.

Cat Matson says that is exactly why the PwC Chair in Digital Economy announcement was such a milestone.

“The Chair will establish a new way of working across industry, government and academia to make sure everyone in Brisbane is reaping the benefits brought by the digital era.”

At a grass roots level, programs like CoderDojo Brisbane are already teaching school-aged children to code, develop apps and websites. 155 participants will go through the latest program, which was launched on May 2 and offers mentoring from the likes of Halfbrick and Vision6.

At the other end of the scale, global conferences like the recently announced Pivotal 2015 will dig deep into opportunities to capture potential from so-called Spatial Science, discussing the application of advances in information visualisation, big data analysis and social media across major industry sectors. To be held in Brisbane late next month, it could help boost the city’s growing reputation as a dynamic, digitally driven development community and spatial hub.

Back when Brisbane announced the appointment of a CDO in 2012, the question was asked if the point was to become the next Silicon Valley.

The city is developing a strong reputation in the spatial information technology sector and has had wins in gaming and software development but some of those working at the coal face say Silicon Valley isn’t necessarily the goal nor anything you can really plan for.

“Silicon Valley evolved – it wasn’t any one company or government saying yes, this is what we are going to do and here’s how we are going to do it, but what we can do is put ourselves into a great position to evolve into something like that,” says Phil Larsen.

Cat Matson agrees that government can only do so much.

“A city CDO navigates the role of government and the private sector and helps the two work together,” she said recently.

It’s a clear message to Brisbane’s digital community, growing in both size and confidence – the city will support whatever the next great digital idea or opportunity may be, but it is up to industry and individuals to maintain the momentum.