Independent Ottawa gaming studios to unite in common space

“The Collective” aims to be the go-to venue for gaming gatherings
The Collective
Members of “The Collective” gather in their space at 981 Wellington St. W. From left to right: Steel Crate Games, TheMeatly Games, Jillian Mood & Partners, Snowed In Studios, Breakfall. Photo by Craig Lord.

Five Ottawa gaming companies are set unite under a single roof later this year with the goal of building a hub for the local sector.

“The Collective,” as gaming HR and marketing professional Jillian Mood has dubbed it, consists of her firm, Jillian Mood & Partners, anchor tenant Snowed In Studios, TheMeatly Games, Breakfall and Steel Crate Games.

The group will begin moving into the fourth-floor space at 981 Wellington St. W. in early November. Kivuto previously leased the now-barren, 6,000-square-foot space, and renovations will be underway until the studios set up shop.

Jean-Sylvain Sormany, founder of Snowed In Studios and one of this year’s Forty Under 40 recipients, says he’s been trying to bring studios together into a space like this for nearly seven years. The last two times his growing firm had to move (Snowed In currently stands at around 25 people), plans fell through with the other firms he was talking with.

“There was always something. This time around, it seems to have worked. Everyone is on board, everyone is excited about this idea.”
As he says this, he’s standing in a wide, empty space as the other studio heads walk around the building. Everyone is filling the space with their ideas, plotting out where desks, monitors and murals might look best.

From the entrance extends a hallway with a series of offices, ending up at a communal kitchen. Beyond that is the expansive space that Snowed In will occupy, as well as a proposed events space. There, local organizations such as Girl Force and the International Game Developers Association would host their gatherings or hold GameJams.

Right now, finding space for these events is done on a per-case basis. “The Collective,” its partners hope, could become a hub for the city’s gaming industry: the go-to place to socialize, develop games and spawn new studios.

Sormany hopes this space will also increase the visibility of gaming in Ottawa and act as a beacon for graduates of local gaming programs at La Cité and Algonquin College, as well as the universities in town.

“There’s something like 200 new grads every year, but the industry is not there to support all of the new grads,” he says.

981 Wellington
The fourth floor at 981 Wellington St. W. will be home to a hub of gaming studios this fall. Photo by Craig Lord.

The gaming sector in Ottawa has faced serious setbacks in recent years. Once a champion of the sector, Gigataur recently closed its doors even after landing big deals with Disney. Fuel Industries is the most recent casualty, folding its operations despite also finding mainstream success working with brands such as McDonald’s and the Olympic Games.

There are also practical benefits to cohabitation, such as sharing resources and expertise. Snowed In has around 40 handsets that it can lend out to other studios to test their apps; Steel Crate has extensive experience in testing new tech such as virtual reality.

From a personnel standpoint, there’s room for collaboration as well. 

Say Snowed In has a big project with a AAA developer, for example. It could contract some work to another studio short on projects. If one company doesn’t need a full-time HR rep, that person could float between the other studios as needed.

If there’s enough interest in the idea, Sormany is open to expanding the space to other companies. The two floors below, if leased, would increase the capacity of the space from 60 people to 150. That could be room for a dozen more independent studios, and more than enough room for regular parties or gaming tournaments.

“It’s all positive energy I want to create. There’s no space in Ottawa that specializes in gaming,” Sormany says. “Having a vivid industry in town is much more important to me than making money out of studios.”