Ottawa’s Snowed In Studios doubles headcount one year after acquisition

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Jean-Sylvain Sormany is the head of Ottawa's Snowed In Studios. File photo

A year after his company was acquired, Jean-Sylvain Sormany’s studio has doubled its headcount – and his biggest problem is that it’s not growing fast enough.

Snowed In Studios, an Ottawa-based game development studio founded by Sormany and his partners more than a decade ago, was acquired last year by Irish gaming giant Keywords Studios in a $4-million deal. At the time, the local firm had just under 30 employees to its name; today it’s nearing a headcount of 60.

Sormany, a 2017 Forty Under 40 award recipient, tells Techopia the company has been able to accelerate its growth under the Keywords banner, adding testing, art and localization services to the engineering company’s repertoire.

Having access to Keywords’ network – the billion-dollar company has worked with nearly every major gaming studio around the world – has meant a flood of business opportunities for Snowed In, which became the larger firm’s engineering division in Canada. Sormany says Snowed In is fielding multimillion-dollar contract offers every month – but he hasn’t been able to take on as many as he would like.

“It's not a question of the lack of business. It's more like a lack of talent for now,” he says.

Despite the firm’s rapid expansion in the past 12 months, Snowed In’s growth plans are being hampered by a shortage of developers in the Ottawa market. Specifically, the firm is looking for devs fluent in the C++ programming language – Sormany says he’s heard from other studios in the National Capital Region that there’s a tight talent supply in this area.

“We would hire as fast as we can. The challenge is always access to talent,” he says.

The other barrier Sormany is facing is a lack of space to put those new hires.

In 2017, Snowed In took over 6,000 square feet of space at 981 Wellington St. W. as the anchor tenant of a hub for other independent development studios in Ottawa. At the time, the plan was to fill up the first floor and expand to another floor below if the growth required it. Since then, however, the building has completely filled up, with new players such as Atomic Cartoons entering the Ottawa market and leasing space.

Now, Sormany is watching carefully to see if his studio can take over space as other tenants leave or whether he’ll need to find new office space to accommodate Snowed In’s growth plans.

He says he expects his studio will hit 85 employees by the end of the year, with another 40 to come in 2020. Sormany says Snowed In should hit “maturity” with a couple hundred employees in a few years’ time.

Such a sizeable presence for a gaming company in the capital will mark a significant milestone for the francophone founder. He believes his company can act as a “stepping stone” to bring the city’s gaming industry to new heights.

While he concedes the local gaming development sector has seen its share of pitfalls – Snowed In itself was born out of the collapse of Ottawa’s Fuel Industries in 2008 – Sormany hopes the city’s game dev industry can soon swing on to new highs.