The Coworker is a new weekly series by MTLinTECH that spotlights one Montreal coworking space every Tuesday.
On a Tuesday night in late May, Corey Davis came to visit a packed house at Montreal’s gaming-focused coworking space, Gameplay Space.
Davis, the design director at renowned gaming studio Psyonix, spoke to a crowd of about 150 about the “The road from cult classic to surprise success.” One of the games he helped create, Rocket League, had earned over 15 million unique players just one year after launching.
But chats like Davis’ aren’t even the icing on the cake for the small gaming startups (called “studios”) that work out of rue St. Alexandre’s Gameplay Space, a 9,000 sq.ft., one-floor space nestled in prime downtown Montreal real estate.
In fact, the non-profit’s chairman Jason Della Rocca said the space routinely hosts big names within the industry like Unity, Steam, Twitch, Corus entertainment, The Witcher and more. Della Rocca is also the CEO of the Execution Labs accelerator program for gaming studios, which recently moved into Gameplay Space from its previous location in the Mile-End.
It’s those industry connections that Della Rocca and director Liv Lunde hope will give its tenants a sense of seriousness. These small gaming studios aren’t in their basement anymore. They’re in a legitimate coworking space with intelligent peers who are all building titles and “shipping product” as Della Rocca likes to say, or landing their games on platforms like the Apple store, Xbox Live, Steam, Origin and more.
“A lot of what we do here is focused on the business side of things and I think developers appreciate that,” Della Rocca told MTLinTECH. “They like to be in a context where everyone else is trying to be professional and ship a game, make revenue and deal with the same challenges within publishing, marketing and sales.”
Della Rocca said the game industry is notoriously driven by “passion,” stocked with creators who have been hardcore gamers since childhood. They possess a burning desire to create something out of their dreams, but many lack business sense or an entrepreneurial background. Gameplay Space hopes it can provide that education.
“You’re an amazing programmer but you don’t know payroll or managing your staff because it’s not something you’ve trained in. It’s essential to give them that 360 view of running a company,” said Lunde. “If you’re doing this in your living room, who can you turn to? We can provide them those resources and links.”
Gameplay Space currently hosts about 100 members. About 12 to 15 gaming studios are among those 100 people. A hot desk package that gives a member Monday-Friday access (9:00 – 6:00) costs just $150 per month, with just a one-month commitment. There’s also a $300 fixed desk option, which gives a member 24/7 access and use of three meeting rooms. However, a six-month commitment comes with a 10 per cent discount, while if three people join together, an additional 10 per cent is knocked off.
“So if you’re a small team, you end up paying $240 per month each, which we think is quite reasonable,” said Della Rocca.
As a non-profit, Gameplay Space is supported by several partners within the community, including PME MTL, a network of business experts who promote entrepreneurship and employment throughout Montréal. The City of Montreal, Concordia University, Execution Labs and more also helped fund the space.
Still, Della Rocca and Lunde emphasized that they’re not there to give hand-outs.
“There is a pressure to generate cash because you need to pay the bills and provide value to the members,” said Della Rocca. “It’s fantastic we have our initial supporters, but its still a challenge month-to-month.”
“The rent is due every month and the bills need to be paid,” added Lunde.
That’s not stopping the pair from planning for the future though. Gameplay Space took over a shoe warehouse in the old Sternthal Building when it opened its doors in February 2015. Now it’s ready to knock down its south wall, facing rue St. Catherine, to add an additional 7,000 sq. ft. The move would nearly double its space.
According to Della Rocca, not one member has chosen to leave the space yet and all of the studios are growing larger. In fact, there’s a wait list to get in.
Within those who currently reside at Gameplay Space, Della Rocca said a large amount of wealth is already being created. Gameplay Space did its own “rough economic impact” of the companies in the space, measuring sales and revenue, funding, grants and more from all of its members.
“There’s about over $8 million here. For the small studios here to generate over $8 million after one year and a couple hundred grand to get things set up, we think it’s not bad.”
In the future, Gameplay Space wants to beef up its optional programming for members, like regular courses that bring educational value. Currently, it takes advantage of opportunities when big names within the industry are in Montreal, often organizing talks or events. But Della Rocca admits that this can’t be solely relied on.
He took inspiration from places like Vancouver’s Launch Academy, or Montreal’s Notman House. Both of these places not only possess coworking spaces, but also house venture capital funds and accelerator programs that create significant regular sign-up programming.
If they can do this in a significant manner, Della Rocca feels Gameplay Space will become an even greater centre point for burgeoning gaming studios.
“We really see this as a platform, to share and bring in expertise from abroad and to create that critical mass that attracts the Twitches and the Steams to come and see what’s going on on a regular basis.”
Have you read the rest of The Coworker series?