Montreal video game developer Ludia tries to recharge creativity with new office space

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Ludia Inc., one of Canada’s leading domestic video-game developers, is expanding its Montreal headquarters and experimenting with new types of work space to recapture employee creativity, says its founder that has been taken away during the pandemic.

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At a time when many companies are leaving their offices and downsizing, Ludia is adding another floor to its operations in Montreal’s historic Coristin Building, a former fur manufacturing center. Its 400 employees will now have access to three floors and 60,000 square feet of space – space that will become a kind of human laboratory as the gaming production company tries to figure out how to make its office better for the post-COVID-19 world .

From November 1, Ludia will reopen its studio doors to employees – all of whom are now working from home – on a voluntary basis. The company will test how its employees interact and perform in new types of physical room configurations, how they communicate and collaborate with coworkers on monitors that work remotely, and what setups they prefer. Huh. aim? Bring home the informality of the office and reclaim the social ties that are vital to the creative process.

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“What’s under our control right now is to create a very engaging environment without actually ordering our employees to come back,” said Alex Thabet, 48, Ludia’s founder and president. environment by imposing something. If it’s going to work, it’s because people really want to come here.”

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It is part of a broader corporate rebirth for Ludia, a maker of mobile games with names such as jurassic world alive And lovelink, which also includes visual rebranding. The 15-year-old was bought by California-based Jam City from Fremantle for US$165 million in a deal that closed last month. Jam City is building game development studios in North America and elsewhere and also owns Toronto-based producer Uken Games.

The COVID-19 crisis has created a rift between companies that have thrived – such as those offering digital solutions and entertainment – and those suffering from lockdowns and lost sales. But as it progresses, it is exposing operational cracks in even the most resilient corporations.

At Ludia, having a remote workforce has extinguished much of the inventiveness and originality to keep its existing video games fresh while coming up with new titles, Mr Thabet told a small group of reporters during a tour. Told. Studio Friday.

“One of the things we have learned over the past 18 months is that productivity has not decreased when it comes to tasks that require you to work alone,” said Mr. Thabet. “But when it comes to cooperative tasks, creative processes that require the input of multiple people, it is becoming extremely challenging.”

He noted that non-verbal cues and body language, which are part of in-person meetings, are key elements of the creative process because they allow employees to read from those around them the level of enthusiasm for an idea and pursue it. give. . Video conferencing is also limited because generally only one person can speak at any given time. “It sounds like a small thing, but it has a huge impact on the quality of ideas that come out of this setup,” said the founder.

Ludia is reconfiguring its physical location as a possible solution. When Mr Thabet led visitors around the studio, he saw a mix of traditional and novel work stations and meeting areas: glass-walled rooms for four with orange chairs and video screens, soundproofed rooms, drawing boards around with a spherical pod. It’s called a “pool”.

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Employees who want to endure a personal task without being disturbed can head to the “library,” a mobile phone-free, talk-free zone. Others who want to chat and laugh out loud are encouraged to socialize in areas with seating and small tables scattered around the studio. The company has closed all its individual, closed-door offices. “If someone wants to work alone in his office all day, we want him to stay at home,” said Mr. Thabet.

Ludia is giving its employees complete freedom to decide when and when to come to the headquarters and how much time they spend there. The hope, Mr Thabet said, is to get to a point where employees “will have the reflection to really get here when they are involved in important creative processes.” He estimates that 25 percent to 50 percent of Ludia’s employees will be present in person at some point in the coming months, but he admits that’s only an estimate.

“We have no clue what the post-pandemic environment will be like,” Mr Thabet said, adding that among other companies he has spoken to, less than 10 percent of workers are coming after reopening. “Will this be our reality? I hope not. Because I think there is value in being able to provide a physical work environment.”

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