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If you were told to go and find the future, where would you go? Beijing? New York? A cool postcode in London? Wrong. The answer could be Wilmslow. The Cheshire town is seeing workspace reinvented for a very particular and very fast growing client: the gaming industry.
Gaming here does not mean a flutter on the gee-gees or a few pounds each way on who wins the Premiership. This is about games you can play online or on a console, from Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto down to the hypnotic Candy Crush.
So meet Wilmslow-based Playdemic, part of the vast Warner Bros entertainment empire, and the company responsible for mobile gaming sensation Golf Clash.
They have re-thought workspace at Sandfield House, Water Lane, turning it one of the world’s leading mobile gaming studios.
Playdemic Chief Executive, Paul Gouge, explains that needing new space, and the need to make themselves attractive to game designers who might otherwise prefer to be in London or Manchester, inspired the move.
‘Wilmslow is a lovely suburb but it is not the most exciting place in the world, and we wanted a workspace environment that was exciting and challenging,’ he says.
‘We needed more floorspace, but we also want to create a space that attracts the high quality creative individuals we need. So we hit on the idea of developing what we call a Third Way of Working – which means providing spaces for informal conversations, or breakout, or somebody different to sit next to, or a different view.’
The result was dividing the floorspace half-and-half into traditional fixed desks, and various kind of third way working spaces. ‘We’ve meeting rooms, breakout areas, phone booths, unconventional furniture, great places for coffee…but no hot desking,’ he says. ‘Often hot desking is about not having enough space, so you can fit more people in. But we have enough space. It isn’t about saving space, it is about providing opportunities to work with a team, or with a colleague, or just to look at something different. So, in our workplace, everyone has a fixed desk space, as well as the option to move around.’
To create more space, and a sense of grandeur, the ceiling was opened up and a mezzanine floor installed.
Paul laughs at the suggestion that the workspace here is designed to stop his clever staff from getting bored. But he doesn’t quite deny it, either.
‘We employed creative people and we want to encourage them to push ideas even further. To do that requires an office that provides an emotional response, that makes us feel good. You can do that with colourways, and the way you guide movement round the building, by having great coffee and beer on tap, by creating fun spaces,’ he says, confessing that the fit-out was pricey. He will not confirm it, but rumour says close to three-figures per sq ft.
Does the property industry grasp what the gaming sector needs? Paul thinks they are learning. ‘We are not alone in having re-thought our workspace. Like everybody else, we’ve realised we spend most of our lives in the office, so the place should be as beautiful and engaging as possible.’
So great was his confidence that, having consulted on what staff wanted (and didn’t want), the design team then went away and did their thing in private. The eventual look of the offices came as a complete surprise to staff. ‘The positive feedback has been overwhelming,’ Paul says.
‘We have creative people here and we want to keep them stimulated, because in the gaming sector we are trying to synthesise fun, which is incredibly difficult at the best of times, and we’d like the odds on our success stacked as heavily in our favour as possible. Simply put, a dull office does not challenge you to do great things.’
Gemma Parkinson, Lead Project Manager for CBRE, says: ‘Playdemic is a people- and design-focused organisation, and challenged us to deliver a studio that was out of the ordinary and indulgent. The new studio has a generous space designed to inspire creative thought and encourage a third way of working for staff who were typically desk based.
‘A mezzanine with roof garden uses the exposed pitched roof structure, while designated wellbeing rooms, games arcade and multi-purpose spaces promote staff wellbeing. This was a really exciting project that demonstrated our team’s ability to work collaboratively across service lines to deliver a successful outcome for our client.’
The challenge here was that they really didn’t want something ordinary, and that meant using the floorplate unconventionally.
But the development was not without its risks. ‘The challenge here was that they really didn’t want something ordinary, and that meant using the floorplate unconventionally. Their 50-50 split between fixed desks and other ways of working was way more than most office users would go for – and the risk was that the space would just not get used. Basically, that it would be an expensive white elephant if the business did not embrace new ways of working.’
The practical problem, which also meant risk, was to open out the roofspace and insert a mezzanine.
‘We wanted to use the full height of the building. There was originally a suspended ceiling, but removing it revealed a roof void. So we inserted a mezzanine, which meant a lot of work on the existing capacity of the building’s structure, and some serious thought to make sure we had enough head room,’ she says.
Fortunately, CBRE had access to original structure drawings, so it was clear whether the building could, or could not, cope with a mezzanine. ‘If we hadn’t had those drawings, it would have meant some risky assumptions about a very chunky mezzanine,’ Gemma says.
The gaming sector presents an unfamiliar variety of a familiar problem, as far as the property industry is concerned. As Gemma explains, in effect, this is a design studio like any other, with the key difference that it isn’t like any other. ‘What we had to create is something that could inspire staff who might otherwise be working in central London or central Manchester, and we want them to really want to work in Wilmslow,’ she says.
The design requirements of the gaming sector aren’t so much about stopping clever people getting bored, as making sure clever people don’t begin to get lazy. ‘The aim is to challenge all the time because, in the gaming sector, if you don’t keep up with the market, it takes no time at all to create a problem. A simple white box office is not going to do that.’
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