Cloudhead Games, Qualicum Beach’s big player in the burgeoning virtual reality world, is moving into the old fire hall.
“We are thrilled to use that space,” said Cloudhead’s general manager Tracey Unger. “At 8,000 square feet it will aid our R&D (research and development) activities.”
Tracy and her husband Denny started the company in their Qualicum Beach garage in 2013 and spent a few months in 2014 in the town’s then-brand-new Digital Arts Studio in the train station. “We knew within a month or two it wasn’t big enough,” she said, so they moved to a larger space in Coombs where they expanded to 13 full-time employees and two distant contractors.
“This will be a big year for Cloudhead,” said town Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Sailland, announcing the deal at Monday’s council meeting.
The company is booming on the strength of their first virtual reality (VR) fantasy adventure game franchise The Gallery. The first episode Call of the Starseed is a launch title for the upcoming release of the HTC Vive virtual reality system, which puts players in the middle of the action.
The HTC Vive system will be releaced this spring, which means Cloudhead (cloudheadgames.com) will finally see actual revenue, having funded themselves through things like a Kickstart crowd-funding campaign. They will also be releaced on other VR systems like Occulus in the near future.
Tracey Unger said this year will give them a better sense of where they’re headed, but that “we’d love to double in size by the end of the year.” They hope to outgrow the building within 12 to 18 months, matching the town’s proposed timeline. Since the fire department moved into a new hall last year, the town is exploring long-term options for the site and Sailland said this “short-term agreement… in no way undermines our ability to pursue other options.” Sailland said selecting a long-term partner for the site and the public consultation and development process would likely take that long anyway.
In an Oct. 2015 staff report to council on phase one of the public consultation for the property, 194 people provided feedback from which four guiding principles were developed: the building should eventually be removed (it needs $800,000 in seismic upgrades); it should include residential, commercial and green space; close a portion of Harlech Road; and improve bike and pedestrian traffic.
Tracey Unger said the building is perfect for them, providing office and smaller spaces as well as the large open bays “where people can move around in a virtual environment.”
After a couple rural years, Unger said she’d approached the town looking to move back and town staff suggested putting in an expression of interest for the fire hall.
“It’s beautiful and it’s pretty awesome to live in this beautiful place right on the ocean,” she said, adding that the amenities will help them with bringing new employees to the area. “We want Qualicum to be our home. We love to utilize the coffee shops and the gym and be able to have lunch on the beach.”