Big Fish Games has a new headquarters to go along with its new leader.
The Seattle-based gaming company, which was acquired by Australia’s Aristocrat Technologies for $990 million earlier this year, moved into its new office in Seattle’s Pioneer Square this week. In the appropriately named Maritime building, Big Fish has leased all the office space — 187,000 square feet in total — with more than enough room to house its 633 Seattle employees plus the more than 100 open positions the company is advertising online.
The move is another sign of a new era for Big Fish. In 2014 it was acquired by Churchill Downs Inc., operator of the famous Kentucky Derby racetrack, for $885 million and sold again to Aristocrat earlier this year.
Just this month the company announced former Electronic Arts and Zynga executive Jeff Karp is joining Big Fish Games as managing director and president. He is taking the helm permanently after former CEO Paul Thelen left following the Aristocrat acquisition.
Aimee Paganini, lead senior game producer for Big Fish, has worked through all these changes. In her six years at the company she’s worked on several of Big Fish’s flagship games like Fairway Solitaire and Panda Pandamonium, and right now her latest game, Let’s Dish, is in Google’s open beta program. Paganini, who leads a team of 27 people, said not much has changed with her day-to-day operations despite the company shuffling between two parent companies in four years.
“I’m really fortunate that I have a boss and a general manager that allows our team to run as a small business,” Paganini said. “They’re the investors, so we need to make them happy.”
But the new headquarters will bring major changes for Paganini and everyone else at Big Fish. Employees felt like fishes out of water in the old HQ space at 333 Elliott West, which Big Fish steadily grew into over the years.
The company started looking for space two years ago, and at the time it surveyed employees to see what they wanted. The main gripe was lack of transit connections. The old office, which is just a few blocks down from where Expedia is setting up its Seattle HQ for a move next year, only has access to a couple of bus lines. Pioneer Square is the transit hub of the region, with hundreds of buses and a light rail line just a few blocks away, and plenty of access to restaurants and other attractions.
“We were out on a deserted island or at least peninsula on Elliott Avenue, so coming here it really opened up the ability for people to go out and experience the neighborhood,” said Evan Cottingham, director of real estate and facilities for Big Fish.
The old office was never a perfect fit for Big Fish, as the company gradually took on more and more space in the building from Classmates.com. Gaming companies have different needs than traditional office users — testing areas, big desks to spread out multiple devices and monitors, lots of collaboration spaces for meetings — and none of that really existed in Big Fish’s old space.
For Big Fish, the new digs will help with recruiting in the competitive gaming hub of Seattle that includes tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft and others prominent gaming powerhouses such as Valve and Bungie. Before, Cottingham said its interview rooms were “windowless dungeons,” and now they look out over the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains.
Working with IA Interior Architects, the architecture firm that has designed the lion’s share of Amazon’s Seattle offices, Big Fish added plenty of collaboration areas, secluded focus rooms and signature spots for Big Fish. One wall behind a central staircase connecting two floors has several video boards showing clips of popular games.
The building features what the team calls Faraday Cages. Those are sound-proofed rooms with their own dedicated servers encased in safe-like areas for downloading and testing games on hundreds of devices simultaneously. The isolation assures that the team can control all the conditions without any interference from other WiFi signals or anything else that could influence the process.
Nearby spaces for human testers will have multiple cameras that track eye and hand movement of users when playing.
“Everyone assumes that a game company, a tech company, is a playground, but there’s a lot of work,” Cottingham said. “I can’t fathom how much Aimee and her team does to produce a game, so I need to design for all those ideas.”
Big Fish leased the building close to two years ago in a deal brokered by Seattle real estate company Clark Fadden and has been waiting for its new HQ since. During that time, the Maritime Building has undergone a complex and unique renovation. Crews dropped three additional stories on top of the 108-year-old structure to add to the office space.
The flooring for the upper stories and stairs came from the original columns. The building features homages to its history, dating back to when it was a warehouse to ship goods from around the West Coast to Alaska and the Yukon for the gold rush.
Investors liked what they saw in the newly renovated building. After paying just $13 million for the structure in 2013, Boston-based Beacon Capital Partners sold the building recently for a reported price tag of $186 million.
Big Fish’s old space won’t be vacant for long. Sales automation company Outreach leased the former Big Fish space at 333 Elliott West, with plans to occupy it by November.