MID-CITY — A big player in Sony’s video game division is leaving the city and taking our name with it.
Santa Monica Studios, owned by Sony Computer Entertainment, announced that they will move to a larger space in Playa Vista this summer.
Started 14 years ago with 16 people, the company now has more than 220 employees. It’s the same old story in Silicon Beach, where companies start small and rapidly outgrow the limited office space.
Last year, Riot Games, creators of one of the most popular video games in the world, announced it was leaving for a much larger space just outside of the Santa Monica border in West Los Angeles.
Google, one of the first major tech companies to open an office in Santa Monica, announced it was leaving for Venice in 2011.
Another gaming subsidiary of Sony, Naughty Dog, will stay at its location in the Water Garden.
Santa Monica Studio’s 60,000-square-foot space on Stewart Street near Colorado Avenue had become too small, said Jason Harris, economic development manager for City Hall.
They were looking for 80,000 square feet, he said, which is the size of many entire office buildings in Santa Monica.
“Our current building and the atmosphere that it provides has proven to be a strong part of the fabric of who we are today despite earthquakes, chronic power outages, and even the occasional ghost sighting,” said Shannon Studstill, head of the studio, in a letter about the move.
Santa Monica Studios (which will keep the name despite the Playa Vista address) is responsible for popular games like “Kinetica” and “God of War.”
The Stewart Street space is in an early-1900s train station. It has an open floor plan, which, Studstill said, is central to the company’s development process. But the new location has a larger open floor plan.
“When a business is looking to expand it can be hard to find space in the city,” said Carl Hansen, director of government affairs with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. “We try to keep an eye on what’s available and we do regular outreach with our major employers to find out what they need. But it’s getting harder to find office [space].”
Harris said that the startup technology business boom is a double-edged sword. On one hand, they create a clean product — one that is less impactful to the environment. On the other hand, they grow rapidly and they’re mobile.
But the space left vacant by Sony should backfill quickly, he said, thanks to the tech boom that is spreading to the entire Westside.
“All the boats are rising,” he said. “Someone’s going to move back in. It could be a lot of smaller users and the cycle may start all over again.”
Recently Harris encountered the opposite. A company was outgrowing its office and heard that the guys next-door were moving out so they grabbed that space and expanded.
“Those kind of moves get less notice,” he said.
Another bit of good news is that Red Bull is happy, Harris said. Red Bull had been looking for a larger office and struggling to find one in Santa Monica. They are looking for additional space but they can split up their work groups unlike some other companies.
“Most business groups want to co-locate,” he said.
Earlier this month, City Council approved a controversial development project about a block away from Sony’s train station office.
Along with 472 apartment units, the Hines project, known as the Bergamot Transit Village, will include 375,000 square feet of creative office space. Some residents are livid, claiming that it will exacerbate traffic problems in an already-congested neighborhood. They are gathering signatures to challenge the project with a referendum vote.
Others have lauded the incoming office space, pointing to Riot Games’ departure and Sony’s struggle to find a larger home in the city by the sea.
“(The Sony move) is really a real estate issue,” Harris said. “(City Hall) is just an innocent bystander. Our hands our relatively tied in terms of what we can do.”
City Hall is more focused on long-term plans, he said. Development projects, like the one planned by Hines, or one planned for City Hall-owned property at Fourth Street and Arizona Avenue are examples of long-term solutions to the office shortage, he said.
In voting to approve the Hines project, Councilmember Gleam Davis noted that Riot Games, which hopped the Santa Monica border, will keep many of the geographic perks of the city by the sea without having to adhere to any traffic management programs set forth by City Hall.
Still, Harris said, Sony’s decision to stay on the Westside is better for the city than having them move to the Bay Area.
“Often, when someone decides to leave a company they’ll come back to a place they’re familiar with,” he said. “You see it all the time in Santa Monica. They got their start here and then the company leaves. But when they want to start something on their own they’ll come back.”