The video game scene in Ottawa is eclipsed by the two big cities that flank us, yet the industry is emerging. When Travis Martin moved here from Montreal – a juggernaut of the industry – he had no idea that in one year’s time he would land his dream job. In the launch of a new column, he gives readers an intro to the gaming culture in the Ottawa.

I moved here from Montreal with my girlfriend in the summer of 2016. We were living with her mother. I was a poet, playwright and actor, with a gig that was up in October. I had a bit of money… but would need a job very soon.

If I have a job I don’t like, I get distracted. So I had no choice but to do the impossible…

Find a job designing video games in Ottawa

I did my research. Googling “Ottawa video game studios” provided some results. I found companies that were even in the “20-50 employees” range! My career counselor told me that was a good size. It provides great opportunity for growth, as well as a good chance of being hired.

The biggest companies I found were: Snowed In Studios, Magmic, Fuel Industries, Iversoft, and Hot Glue Games. The only company with openings I might be qualified for was Magmic, so I focused my efforts there.

Magmic makes mobile adaptations of games you certainly know, like Scattergories, Uno, Phase 10, and Rubik’s Cube. I love traditional games, so this was pretty exciting. While I interviewed for a couple of positions, it wasn’t a good fit. Seeing as I had spent the bulk of five years designing and developing my own games, I was a decent designer, but not much else.

Smaller companies also appeared in my searches. While I was interested, I doubted they would hire me. Studios this size tend to be made of one or a few close friends or colleagues. Smaller game studios include Breakfall (Starwhal, Pizza Titan Ultra), Steel Crate Games (Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes), Hardline Studios (Metaball, Alpha Wave),

I needed a design job. And you can’t get one of those without contacts. So I looked into the culture.

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Where do the games people hang out?

In April of 2016, I attended the Capital Gaming Expo (CGX – now the Canadian Gaming Expo). I purchased a very cheap ticket to access the show floor. Arriving with printed CVs and hand-written business cards, I had the goal of meeting someone who would want to work with me.

Soon, I met someone from Hot Glue Games. They had just hired a level designer. Darn! So close.

There were a bunch of Indie companies at CGX showing off their projects.

Some of the people I met included:

– Paige Marincak and co. at Atemly, working on Gataela. This game is a steampunk love letter to old school Japanese Role-Playing Games.

– Operarii, the developers of Destreza, a cross-cultural sword-fighting game.

– Organizers from Dirty Rectangles, a videogame collective. They host a monthly “Show & Chill” event at the downtown bar, Avant Garde. (It’s a lot of fun! Come hang out!)

– Jillian Mood, one of the co-owners of CGX. She helps run the Mood Foundation,  they organize community events all around the country. Game jams happen in Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax, respectively know as OJam, MoJam, and FaxJam. They are growing.

I heard from someone that there was an afterparty at the video game bar, The Blurry Pixel. The existence of such a bar was news to me; I had to go. CGX was the place where I would meet someone who could give me a job.

Even though my directions were wrong (it was on Queen St., not Slater), I found the place, and I met someone: Jared Thomson, lead programmer and senior developer at Snowed In Studios. An influential fellow, with a good rep in the scene here. Jared mentioned that Snowed In might have some work for someone with my skills. I gave him my card, which he gave to Jean-Sylvain Sormany, studio head of Snowed In.

This contact led to success: I landed a job as a game designer at Snowed In Studios!

Sketches by Snowed In Studios, enemies from the Henry Danger game (Crime Warp app)

Picture of the Video Game Industry

I have learned much more about the industry in Ottawa since getting this job, but this story touches on a few of the important points. The industry is made up of:

  1. A few larger companies doing contract work.
  2. Some quite-successful indie companies here.
  3. Many developers making games out of sheer passion in their spare time.

There are a lot of game devs in Ottawa, but you can’t find out about them from Google. You gotta jump in, attend video game jams, attend conferences.

And now you have one more source: the Ottawa Beat. Stay tuned for future columns as we explore different elements of gaming culture in Ottawa.

Sketch of a zombie for Runescape, by Snowed In Studios
A sketch of a town for Runescape, by Snowed In Studios