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Keep calm and game on: Ottawa International Game Conference puts the city on the map

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Photo by Angelo Failla on flickrPhoto by Angelo Failla on flickr

“A rising tide raises all ships.” It’s a phrase that Kyle McInnes — organizer of the  Ottawa International Game Conference (OIGC), currently running until May 31st at the Ottawa Convention Centre — used a few times during our interview, as a way to describe the rapid change occurring in Ottawa. In this context, the “rising tide” is Ottawa’s growth in becoming a major player in the gaming industry, and the “ships” are the industry itself, and all of its complex components. “Ottawa is changing into a major gaming hub”, says McInnes, who’s also the director of the mobile gaming studio Smoke Labs. Indeed, while the gaming world was once seen as ambiguous and categorized as a marginalized subculture, it is now a force to be reckoned with and has proven itself to be a mainstream market.

Now in its second year, the OIGC brings together game developers, artists, business types, and enthusiasts of all things the gaming industry has to offer. The conference features an array of guest speakers from all over the world, crash courses on game development, networking events, and of course, the requisite parties. But what’s unique about OIGC is its multitude of tracks, each geared towards a specific kind of conference-goer. “There are four tracks (to the conference)”, explains McInnes. “There’s an Indie Track, for people making games on a smaller scale, there’s the Business Track, for those who work in the gaming industry without being developers, there’s the Developer Track, for those coding the games, and there’s the Artist Track, for the artists.”

While these tracks may seem specifically oriented towards individuals who are already working within the industry, McInnes encourages those with an interest, but maybe not a job, in the gaming world to attend the conference and get some insight on potential employment possibilities. “If you are interested in games, you should get into the gaming industry”, says McInnes. “Turn your passion into a career by going to the conference, meeting some people, and seeing where you could add value. Also, it’s a great opportunity to meet the people who are making the games you play.”

The OIGC also provides opportunities for students and recent graduates who are interested in working in gaming, but don’t necessarily have the connections to get their foot in the door. “When you register (for the conference) as a student, you can upload your resume, which we send out to all the people hiring in Ottawa”, explains McInnes. The conference also features a Student Track with networking sessions only available for students. Not a bad way to begin a career.

It’s no secret that Ottawa gets a bad rap, as evidenced when the capital recently won the title for Most Boring City in Canada. And while the OIGC’s main goals are to bring the gaming community together and showcase some great talents, McInnes let me in on a larger, ulterior motive for the conference. “I think Ottawa is unique in the fact that people get behind you if you’re trying something different in the city”, he explains. “We have companies like QNX, whose operating system is in everything from light-speed rail to Blackberries. Then you have Magmic and Fuel, who are bringing in some major contracts. Not to mention the smaller elements like individuals studios, and all of the indie developers that are a part of the Dirty Rectangles. All of this is indicative in the shift that’s happening in this city, and the Ottawa International Game Conference is really about letting everyone know that, and to pitch Ottawa as a really fun, great place to live and have a career.”

While drawing influences from the popular Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the OIGC is really in a league of its own by offering similar content and featuring reputable guest speakers, but at a fraction of the cost. What’s more, last year’s success paved the way for this year’s jam-packed schedule and planning. “We are being incredibly bold by doing a two-day conference this year,” says McInnes. Clearly, this bold ambition goes even further than the upcoming event, as McInnes already has thoughts for a long-term plan. “I see the way the industry is growing, and the momentum is there to carry us to a 10-year conference. The goal is to build it to something that is truly international.”

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