Green and fun - Ottawa Citizen

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Green and fun - Ottawa Citizen
Apr 10th 2012, 06:02

An Ottawa-based video game company has finally made picking up garbage fun - thanks to an addictive new Facebook game that's a finalist in this year's Canadian Videogame Awards.

RocketOwl Inc. is only 18 months old, but its first-ever release, called GreenSpace, has already caught industry attention. GreenSpace is nominated in the Best Social/Casual Game category in the awards, to be handed out at a ceremony in Vancouver on April 21.

Chief executive Graeme Barlow says that with GreenSpace, Rocket-Owl took a different tack than other developers of games that encourage social responsibility.

"What I've seen in the past is that companies that try to put out greenthemed games put out really bad games, because the first idea they put on the table is green," he explains. "So you get these really terrible games that have a great message and do great charity, but the games really suck, so only eight people play it."

Instead, RocketOwl spent more than a year developing and testing the game aspect of its first release before incorporating the environmental angle.

Barlow says being based in Ottawa is a huge advantage for his business.

The capital is the "perfect middle ground" between the technical skills of application-building talent from Toronto and the experienced game designers of Montreal.

Initial nominations for the three year-old Canadian Videogame Awards are based on submissions from the public. Then a panel of judges chooses the four finalists in each category for the awards show.

Barlow isn't sure that the nomination alone will do much to raise RocketOwl's profile, but "if we manage to win it'll be a major boost."

The game is free to play on Facebook, with an iPad and iOS version in development. Still technically in a public testing phase until the official May 1 launch, GreenSpace is a charming strategy game that takes place in the distant future on a planet covered in litter. As members of The GreenSpace Corps - essentially space janitors - players must clean up hundreds of years worth of garbage and restore the planet's natural environment by building sustainable energy sources.

GreenSpace cost $800,000 to develop. Barlow expects to see positive returns within the next three months, but notes that the majority of the investment went toward creating a gaming engine which the company can build upon for later releases. After the official release of GreenSpace, RocketOwl plans to issue a series of mobile apps and a sequel called BlueSpace, which has the same themes but takes place underwater.

Barlow says there are big advantages in RocketOwl's focus on social and mobile sites. One is the immediate exposure to the huge social foundation of a site such as Facebook.

When RocketOwl Inc. was launched in Ottawa in December 2010, it consisted of five founders with total capital of $600,000. It has since expanded to 18 employees, thanks to additional angel investments and tax breaks. Ottawa entrepreneur Timothy Kimber, CEO of PlaSmart Inc., is one such investor; he now sits on the board of directors at RocketOwl.

Other finalists in the Best Social or Casual Game category are Cranky Cat, Margaritaville Online and Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure. Last year's winner was the game Pocket God on Facebook.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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