Bit Reactor continues powerful legacy of Maryland video game industry

10/09/2023| Daniel Leaderman

Bit Reactor continues powerful legacy of Maryland video game industry

10/09/2023 | Daniel Leaderman

From their office in Hunt Valley, Greg Foertsch and his team specialize in designing and building complex and vivid digital worlds. They’re also on the vanguard of an industry with a long and formidable history in Maryland – even if most people might not realize it.

Foertsch is the co-founder, CEO and creative director of Bit Reactor , one of several video game studios currently thriving in Maryland. If you didn’t realize the Free State was a hub for gaming, you’re not alone, Foertsch says.

“When people think of software development, they think of the West Coast,” said Foertsch, referring to tech development hubs like Seattle and Silicon Valley. “But there are many companies here in Maryland employing hundreds of people.”

Foertsch would know; he’s been working in game design for decades. Trained as a traditional illustrator, the Perry Hall native took an internship at MircoProse  in the mid-1990s so he could learn computers. That company, also based in Hunt Valley, produced now-classic games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization  and X-Com: UFO Defense .

The internship became a job, which became another job at Sparks-based Firaxis , a game studio that continued the Civilization and XCOM franchises and where Foertsch spent 22 years. He became an art director, and began to see “creative director” as the job he ultimately wanted.

Fast-forward to January 2021: Bit Reactor was founded, starting with just two employees and a commission to create an exciting new game – a game set in a galaxy far, far away.

Foertsch can’t say much about the “Star Wars” project Bit Reactor is developing; it will be a strategy game (for non-gamers, that means it will be more like “chess” and less like a hyperactive gunfight). And it doesn’t yet have a release date – it will be finished when it’s finished.

Since launch, Bit Reactor has grown to about 55 employees, and expects to ramp up to nearly 100 before long, Foertsch said. His background as a visual artist – rather than a programmer – has guided the development of Bit Reactor’s collaborative culture.

“Everyone in the building is a developer first. Everyone can contribute ideas without worrying,” he said. His role as creative director is not to have all the great ideas, but to filter the team’s ideas: some ideas may be great, but just not feasible for this game.

Working together, in-person, is another key component of Bit Reactor’s culture, Foertsch said. While it’s easy to think of programming as a solitary task that can be done remotely, getting people in the same room, in front of the same whiteboard, is important for developing ideas and solving problems, he said.

Hybrid schedules allow an ideal balance between that live, organic communication and giving team members space to recharge and work independently, Foertsch said.

Maryland was always the natural choice for the company to call home due to its legacy of successful game developers, he said.

“For me, I was just lucky that I didn’t have to move,” he said. “The industry here is very healthy, but you almost never hear about it.”

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