Developer Talks: Rahul Sehgal Shares His Thoughts On The Indian Game Development Scene

Developer Talks: Rahul Sehgal Shares His Thoughts On The Indian Game Development Scene

We at ASidCast always aim to make the best use of our platform and hence, have decided to start a new series of articles titled “Developer Talks” where developers pen their thoughts on a given topic. We realize the importance of giving the developers a voice on the industry they know and love. For the #1 edition of ‘Developer Talks’, we have Rahul Sehgal from Roach Interactive sharing his thoughts on the Indian game development scene. – Aman Biswas


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Art by Roach Interactive

It is reassuring to regularly see games made by Indian game studios get featured worldwide on the App store these days. I’m aware that there’s an increasing Indian presence in PC as well, but since, I guess, 90% or more of game development in India is mobile-focused at the moment, I’m going to keep it such.

I would classify the studios into three tiers: At the top are the Big Fish: large studios that are part of business groups, well financed and with large offices and plentiful resources.

Next are the Medium Fish; the professional Indies. These are (mostly) run by former employees of these large companies, and consist of small and well-motivated teams. They are largely self-funded, many of them (like us) pay the bills by working on client projects.

Lastly, the Small Fish. These are mostly solo and two-three person teams, some of them students, mostly inexperienced, making their first games.

India has, by and large, been a service economy for software, and a rather successful one at that. The vast majority of people working in the game industry in India have been trained and have worked in this back-office environment, and this is a telling factor. Not very many people understand that a game isn’t a software medium that entertains people, but an entertainment medium enabled by software. This is a very important difference.

For the Big Fish, here’s the kicker: the people at the helm of the Big Fish, the movers and shakers that make decisions, are not Players. (I would have used the term ‘Gamers’, but it has recently become very political.) In the west, gaming has been mainstream for long enough for Players to become CEOs and VCs. That is completely absent in India, so their thinking is more corporate. I hate to use the cliché, but the Big Fish are loaded with Suits that understand the economy of games but do not really ‘feel’ them.

Let me just come out and say that innovation is not in the DNA of the game industry here. This is a bitter truth, and one that we would do well to come to terms with. Fortunately, this may be changing. A new kind of developer is entering the industry; the Nineties kid. Born in the 90s, these guys have been brought up with video games, similar to their peers in the West. Many are self-taught programmers who start making games right after high school. The innovation is strong in this group, and I think we shall see them make a mark sooner rather than later.

It means that while the Big Fish look outward to find the ‘Latest Trends’ and wonder about ‘What after Match Three Games?’, the medium and small fish are already prototyping the next big thing. The problem with large studios can’t afford games to fail. The biggest advantage that Indies have, is the ability to survive a failed game. If you are an Indie, you’re used to being poor. You’re not going to have to fire your secretary if your game tanks, so you’re going to make what you want to anyway.

There have been a few game-changing developments over the last few years, the first of which is the emergence of Analytics in mobile games. The Big Fish have been using Analytics and a system of Beta test-Soft Launch-Full launch for a while now, and have managed to establish some kind of risk assessment framework for their games. Indies would do well to emulate them and follow this system so as not to grope blindly in the post-Alpha phase. I very rarely see an Indian game team looking around for Beta testers, and even if they do, there’s no systematic collection of user feedback. At Roach, we follow an Alpha test-Beta test-Soft Launch-Full launch methodology. We show the game around even before it is feature complete (Alpha). It is vital for anyone making games to deeply internalize the Build-Play-Evaluate-Tweak methodology of game development, especially now that Analytics can be implemented without any cost overhead. That being said, it is possible (and happens) that companies get too focused on metrics and forget about the feel of a game.

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Roach Interactive Team

The second game-changer is the emergence of quality game journalism and blogging in India. Not very many people realize how vital this is to set up a healthy game development ecosystem. Objective, well-informed and professional local journalists/bloggers ensure that Indies have a chance of getting their games out there. Most, if not all, of the new breed of bloggers and journalists are gamers themselves and are somewhat irritated with the quality of games churned out by the domestic game industry. They’re looking for games from India that they can proudly present to the world, and at the moment they’re not getting much of that. It is reassuring for Indie developers without a marketing budget to be in an ecosystem where they know that a high quality game has a good chance of being looked at and covered.

Another very important factor that is hurting the game industry in India is a serious dearth of Design talent. There are very few experienced, world-class designers here (as opposed to experienced, world class programmers and to some extent artists-which we have plenty of). Game designers are mostly looked upon as an unnecessary expense, and the thinking is that they can easily be substituted by the team ‘getting together and coming up with something’. Worse, many game studio owners with money to payroll a studio but not a clue about design, micromanage the design of their games with disastrous results. I’ve seen this happen a LOT.

I teach design at a game development college, and I’ve seen very, very few designers come through. In five years and scores of students, I’ve seen maybe one or two actually choose to be game designers and find employment. Our national obsession with software engineers and programmers is partly to blame, but we as an industry need to understand the importance of investing in young designers. We need to allow the funds to hire designers, need to understand the importance of good design in game development.

Making money from games is hard, and making money from games that the Player in you is happy to see is even harder. There will always be a range of Game Makers taking different degrees of risk, and that’s the way it should be. The Indian Game industry is evolving very quickly, and there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.


 

If you’ve questions for Mr. Sehgal, put it in the comments below and he’ll get to you! 

11 comments
Rahul Sehgal
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  • Excellent post. Need more of such pieces

  • Niraj Sangani

    This man know’s what he’s talking about!
    I completely agree with your point of view.

  • Ashwin Rog

    Very Interesting read, great going.

  • Raff

    Loved this. I’ve a few questions, I’d be grateful if you could get back to me!
    I’m currently in school, and becoming a game designer has been my dream for as long as I can remember. ^_^

    But there are quite a few concerns I have regarding the game development scene here in India.

    First and foremost would be, of course, politics. Though I’d rather not dabble in this territory much, do you believe that India’s innovation is restricted because of the political situation ? That we do not have complete freedom over what we could create ? ( thus being forced to pursue our dreams elsewhere? )

    Secondly, most young game developers tend to go abroad simply because there aren’t enough facilities in India that could provide to their game-dev learning needs :/. Either that, or the information is horrendously sparse regarding these game-dev institutes. Do you believe that it is necessary for an Indian to study game development abroad ?

    And what about the audience ? Majority of the audience in India is accustomed to pirating games. Do you believe this trend will change within the upcoming years ?

    What exactly happens to the small-fish, the solo student projects that have extremely poor funding ? Do you believe they have a chance to make it work and get their games out there, in our country ?

    And again, thank you for this great insight into the topic. I have always wanted to learn more about game development in India :).

    • Rahul Sehgal

      Thanks for reading, Raff.
      I’ll try to answer your questions to the best of my ability, so here goes.

      Firstly, politics makes no difference, because games don’t release in theatres. A game that is offensive in one country (like ours) may be perfectly fine in another. Don’t worry about this.

      Secondly, game development institutes. There are a few in India, but yes, there is a wide gap in terms of quality compared to the good ones abroad. I studied at VFS in Vancouver, and the Institute and course was pretty good but it was horribly, back-breakingly expensive. So if you (or your family) have the means to afford it, it’s a good option-but be warned that If you hope that you will pay a loan by finding work in some fancy AAA studio, well, no. Not likely.

      That being said, unless you have a ton of money, you could join a year’s diploma course at one of the institutes in India, but ultimately the only way to learn how to make games is to Actually Make Games. Get an internship at an Indie studio, get a group together and start making your first game. In two years you will know as much as you could by dropping fifty thousand dollars.

      About the audience pirating games, I would like to hope things will improve but don’t hold your breath. We do like our free stuff.

      The small fish have an even chance, it’s not about resources in the end but how resilient you are and how well you internalize the iterative nature of the game development process.

      Lastly, watch this (if you haven’t already)

    • Regarding Piracy. It’s a non issue. People will always pirate games but there hasn’t been a shred of evidence saying that piracy = loss in sales. If your game is good, people will buy it if they can. If it’s not good, people won’t buy it regardless. As for the people who will pirate games regardless of whether your game is good or bad, there’s no changing them but atleast you’ll know that your game is good enough hence why people pirated it to begin with. Not to mention the advantage of free marketing.

  • Aritra Bhattacharya

    as always, I love to read on the game development scene in India and how it’s slowly evolving. Though mainstream media will try to mislead by saying there’s a lot of money involved. Sure money is there, but there’s a huge risk barrier before it.

  • Aarti

    Loved the point made on the treatment and importance of game design and designer.

  • Yogi Sama

    Hello, Mr. Sehgal. This was an interesting read and I have a lot of questions on my mind. Here is the one I’m most curious about.

    According to you, what should one keep in mind when designing a video game? 2D or 3D that doesn’t matter, but what should one worry about ?
    I did not know the difference between Game Design and Game Development until a few years ago when a guy from Arena Animation explained it to me when I said wanted to join so I could learn “videogame development”.
    I ended up not joining it, but I’ve been learning modelling and texturing stuff for over three years on my own now.
    I’ve fiddled around with stuff like Game Maker and RPG Maker, so I’m genuinely curious; what would you say constitutes a good design ?
    It doesn’t have to be specific like level design or art design or how the story line is written, but can you explain what should one keep in mind if he or she is going for “good” game design ?

    • Rahul Sehgal

      Design is, in all honesty, distilled and refined common sense. Let’s use an analogy. If you’re going to make a new house, you need to decide the layout, how many floors, you need to figure out what materials to use, what kind of marble, where does the balcony go-for that you need to think about where the sun rises, also how many kids you have so you can plan bedrooms. There’s a planning aspect to it and a guessing and emotional aspect. Design is having a picture of what the final product should look like approximately, and then going from having it all in your head to something you can see, feel, touch. Watch the video I posted in my last reply to Raff.

      Good design for me is almost invisible, when something does what it is supposed to very simply and intuitively.

      There’s no key or shortcut to it, It’s something that is built up with focus and patience.

      • Yogi Sama

        Thank you for your reply 🙂

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