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
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.
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!