With hundreds of game developers descending on Pune last weekend, the NASSCOM Game Developer Conference (NGDC) was arguably the most important event of the year for Indian game development. Now in its seventh incarnation, the three-day conference saw a variety of talks, panels and workshops hosted by both industry veterans and up-and-coming innovators. The significance of the event however was not the content of the sessions, but the presence of the delegates themselves.
India’s game development community has been steadily growing over the last two decades, but the majority of development has happened in the last five years; according to the Indian Gaming Market Review that the NASSCOM Gaming Forum (NGF) published during the conference, more than half of the existing game development studios and service providers have started up after 2012. Strangely enough though, even with the relative ease at which communication can now take place, a large amount of the country’s development – especially amongst independent (indie) developers – happens in relative isolation. Chairman of the NGF, Rajesh Rao, seems to be well aware of the issue. He founded Dhruva Interactive, India’s first game development studio in 1997, and has played an important role in encouraging local development.
“Some of the early players like us didn’t talk to each other enough, and we wasted a lot of time because we didn’t; we could have shortcut so much of the learning process if we had actually thought to do so. So that was one of the things we said. ‘We will make sure that all of these young people are talking to each other so that they don’t make the same mistakes that we made; so that they can learn from each other’s experiences. That was really the single-line agenda that we started [NGF] over. The knowledge-sharing process is the biggest need of the hour.” – Rajesh Rao
With roughly 65% of Indian game developers working in indie studios, conferences like NGDC and Pocket Gamer Connects Bangalore serve as crucial hubs for these small teams to interact with and learn from each other, as well as from larger studios. In the last year, these events have also begun to provide guaranteed face-time with the international games press; an estimated 75% of Indian developers target the global games market, despite having to face a constant struggle to be recognized amongst the multitude of titles in an already-saturated market.
Abhineet and Siddharth of the two-man studio Dastan Games
Their game The Light Inside Us won the Upcoming Game award
Prasanna Kumar from Prasan Games told us about his years developing in isolation in Chennai. This was his first NGDC, and his game Little Life: Adaptivity was chosen as a finalist in the NGF’s Indie Game of the Year award. He received a lot of feedback on it at the conference – something that just didn’t happen back at home; he hasn’t really interacted closely with any other indies up until this weekend. “It’s challenging. I thought NGDC would be a starting point – come here, meet people, keep in touch. Otherwise it’s somewhat of a lonely path.” Later that evening it was announced that he had won the Indie Game of the Year runner-up prize.
Apart from the yearly conference, the NGF, as well as other organizations like the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) also organizes talks, demo days, developer meets and studio tours. Earlier this year the Women in Game Dev Meetup was spearheaded by the manager of the NGF, Shruti Verma. Women from all spheres of game development came together over coffee at meet-ups conducted simultaneously in seven cities across the country.
The NGF reports that 15% of the games industry’s employees are women – more than a few of the developers we met at the conference found this number surprisingly high, though. We caught up with Poornima Seetharaman soon after the conference’s Women in Game Development lunch. Poornima, an industry veteran, volunteers with the NGF to help conduct events, and was the driving force behind the Bangalore Women in Game Dev meet. She has attended NGDC since it first started back in 2009; back then, she was the only female speaker.
“Maybe we should stop with the cynicism and take something forward with what we have,
and try to make the best of it” – Poornima Seetharaman
To her, the task of building the country’s development community isn’t the NGF’s alone. “There has already been a lot that has come out of the events that NGF hosts – the initiative has to come from our end as well; it’s not like just because they host an event we should go for it, come back, then do nothing. It took me ten years to get here, but for someone starting today it’ll only take them two years to get to where I am – and that’s a huge improvement! NASSCOM has been an essential part of that. Sure, we still have a lot of ways to improve, but I think they’re doing a commendable job – and the rest of us in the industry have to pick up from there. It feels like it’s a small family. If I don’t help you today, we’re not growing; if you’re not growing, I’m not growing. So somewhere I think we should stop thinking about ourselves and just grow as an industry – in the end it’s going to help us. As a community we need to come together – and it is happening – but I think it needs a bit more marketing. It’s slowly picking up momentum though.”
But getting developers involved in community building isn’t a solution to every issue that the industry faces. She continues, “One of things we’re trying to do is go to colleges and tell them – not necessarily just women, but people in general – that there is a career to be made in gaming, which I think is still a problem. Like with Game Jam Titans we’re reaching out to school and college kids, and they now know these things exist; that they are a big thing! In our time, if we made a game and showed it to a professor they’d tell us to do a ‘proper’ project.”
Game Jam Titans, organized by the NGF in collaboration with MindBox, saw school and college students from around the country competing in their cities for the privilege of having their games showcased at NGDC. One group of young developers we spoke to confessed that they weren’t really aware of the competition or conference until a poster found its way onto their school notice board; up until that point making games was just a hobby. They decided to take part, and were chosen from out of 150 teams that participated in their city. Their teacher beamed with pride as they told us how they had now decided to pursue a career in game development.
The Indian game development community is still a far cry from those that have developed in the West, but even with a long road ahead of us, we have substantial amount of potential that is just waiting to be tapped into; after all, the community we create is only limited by what we decide to make of it.
Thanks to Poornima, Dhruva Interactive and Priyanka Rajan for contributing photos!