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    March 20, 2018 Share

    Get a glimpse: Gaming

    If you want to join the burgeoning gaming business in India, then don’t waste your time on courses. Instead, hone your graphic design skills and concentrate on numbers.

    Saurabh Aggarwal. Photo: Manoj Verma/Mint

    Designing games for a living sounds like fun but it takes an army, well, almost an army, of designers, programmers, artists, testers, animators, producers and sound engineers to create a game that works.

    Games used to be restricted to high-priced consoles, but today with every smartphone being a potential gaming device, offering various options, fromCandy Crush Saga to Clash Of Clans, the opportunities in this market are increasing.

    We ask three entrepreneurs what it takes to be a good gaming professional, besides, of course, a love for playing.

    Saurabh Aggarwal, 37

    Chief executive officer (CEO) and president, Octro, Inc., Noida, Uttar Pradesh

    I looked at the app store and found 90 out of 100 of the top-grossing apps were games. That’s when I decided I needed to make games,” says Saurabh Aggarwal. At 27, Aggarwal had sold his first venture, a messaging system on the Palm operating system, to Intellisync Corp., a provider of data synchronization software for mobile devices. “I was a multimillionaire, I had this success, but then I had a hard time trying to beat that success.” Aggarwal’s second venture, Octro, Inc., founded in 2006, had a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) application; it struggled for commercial success. “The application was like Viber, but ahead of its time, and we weren’t making any money,” says Aggarwal, who completed his master’s in computer science from Stanford University, US, in 2001. In 2012, he decided to move into gaming.

    The big break: Identifying Octro’s niche area made all the difference. “We have re-imagined games that Indians have been playing for generations, like Rummy and Teen Patti (both card games), and brought those to the digital space. Gaming is a combination of creativity and technology and we are hard-core technologists, so that is our secret sauce,” says Aggarwal. Octro’s Teen Patti, which was launched in 2013, has more than 30 million registered users, he says. The company is currently in the process of launching a digital version of carrom.

    Market trend: “Gaming can be a hard business. The guys who make money make an incredible amount. A game like Clash Of Clans earns more than $3 million (around Rs.19 crore) a day. But if there are 20,000 games released in a year, only 200 make money,” says Aggarwal.

    A day at work: Aggarwal spends at least 2 hours a day playing games, most of which are Octro games. These include Teen PattiRummy andTambola. “Most of my time goes in working on the production of new games or adding new features to an existing game. We look at the algorithms and how they can be optimized to give the user a good experience,” says Aggarwal. The entrepreneur, who leads a team of 60, says he sometimes has to drag himself away from writing code because as CEO he believes he will be more effective working on marketing and business development.

    The biggest challenge: People in India don’t want to pay for games. “In app purchases in games, India is one of the lowest monetized countries in the world. Very few people have credit cards, and other payment mechanisms haven’t evolved. Even people who want to pay do not have the means to pay,” says Aggarwal, hopeful that things will change soon.

    What the gaming industry needs: Aggarwal values good programmers and people with strong problem-solving skills: “In India, we are working in mobile hardware, which is fabulous, but it is still a couple of generations behind the console hardware.” Gaming is also one of the hardest technologies to build for and you need people with different strengths.

    Money matters: At the starting level, salary could range from Rs.7-20 lakh a year, depending on exposure.

    Rajesh Rao, 44

    CEO, Dhruva Interactive, Bengaluru

    Rajesh Rao. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

    “We call this the birdcage,” says Rajesh Rao. We are sitting in a conference room with latticed wrought-iron walls, in what used to be a foundry. It is now a studio with high ceilings, posters of racing cars and a garden café on the terrace where Dhruva gamers are served breakfast and lunch.

    Rao, who graduated in computer engineering from Karnataka University in 1994, started Dhruva Interactive in 1997. He was in the Silicon Valley, US, trying to get business for the multimedia company he had set up straight out of college. An evangelist at multinational company Intel Corp. advised him to move into gaming. There were no gaming companies in India at the time, but Rao found the idea interesting and set up Dhruva in Bengaluru with five employees. Today, there are 300.

    The big break: In 1998, a year after the company was set up, Dhruva got the contract to develop the PC version of the Mission: Impossible game. “My lead programmer and I went to Lyon in France for a couple of weeks and studied the project.” It was new territory and Rao wasn’t sure the new company would be able to meet the quality and time deadlines. “If we think we can’t do it, we will say no, because if we are not able to execute properly we will be burning our bridges forever,” Rao told his lead programmer. But the game was successful, and Dhruva got a foot in the door of the international gaming industry. In 2002, the studio got the contract for developing Microsoft Xbox’s Forza Motorsport game. It has also contributed to popular games like Dead Rising 2 and Project Gotham Racing 3.

    Market trend: “Smartphones have changed the market. In 2013, the installed base of consoles in India was two-three million. Today, you have 200 million gaming devices, if you count smartphones. From being six-seven companies in 2005, we now have about 200 gaming companies in India. And with the app stores, an independent company can publish/sell their game on their own. This has led to a democratization of business,” says Rao.

    A day at work: “I focus on new growth areas,” says Rao. As chairman of the Nasscom Gaming Council, Rao spends a fair amount of time organizing the annual gaming conference held every November, as well as mentoring new gaming companies. Dhruva has an incubator in Bengaluru called GameTantra for gaming companies that need office space, mentoring and funding.

    The biggest challenge: “People. The ecosystem is simply not providing us enough talent,” says Rao. Also, dealing with the misconception that people who enjoy gaming can also make good games. “If you enjoy movies and like analysing them in great depth, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can go behind a camera and make a great movie. A lot of gaming enthusiasts write to us that they want a career in gaming. But gaming enthusiasts are not necessarily good game creators,” says Rao. Before getting hired at Dhruva, Rao says people have to take a test, which includes writing code in a time-bound assignment, or create a new design in a short period.

    What the gaming industry needs: “Start programming while you are in college. Take advantage of Internet tutorials. For an artist who wants to do 3D sculpting of a dragon, go on YouTube and you will find some video that will instruct you on how to do it,” says Rao. There are very few good formal courses in India on gaming, like the Asian Institute of Animation and Gaming in Bengaluru that teaches game art, so the onus is on you to develop your skills by self-study.

    Money matters: For freshers, the starting salary could be around Rs.2.5 lakh a year. This could go up to Rs.12 lakh a year with two-three years of experience. At the CEO level, compensation could be in the range of Rs.1 crore a year.

    Arpita Kapoor, 23

    CEO, Mech Mocha Game Studios, Ahmedabad

    Arpita Kapoor. Photo: Nayan Shah/Mint

    We totally believe in this market. With 70 million Indians on WhatsApp, people in this country are ready for gaming,” says Arpita Kapoor, 23, co-founder of gaming start-up Mech Mocha Game Studios. Kapoor, who has degrees in computer science and management from the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management (IITM), Gwalior (2008-13), and co-founder Mohit Rangaraju were classmates in college and had worked on projects earlier. They formed Mech Mocha Game Studios in 2013. The company launched its first game, Puppet Punch, earlier this year in multiple languages, including English, Japanese and Spanish. Within the first few weeks of its launch, the game was downloaded 200,000 times.

    The big break: In March 2011, while Kapoor was in her third year of engineering at IITM, she won a scholarship to attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, US; Rangaraju got a similar scholarship the same year. “It was life-changing. I visited the big game studios; saw the quality of games people were building outside. There was a wide gap,” says Kapoor. When Mech Mocha Game Studios started, Kapoor hired Rodolpho Langhi, an illustrator based in Brazil, after seeing his work on the online art forum DeviantArt, an online community for artists and art enthusiasts. They also roped in the well-known Canada-based sound designer Harry Mack.

    Market trend: “The gaming market in India will get bigger and bigger. Once people can type (even in Hinglish) and understand reading data and text, they are ready for games. Payment mechanisms for consumers used to be a problem, but now with mobile wallets and the possibility of carrier billing, we are confident this market will take off,” says Kapoor.

    A day at work: “In the early days, I was involved in coding. Now that we have launched Puppet Punch, we have tried to bifurcate responsibilities,” says Kapoor. Rangaraju handles most of the technical aspects, while Kapoor works on marketing and new business development. They have a team of five, as well as interns who work from time to time at the company, and Kapoor works closely with them. There is a fair amount of travel, mainly for marketing and business development.

    The biggest challenge: Finding the right talent. Mech Mocha Game Studios has its office at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), in the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship. The company is being supported by IIM-A’s accelerator programme iAccelerator, which provides space as well as start-up funding. That is an advantage, Kapoor says, because people feel IIM-A is a good place to be in. “Even then, being located in Ahmedabad makes hiring more difficult. Interns and new hires want to be part of an ecosystem in cities like Bengaluru or Delhi. That’s why we plan to move office to Bengaluru later this year,” she says.

    What the gaming industry needs: Gaming requires good coders and developers to program games, good designers, artists and visualizers as well as producers, sound engineers, game testers and marketers, says Kapoor. “We look for programming skills. For artists and game designers, we need a good portfolio in game art, animation and illustration. Knowledge of basic mathematics and statistics is also necessary to be able to construct the game,” she says.

    She says most of the gaming courses available at the moment are not very good. Instead, she suggests people who are interested in the business should hone their skills in graphic designing. “You should be equipped to do some scripting, at least modify existing games, be good at art, even if you don’t do art full-time. Many game-design courses being offered in India today are not adequate. It’s better to do a conventional computer science degree and concentrate on building skills in graphic programming,” says Kapoor.

    Money matters: Rs.6-8 lakh at the starting level. This could go up to Rs.20-24 lakh after five years’ experience. “The time is right. Someone, some start-up, will come along and know how to make money from this market,” says Kapoor.

    Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three executives at different stages in their careers. Tell us which profession you want to know more about at businessoflife@livemint.com

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