Having spent nearly a decade in the Industry hopefully gives me the wisdom enough to write this post up. We all see and hear how the Indian game industry is really growing as we are starting to see tons of developers trying to make a mark. Well, I have always had this radical notion towards the local Industry – some of which negative and ofcourse some positive. In any industry’s case, growth really has to be measured by the quality of the content being produced as opposed to the quantity – something most of us obviously know. While the rise of many independent devs/studios is a good thing, it also results in significant amount of shovel ware (I would encourage to google the meaning of this term) and this is evidently seen and we cannot shy away from this either. While I am not totally sure if the Industry has really been growing, I am happy about the fact that it has given this almost ‘no barrier’ to enter for the devs – thanks to so called ‘Mobile gaming revolution’ (which has also now become a palace of illusions for many)
The trend I see most commonly with devs is most of them – amateur or trained jump into building a game as soon as they are excited – yes its a great thing to start up with your own ideas but I am afraid the sheer excitement alone isnt going to cut. What makes it worse is them clinging onto that one game which can make or break them and in most cases it usually breaks them. Wondering why, the answer lies right within.
Most of the indies I hear talk about how the great their game idea is and how they are tirelessly working on it but fail to understand that it wont take them too far. Now before going further with this, I wanted to touch upon the issues I see in most – atleast with most indie devs in India.
Lacking or Overlooking Fundamentals
They usually overlook fundamentals and start producing content and take it too far. The issue is two fold, one is lack of fundamental knowledge in building content and the other is overlooking them. When I say lack of fundamental knowledge it doesnt mean they are unfit for developing games, it is simply not knowing and studying the fundamentals of creating something and this applies to all artists, programmers and designers. ‘You cannot simply design and build a Ferrari without a strong understanding of design theory‘; likewise ‘An artist cannot build a good character for a game without basic understanding of Anatomy’. This is a common issue with experienced professionals as well I have witnessed in the teams I worked with in the past- they would have simply come too far without learning or grasping the fundamentals and one fine day when they are put to test, they struggle to create a convincing output. This is usually seen across the board especially with artists – they all can sketch, paint, model, animate because the tool allows them to do so but what they achieve with it at the end falls short of the standards expected. When this collectively shows up in games- they sure do look and feel mediocre.
The current generation of coders or “Unity 3D Developers’ as they are called, think and assume using Unity 3D is the end of road for creating games and are simply stuck within. While its ok to go in depth into a tool – its never a good idea to get carried away with it. Thanks to our local art and animations institutions who teach “Software/Tools” instead of fundamentals and this has had a severe impact with the talents stepping into the industry. I only see more and more students falling for learning software instead of thought process and strong fundamentals. So the next time we wonder why some games out on the International app stores look and feel so convincing, lets not even beat around the bush saying they are ‘far more advanced, higher in budgets, more time’ and such. No! lets get to the point there! They are usually very strong in fundamentals of design, art and code- period! The design is well thought out, visuals have a purpose and the tech behind is super strong. Now this can only be achieved if the team is capable enough and only when they all are strong with fundamentals. This has been the single most missing aspect in the Industry so far and when we see Mediocre or badly done games, the above factor should fit well.
Dev team a.k.a Rockstars!
On the contrary I always use to wonder how come we miss scoring when the industry has great artists and great engineers and some pretty good creative talents too (the reason our services Industry thrive). One of my good friend in the Industry use to say this.
‘ In India you guys have great talents in art, design and engineering, but for some reasons when all of them come together to build a game, they mess things up and the magic never happens‘.
In my personal experience, I cant agree enough here. Building a game is no different from building a product, a piece of technology or a cutting edge/state of the art software, all of them need a clear vision, focus, dedication and commitment, not from one but from all who are part of it. More importantly the team needs to be fully capable and continuously learn to excel. Best games/ products need best people to work on and best people are usually rare to come by. They are defined by a lot of their personality traits and not just one skill of developing something. Building this ‘team’ is the hardest part before the actual ‘game’. It is much easier to ‘build a game idea and put a team around it’ than ‘building a team and give them a game idea’. While both the methods work, the latter helps achieve excellence. So what is going wrong here? Well, its the people themselves!. Ultimately people work for people and a common goal or an idea unites them. When there is a lack of compatibility there wont be any harmony and the team cannot produce anything notable. Factors like clash of opinion, ego clashes, bureaucratic environment, adamant team members and such affect the product directly and indirectly. This again goes back to the topic of building a solid team even before attempting to build a solid game is extremely important. A game is only as good as the people who make it! I believe both smaller Indies and large scale devs in India face difficulty here and trust me these things hardly get noticed with in the teams. Be it a two men Indie team or a full fledged studio – one must never ignore or overlook building good talents. Yes it is time consuming and a painful process sometimes that needs to be done over and over-but at the end it will all be worth it!
Wrong approach to Design-
Did you just say Design ? Is it creating art, models or levels in the game? Is there a template for writing a game design ? Please! The topic I usually grow tired of addressing especially with many of the new comers. We receive many phone calls from students requesting for internships in game design and when I ask what have they done so far, they tell me that they do 3d modeling and animation. They just have a plain wrong understanding of what game design is. Again unfortunately I have to attribute this on the local institutions who in the name of game design don’t even attempt to teach the basics and instead teach them 3DS Max and Unity 3D- and that’s not Game Design. Just like how good writing makes for a great movie or a TV series, a game’s design is everything. It is the brainchild of the Game Designer. When this is misconceived, the game is sure doomed. I also often find experienced devs overlooking design and going full steam with the development, shipping half cooked products and at the end we see a ton of such games (again Shovelware) on the app stores. What our devs really really miss is ‘Rapid Prototyping‘ the ideas before locking them down. This phase is where the bulk of the design is handled and in an ideal scenario the pre-production would end when the devs have a prototype which is fun to play and speaks for the future development of the game. Typically when the proto is not fun enough, the idea is killed right there and you should move onto the next concept which only saves a ton of time and money. I have worked with many such devs and continue to and have only learnt the value of taking such decisions. This has also to do with the fact that the whole idea of pre-production is often skipped or rushed through in the Indian context. Be it Movies or Games ‘Pre-Production = Production’. When its done right, its going to make a lot of lives easier and less chaotic and more importantly save the team.
Enough of my rant here – so whats the conclusion to this or say potential solutions? Well, I think we might just have it readily.
- Indies or any devs must focus more on prototyping their ideas and tweak the experience first and foremost. Build a ton of them and never hesitate to throw them to trash when they dont work. Not every game idea is meant to work. Engage user testing in early stages (after a solid prototype) to get a feel of ultimate experience. Schedule enough time for Polishing the game and refine its experience. A good friend of mine, Shahid Ahmad, Ex-SCEE veteran who I used to work with in the past once gave me a radical perspective on ‘Polish’ when I had told him about how the game we were developing for SCEE was 90% done. He Said,
‘ When you think your game is 90% done- always assume and know that there is another 90% left to be covered, its called Polish!‘
- Local devs must start to come together and create knowledge exchange programs and Serious workshops or tech session on design, art and engineering. When a couple of studios do it- others will join in. There cant be competition when it comes to sharing knowledge. If a studio is excelling at creating Puzzle games, then they can share insights on how they go about building that genre. The local conventions from Nasscom I see is picking up lately but most of the sessions are still talking about the business side of the Industry. We instead need hardcore game dev sessions. This has to be handled more than talking about just raising funds for games or how Govt should support the Industry which I still fail to understand. Ofcourse Incubation space, Electricty subsidy, Tax Subsidy is all great and can help a business or a startup. But you have no business in first place when you dont build good content for which the expertise needs to be developed. We need good devs who can produce good games. Rest should fall in place!3. Encourage designers to go old-school and flush out ideas on papers. 3D modeling and creating random stuff within Unity 3D is not game design- ditch them! Explore a ton of games out there, explore life!
- Indie devs should also focus on ‘External development’ where they develop games for other studios or publishers before they even make their own products. The immediate reaction I get to hear when I say this is that ‘It would take their focus away or lowers their value in the market as they will be branded as a services company‘. My answer to this a big ‘NO’ (and I also kinda laugh at this perspective). Its like saying ‘You will be fine winning the soccer worldcup when your players are still learning to play the game and have not even seen the end of a game, let alone winning’. When you work with international devs or studios – your teams gains a lot of exposure and matures in the process. You understand what it takes to ship a game and how to handle various areas. This gives you the wisdom and the experience when working on your own products. You would be aware of the common pitfalls. And this after all also allows you pay your bills and not worry about raising funds which is always a long shot!
- Local art and animations institutions must take game development program more seriously and involve some of the best devs in drafting the curriculum that is fully relevant to the Industry. I would love to see a curriculum where a certain semester teaches students to create ‘ISO art, Stylized character art, Tile sets for environment, Protyping a platformer game‘ and so on. This adds immediate value to a student and when Studios hire they not only see potential but a direct fit. And most importantly this curriculum needs to be updated for every 6 months or 1 year as the Industry’s trend rapidly change and evolve. We cant be seeing students still creating ancient “Sets and Props” as a part of their portfolio. Just look at the Unity and Unreal market place – things have changed!
- Think Local and Act Global. Its ok to pick up local subjects and themes- we shouldn’t shy away either. But a general aversion has been created due to the legacy of mediocre content that were pushed into the market. No one to blame there but the devs simply didn’t have a choice. In order to kill that aversion, devs need to look at stellar presentation and international standards in their games. Which is also why I always strongly suggest to work with International Studios in order to gain that exposure.
I strongly believe that the local Industry has tremendous potential and only needs the right approach and treatment when it comes to development. Now lets see some good games!
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