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Thursday , February 9 , 2012
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Among the would-be recruiters at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, this year was a start-up American mobile gaming firm. Pocket Gems edged out all the multinational corporations, top-notch Indian firms and consultants who gather for campus recruitment every year by hiring two students for their California office at an annual salary of $1,37,000 (roughly Rs 67 lakh) — the highest this season, and substantially heavier than the average salaries which ranged between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 15 lakh per annum.

Chintanapu Dinesh, all set to join Pocket Gems in September, admits to being a “little anxious”. Gaming companies are as good as any information technology (IT) firm but a start-up might be risky, he admits. However, he hopes to pick up some valuable “learning” experience. “It is more challenging to work on developing games compared to other applications,” says Chintanapu, a BTech in computer science and engineering who loved playing computer games as a kid.

As mobile gaming and social networking site games, such as Farmville on Facebook, go viral, many are turning to this field as a good career option. The job comes with money, creativity and a sense of fun. After all, this generation has grown up playing gadget games and feels at home in this playzone.

In the last two years, engineering colleges and animation institutes are seeing new gaming companies from cities such as Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai making a beeline for their campus recruitments.

“New companies in Bangalore involved in developing mobile applications and games have been sourcing students from us since last year,” says S. Ganapathy, dean placement, SRM University, which has a College of Engineering in Chennai. “It is an industry which has a great future.”

After all, he adds, gaming has caught on among adults too. It is not just seen as fun, creative and stress busting but is also addictive, he points out.

As the demand for games on iPads and smart phones shoots up, the gaming industry is set to accelerate in the coming years, says Puneet Sharma, technical advisor of the Mumbai headquartered Arena Animation, which offers courses for game artists.

The gaming market in the US alone is worth US$ 8 billion. Reputed American companies such as Zynga, Playdom and Digital Chocolate, to mention a few, are opening offices in Bangalore and Pune to tap local talent. Young Indian entrepreneurs with a computer science background are also setting up shop to wade confidently into this competitive market and carve out a space.

Meet Lalit Patel, a 28-year-old computer science graduate from KIIT, Bhubaneshwar. After a stint in Cognizant and another IT company, he got together with an IIT friend to start a gaming company, Bit Rhymes, in 2007 and got into social gaming in 2010. Bit Rhymes releases six games a year and if even one is a success, they make a 200 per cent profit, explains Patel, who heads a 25-member production team in Bangalore.

While online gaming is free, gaming companies make money by charging for moving to different levels, dangling an attractive hook to make the users fork out anything from 20 cents to 1 dollar. In mobiles, the games are bundled into the phones and usually have an operator billing model.

“The gaming market is not a mature industry in the US itself,” says Patel. “However, it is a good time to enter the market as two years from now someone will definitely find a solution to the challenge of Indians not indulging in online transactions in a big way and then… it will be boom time. In the US, after ecommerce, people are spending the maximum on gaming.”

So, what kind of people do gaming companies require? As the industry is still developing, gaming companies have different designations for people involved in developing a game. In a nutshell, a computer software programmer, an animation artist, a gaming producer or art director and a game tester make up a game development team.

“It really depends on the nature and size of the project,” says Rishi Varma, co-founder, Innovadors Lab, a customised software development company that is housed at the KIIT-Technology Business Incubator at Bhubaneshwar. In Varma’s view, user interface designers (adapting a game to suit the platform), software engineers, art directors, story designers, and different game level designers are required to develop a game.

“When it comes to a software programmer, we look for someone who can write a clean, high quality appropriate optimised code,” stresses Varma, a BTech in computer science and engineering. This coding ability is important since the game has to work on mobile phones, which might have less memory and processing speed compared to a computer, he adds. Programmers should be comfortable in logic, physics and maths.

Besides knowledge of programming languages, companies look for students with a passion for gaming.

The animation artists on the other hand need a BA in fine arts or a diploma in computer graphics or 3D animation, say industry hands. They should be well versed in Photoshop and Adobe Flash.

“What we have noticed is that students do a BA or BSc in animation and do a programme on game art and design on the side,” observes Puneet Sharma. “This might be to keep parents happy.” There is not much awareness among parents about the gaming industry and so naturally they are wary of it.

Sharma’s Arena Animation offers a one-year game art and design course focused on developing gaming artists and also a three-year programme, in which students can learn 2D and 3D animation. Passouts of these courses can become a game modeller who works on the characters or texturing artists.

“It is important for a student interested in joining the art side of the gaming industry to cultivate a passion for games and an interest in their specialisation, be it 3D, character art, set modelling or any other area,” says Vijayraghavan Srinivasan, art director at the Hyderabad headquartered gaming services company Gameshastra.

“We look for people with potential and technical ability to do good animation. They need not understand all the aspects of gaming,” he says.

Game producers liaise between the artists and the engineering team and monitor the game at different levels since they have the entire game in mind. The game testers test new games for mistakes.

Game developers are often required to sit for a test before they are hired. A software programmer will be checked on his or her knowledge of Flash or Actionscript while an artist will be tested on character sketching and movement.

Game development involves hard work and developers might have to work 24x7 with a lot of sleepless nights thrown in during game launches. But as Srinivasan says, “I am grateful to be part of a fun-filled industry.”

So let the games begin.