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Are You Game?

Yogesh K Sharma tells you how you can make a career out of gaming.

Games have traveled a long way from the days of Pac-Man days to the present world of MMORPGs and Grand Theft Auto. Today, gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry where you could find yourself employed.

But building a career in this industry has one critical requirement: you must love games and gaming. The second requirement is an open mind. Most parents don’t and effectively quash the idea of such a career at the very outset.

Salil Bhargava, CEO, Paradox (one of India’s largest gaming companies) laughingly narrates that when Paradox was setup, he played with words and showcased his company as an Interactive Entertainment Software company. Using the word “software” did the trick with his parents! At 32, Salil is a CEO – and one of the rare people earning good money by pursuing his passion.

Some myths about gaming as a career
1) Gaming is all about animation and programming
Game development involves knowledge of everything from Artificial Intelligence, Algorithms, Data Structures, Networking, and Human-Computer Interaction. It also requires inputs from other disciplines such as Economics, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. Skills like design, teamwork, management, documentation and solid communication are equally critical. So no matter which discipline you belong to, if you are passionate enough then you can join the gaming bandwagon.

2) Gaming jobs are real fun
If ‘fun’ means pursuing your passion then, yes. But it’s not ‘all play no work’. Once you join the industry, you will have very little time to play games (unless you are a game tester) as work schedules are pretty hectic. Of course the work environment is very informal, as is the dress code.

3) It’s all “do it on your own learning”
That’s exactly the way it was. You picked up “for dummies” books , over a period of time switched to the “bibles” and became a self-educated game developer. But now,game development is formally taught in universities and institutes across the world.

Career Paths in Gaming
1) Audio – Just as in movies, the music within a game is as important as the visuals. The game musician can control the mood and pacing just as much as the designer can. However the scope of this field is quite limited in India where mobile game development predominates.

2) Design – The biggest crunch faced by the industry is in the role of designers. And they generally end up earning more than their other team members. Being a designer is not about sitting around thinking up cool ideas and getting paid. It requires:

Originality: Either a new concept or a unique twist to an existing idea.

Direction: To ensure everyone involved on the project understands what the final product is supposed to look, sound and play like. This is where details are needed!

3) Producer – He/ she simultaneously leads and supports the project. Along with producers, game testers ensure the quality of the games, and are vital to getting the product shipped.

Producers need excellent communication skills, conflict management, scheduling, and team leadership skill. An MBA is helpful, as is any programming or art experience.

4) Artists – The artist/works with the designer to turn ideas into reality and supplying the visuals that the rest of the team will bring to life. 3D Studio MAX, Photoshop & Maya are the most widely used software packages. Game companies prefer a good artist with working knowledge of software to someone who possesses proficiency in the software packages but is a poor artist.

5) Programming – Code is the core stuff of games. Typically you need to learn C, C++, Java, LISP, PROLOG and Flash programming.

6) Game Testers – You must be able to work long hours and do a lot of repetitive and mundane work: like playing an unfinished game over and over again, installing software, adding/ removing hardware.

Being a game tester is a “foot-in-the-door” to the industry, but it will lead to bigger and better things . Many of the best programmers and engineers start their career as testers.

Where do you hone your skills?
In gaming industry, your enthusiasm level is most crucial, but you’ll also need skill and qualifications. Most companies impart on-job training for the first 6 to 12 months and spend considerable money on them. However, before you can acquire specific skills, it is highly desirable to have a strong set of general skills which can be refined once you join the industry.

Here are few of the prominent institutes imparting game development education (order is arbitrary and does not indicate any ranking)
1. Image College of Arts, Animation & Technology (ICAT) – Chennai: Probably the only college in India which offers a degree in game development. (website – www.icat.ac.in)

2. Zee Institute of Creative Arts (ZICA) offers One Year Diploma in Interactive Game Design & Development. The USP of this program is that it is in association with Design Program & Media Technology Center, IIT Kanpur. Students spend 8 months at ZICA and 4 months at IIT Kanpur. (Website: www.zica.org/gaming/index.htm)

3. CDAC offers Diploma in Advanced Computer Arts (DACA) (website – www.cdac.in)

4. NIIT offers Advanced Diploma in Digital Visual Communication and Animation

5. Arena Multimedia offers various courses on gaming and multimedia. (website – www.arena-multimedia.com)

For a comprehensive list of Educational Institutes (located across the world) offering game development courses, please visit www.igda.org/breakingin/resource_schools.php

How much will you earn?

Since the first year is more or less spent in training, the salary of a fresher is relatively less. The good news is that with an acute shortage of qualified professionals coupled with the expected industry growth of about 90% per year, wages are likely to shoot up.

The top paid jobs in gaming are of Producers and Designers. For freshers the expected salary range is as under:
Game Testers – Rs. 8K to 12K p.m.
Programmers – Rs. 15 K to Rs 25 p.m.
Audio – Rs 25k to Rs 30k p.m.
Graphic Artists – Rs 15 K to Rs 25 K p.m.

How to Get In?
– Gaming Companies have started campus recruitment at some of the engineering colleges – so if your college is in their radar then you might just get lucky.

– You can visit the website of the leading companies (Paradox, Dhruva, Indiagames etc.) to find out the vacancies. If you possess the skill sets desired, then just send them an email. They get back to you in a jiffy. After all they need lots of people too.

Informative Links for those interested in gaming careers
http://www.indiantelevision.com/anex/vdkb/vdkb-intro.htm – This is a must see link – it explains & illustrates the various stages involved in development of a game for a cell phone.

Credits: I am grateful to the following for allowing me to freely use their resources on game development:

International Game Development Association (IGDA)

Mr. Ming Chow – Professor, Tufts University (USA)
Special thanks to Paradox-Studios (especially Salil & Amrita) and Mr Salil Bharagava (CEO) for their help in compiling this article.

Indian Gaming Industry
As per NASSCOM reports, the Indian gaming industry would notch up turnover of $300 million by 2009. Moreover mobile gaming is likely to generate $205 million in 2009, way up from $16 million in 2005. Secondly as game development costs, studios are outsourcing their game development work to India. So demand for professionals in this field is rising!

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