Imran Khan Kaki is an award-winning game developer and early pioneer in India’s video game industry. He continues to play a role in the growth of the Indian game dev scene and runs a large studio in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
He speaks with us today about the growth of game development in India, and offers advice for Indian students who want to build toward a game dev career at home or abroad.
You began long before the video game industry blossomed in India. How did you start?
I would say I am incredibly lucky to be working in the Indian game industry doing what I do. In 2005 it was a chance meeting with Mr. Sashi Reddi, a serial entrepreneur, who had a vision: He sought to leverage the abundant engineering and art talent in India to create a team and make AAA titles right here in Hyderabad.
I was very impressed by his ambition, so I joined him – even though it meant turning down offers from IT giants like Microsoft and Siemens. FXLabs went on to become one of the most recognised names in the Indian game industry.
In 2009 the team was sold to an American studio called Griptonite Games, which specialised in hand held video games. As Vice President of Technology and a key leader at FXLabs, I was chosen to head Griptonite’s India division.
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How did your team feel about joining an American video game studio?
We worked with Griptonite Games on many big name titles, and it was where my team got to do some of its best work.
When Griptonite was acquired by Glu Mobile in 2011, Glu’s senior management visited Hyderabad and were impressed by the depth of talent on our team. They decided to invest in Hyderabad and make it a fully-fledged studio in Glu. It has been a long journey and I am proud to say the credit goes entirely to my talented team who have worked hard to make our studio what it is today.
What is the state of the video game industry in India today?
To be honest if you read the write-ups about the Indian Game Industry written by analysts, they throw big numbers at you. In 2009 we were supposed to become this million dollar industry, but that didn’t happen. In 2012-13 we were then supposed to become a big gaming market and that was finally going to happen and, well, that didn’t happen again. On the other hand, China has taken off very well.
What can Indian game companies and entrepreneurs learn from China?
What is it about the Indian game industry that is different from the Chinese game industry? Why do Chinese developers command so much interest from the western game companies?
One thing that I think contributed a lot to the Chinese game industry taking off is that in the past decade, Chinese people have been able to afford smart phones and gaming consoles. That’s created a demand for content. China has always had outsourcing companies that worked with the western companies, so they had the talent and know-how to create games. When the conditions were right, the Chinese industry veterans formed local companies that are now catering to the Chinese gaming scene.
India’s story is going to be different. Indian society is not exactly like China and, economically, India is behind china. But Indians want interactive content and they understand quality, so there is a market for high quality games. Any Indian company that wants to succeed here has to provide high quality games at a price that appeals to average middle class Indians.
That is where I think the challenge lies: Having the right pricing model and making content that appeals to Indians. I personally think India is waiting for all the planets to line up. And when they do? The India gaming scene will be as big as China’s – if not bigger.
I get email from kids wanting to move to the USA for a western game dev education. Is that a smart way to start a career?
High school education is very good in India, but it lacks graduate schools that provide good quality higher education. So Indians travel abroad to study at good schools. The USA, UK, Australia, Europe and Canada are the preferred locations. I think that is very good. Going to a good graduate school is essential for a person to become a good engineer, artist or manager.
A graduate degree I would say is essential for people to break into the gaming industry and build a strong career. I would encourage students to travel abroad to seek out and enroll in the best schools that are offering the courses they are interested in.
How can a high school student in India prepare for a career in games, at home or abroad?
Game companies hire people in Engineering, Art, Production, QA and Design streams.
- If students are interested in the engineering division then I would suggest they focus on their math skills. It is also essential that students have good analytical skills to make a good career in the engineering division.
- If students are interested in creating art for games I suggest they focus on their drawing and art skills. Going to a good art school that specialises in training people in game art is essential for people to get hired at game companies.
- Game design requires people to be good at understanding how people play games and interact with technology. Game design is a special stream that requires people to be part engineer and part artist – and a full time gamer. There are schools that specialise in teaching game design courses that will help people develop this skill.
- Game production is the art of managing games and delivering a project on time. People interested in production management must have the art of managing impossible deadlines with impossible feature sets while still managing to deliver a good product. A good management degree will get students prepared for a production role at game companies, but I want to point out that every game company has its own management philosophy about what it takes to create games. So it’s best to read up on various game companies and know what they are about before applying for production positions.
What about starting a game dev career at one of the many Indian outsource companies?
Indian outsourcing companies are a good place to start careers – especially the ones that have been working with AAA studios from the west. This is the best way to learn and polish your skills before making that jump to a game company that creates entire games from front to back.
Working at an outsourcing firm is different from working at a game company. At an outsourcing company you are provided with a quality benchmark that you have to achieve with every art asset that you create, in the given time that you have. This will help an artist polish her art skills and help her learn how to manage time better – qualities that are much sought after by game companies in India and overseas.
Do Indian game companies offer good salaries?
Game salaries in India are good. Reputed Indian game companies pay above-average salaries to their teams. Salaries can be a subjective call in an organisation but there have been attempts at standardising the pay levels. People working in the gaming domain can make a good living by Indian standards.
What do you see for the future of the game industry in India?
The future is bright for the Indian games industry. I see more and more kids wanting to get into creating games and make a career out of it. I personally think games are a fascinating and a lucrative domain to be in, and I foresee good things happening in India for games.
You can reach Imran via his LinkedIn profile, or tweet him @imrankhankaki. If his advice was helpful, please give back by sharing this article on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.