I returned to Copenhagen from India one month ago after attending NASSCOM GDC 2013. I was ready to go back the moment that I touched ground in Copenhagen Airport. I’m still digesting all my experiences from the trip and have decided to write this blog post to preserve my memory and as a tribute to my new best friends and Indian game developers, who included me in their lives and circle of friends and made this trip unforgettable.
I met my Swedish travel buddies Gordon and Isabella in Copenhagen airport on November 10. We were heading toward Mumbai via Dubai on what was - yet unknown to us - going to be one of the greatest conference trips ever. None of us had any idea of what to expect, but Isabella had, due to her occupation as a professional tour guide, read up on must-sees and other facts about Mumbai and Pune (where the conference was to be held).
Flying towards the sun, we arrived in Mumbai on Monday morning. None of us received an immigration form on the plane from Dubai to Mumbai (most likely due to sleeping when they handed them out), so our customs experiences were a bit chaotic. I was the first to make it through and I went scouting for our pick-up and read this sign:
I said: 'Gulie, that must be me' and laughed at the very confused driver and then I tried to get back inside the airport to find Isabella and Gordon, who were still stuck somewhere in customs. I was gently refused entrance by a very nice guard as I was trying to sneak past security. I went back to our driver, who was still a bit confused about my behavior, and I met Ann McLaren during my wait, but she remained a mystery woman to Gordon and Isabella for the rest of the trip and they never truly believed that she existed. We reunited and drove toward the friendly-eco-friendly hotel (yes, that was how they put it….Double-Friendly all away across the skyyyyy), Orchid, where our friend, Shailesh, who had asked us to join the NASSCOM GDC 2013 (NGDC) came to pick us up.
Shailesh spared us the Rickshaw experience the first day and we went to have lunch close by in a real cab before moving on to discover the city of Mumbai - including Gateway of India and Shailesh' local bars (we were almost getting kicked out of one for being too loud....guess I'll never get rid of that habit).
This photo features Shailesh (the other right) from Yellow Monkey Studios who made one of my favorite games, HUEBRIX. Me (I have to stop making weird faces in photos). Gordon (the other left) from Simogo who made Beat Sneak Bandit, Year Walk and Device 6 (to mention a few). Photo credit to Isabella.
The rest of that evening should never be told in public. Something with a selfie-wedding and a web site for European ladies designing their own Indian husband. Dot.
We spent the next couple of days being immersed by Shailesh's group of fabulous friends, eating local dishes and home cooked meals (being from the country of bacon aka being a meat-eater from Denmark - I’ve never had so much delicious vegetarian food before), enjoying life, driving rickshaws and experiencing a car getting stuck inside one of our rickshaws in slow motion (guess it counts as a car accident, right? Gordon had very calmly predicted something like this would happen a mere 5 minutes before). The car driver was asked to back up by our rickshaw supreme rally driver, so that we could drive forward and we continued our ride as if nothing has happen. Oh, traffic in India.
Double rickshaw selfie of Isabella, Gordon & Shailesh.
We started our drive towards Pune on Thursday afternoon, where NGDC 2013 took place. We arrived an hour before the speakers' dinner on the rooftop of our hotel, where we met the organizers and other speakers, before taking over the bar (as true Scandies...aka game devs from Scandinavia). The last thing I seem to recall was something with a Double-rainbow duet performed by Shailesh and Gordon (I have a video of that, but am not allowed to post it).
NGDC, Day 1
I went to see Gordon's talk ‘ The Journey of Simogo’ and then I set up my game, XTODIE, next to the nice guys from Hashtash, the developer of Circulets, which I had already played with my better half at home (the result was a bit of wrestling that ended up with my boyfriend running away with my iPad). I ran XTODIE for the entire day and had great chats with developers and got to play a lot of local games. What few knew was that I had been a jury member in the Indie Game of the Year category, so I surprised quite a few developers by telling them that I already knew their game (discovery outside of India is a huge challenge for a lot of local developers). The award show was about to start and with help from Ishkaran, I collected all my equipment and ran to the stage and dumped my stuff on the floor before jumping around on stage (I was extremely low on sugar, so I have very little recollection of my act), while Vijay Sinha hosted the award show and helped me navigate my actions. Shailesh ended up winning both Game of the Year and Indie Game of the Year. We renamed him the Indian game dev rockstar after these achievements. After all, his nickname IS Slash!
PARTAY time!! I had a lot of great chats after the award show and the night was still young, when my inner introvert suddenly kicked in and I left my friends baffled to sit in my bed and play HUEBRIX for two hours (I kid you not), while Shailesh tried to convince me to join the hotel room after-party in company with Old Monk (Indian Rum). I still feel bad for missing out (Isabella told me all the stories the next day and I did indeed miss out), but I was in Pune on a mission and had to get up early to make everything ready for my PR JAM the following day.
NGDC, Day 2
I woke up early with no hangover due to my lack of alcohol consumption the previous evening and started preparing for the PR JAM. I had already registered ‘IndiaGameDevs’ on a handful social outlets, but I still needed to fix the last slides and think-through the event one more time. I had a pre-planned interview with the Indian media channel, PING Digital Networks, and went downstairs to perform my 15 minutes of fame. I really wish that I had remembered to eat enough breakfast, drink more coffee and do my hair that morning, but hell - here it is.
I went back to preparation and forced the rockstar-developer-of-the-night Shailesh to fill out his info in this form, so we had a few examples as guidance when the jam started. It seemed like Old Monk had done its duty the night before.
Everyone was looking so serious - it only lasted for a few minutes.
We started the PR JAM at 2 PM and it was this daring moment for me as I didn’t know whether it would be too chaotic, crazy and if I would be able to communicate to the participants what I was up to. I had luckily made a few friends already and they helped me executing my mission and I got quite familiar with the notorious Indian head shake although I was still confused by the actual meaning. I had registered the #IndiaGameDevs channels, but hadn’t started using them yet, so all the posting and content creation started on this day. We started out by everyone filling in their data and info on themselves and their games in the form and then we created content and posted it through the various channels.
We went a couple of hours overtime and spent about two hours playing each others’ games and chatting about how to get in contact with publishers, press and what you should look out for in publishing and funding contracts. I had such a great time that I completely forgot about everything else. And suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I was dragged out of the venue by Vijay as I had been so immersed in playing games and talking to my fellow developers that I had ignored my phone ringing (OOPS) and the fact that we (us Scandies and the Shailesh-crew) were going out for dinner as this was our last night together. We found a few rickshaws in the street and started our ride through Pune. The group had settled on a very nice Persian restaurant and the mood was high as usual and most details of the evening are better left untold, but I can reveal this: someone had a selfie-wedding (I’m not allowed to post the photo) and we also made this ode to our buddy Rami of Vlambeer, who had to stay in Holland due to his gall bladder operation instead of joining us for this amazing trip and conference. Let me introduce you to Ajay aka ‘the Indian Rami’:
Photo courtesy of Shuhbank. I had snatched Rami’s badge from the conference venue.
We spent the rest of the night hanging out and playing music and drove back to Mumbai the next day. Shailesh had a wedding to attend (I really hope to experience an Indian wedding myself one day), so Ajay and Shuhbank became our new babysitters and they made sure that we didn’t get lost in the traffic, found the spices and scarfs that Isabella and I had talked about, got more delicious Indian food and made it to the airport in the evening. Bye bye, India. That was it. A week had gone by. We were not ready to leave, but it was time to go home.
So what was all this about? If you were not in India for NGDC, this is most likely the first time you read about this PR JAM in Pune. And one of the reasons that you didn’t see this blog post earlier is simply that I had 6 more planes to catch after India (What a first world problem...a reference to an internal joke that was used quite a lot during our trip). Another reason is that I got so many impressions at one time and had to spend some time collecting my thoughts before I was ready to post them to the public eye.
As much as I called this a PR JAM, it is way more about community building. I initiated something during my short stay in India that started growing after my departure and I’m still in daily contact with my new best Indian friends through mail, Facebook and Twitter and I get to see how much they engage in each others’ online activity as well. It’s about standing together and helping out each other when you come from either a small scene or a place far away from where the action takes place (aka where the majority of the business part of the game industry is located = United States).
Just like coming from tiny Denmark, the Nordics and whatnot. The reason why the Western (and here I mean United States) industry knows about us crazy Scandies, Northerners and Europeans for that matter is that we stand together and that we know each other from 'back home'. Apple just announced their yearly awards and pretty much all the top and runner-up games are developed by Northern European indie devs, who also happens to be personal friends since we all know each other in this tiny scene.That is freaking awesome! There is not much competition among game developers as we’re all trying to reach out to different gamers and often on a global market (I won’t discuss the competitive situation for big tankers like EA, Ubisoft, Activision etc.), so why not help out each other in conquering the world? You gotta start somewhere and what’s easier than your fellow sailors in the boat you happen to be in?
The main frustration I felt from Indian developers was that their games could do well in terms of downloads in their local market (which is HUGE), but it is harder to get a reach outside of India, if you don’t know someone who knows someone.
‘Does India have game development? Isn’t it just outsourcing?’ was one of the myths I met, when I told people people that I was going to the Indian GDC. I met very few companies that were solely engaged in outsourcing instead of just having it as a side business to fund own IP (whatmany of us developers in the Western do as well...we just call it work-for-hire) or financed their company with funds from game sales or investors.
One thing that really came to my awareness before, during and after my trip to India was that NASSCOM Gaming Forum and other local communities and collaborations has done a whole lot to gather local developers and I hope that this blog post can create more international attention. One of the persons behind NASSCOM Gaming Forum and NGDC, Rajesh Rao from Dhruva Interactive has done a lot for the local community. One thing is founding Dhruva in 1997 and heading up Dhruva to becoming one of the biggest Indian game developers, but also actively trying to help smaller independent developers and start initiatives that support the Indian game industry as a whole such as organizing the NGDC together with Shruti Verma who did a fabulous job in organizing the conference and our stay and Joel Johnson who was in charge of the award show and everything related (among others).
I was generally impressed by the quality of the games and the creativity of genres. India is still a young game development industry and it is reflected on the business side and to some extend in the developers' overall development experiences. But that's pretty much also the case in the game industry in Denmark, and being part of a young industry hasn’t stopped games like Limbo and Subway Surfers in reaching fortune and fame. I went to India to create awareness about the blooming Indian independent game development scene and I hope that the Western part of the game industry will start seeing India as more than a place for cheap(er) outsourcing and that both press and publishers will make it easier for Indian games to be discovered by consumers outside of India, so that the Indian independent developers get a foothold in the Western world too.
Before going to India I had no clue of how it would be. Shailesh had asked me to join and the awesome NGDC team had taken care of all practicalities. I felt treated like a princess and everyone felt welcoming and people showed me their amazing talent. I made a bunch of new best friends and I can now keep track of what everyone is up to via Facebook and Twitter. My so-called PR JAM was a great community builder in my eyes and I really hope that my presence at the conference changed something for the people who I got to meet.
One thing I know for sure is that it changed me. The Indian drive, humor and energy left me with a strong feeling of optimism and gave me a boost to focus more on my own game development. The crazy traffic and fantastic food will be an eternal memory. The diversity between rich and poor, which always puzzles someone from a Scandinavian-welfare-society-country, is still unforgettable to be and makes me even more aware of how spoiled I am in Denmark. All this and much more got to me. I’m not done with India and I hope that India isn’t done with me either.
India you were amazing - I’ll be back after the Year Walk!
Here’s a glimpse of some of the many Indian games I encountered and played!
Save The Dummy (Runner-up Indie Game of the Year)
College game projects from Dsksupinfogame (final year projects):
The Last Snowfall by Team Icicle
Survivors by Team Gypsy
Quietus by Team Amimi