Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Notes from FICCI Frames 2009

I was at FICCI Frames last week, owing to their kindness in inviting me to be on the jury for the BAF (Best Animated Frames) awards, for the gaming categories. These awards have been constituted primarily to encourage Indian game developers and publishers in our fledgling industry by recognizing their efforts – especially on the mobile and casual games platforms. Oddly enough, there were also PC and Console game categories where the final nominees included international heavyweights such as Spore and Gears of War 2 – which were entered by the Indian marketing / distribution arms of EA and Microsoft respectively.

However, the interesting parts were the entries on offer in the casual and mobile gaming categories. Mobile was surprisingly decent, with the winning entry being a bizarrely faithful port of Bioshock, of all games, by Indiagames. Of course, it's an isometric scrolling action-adventure, not an FPS, but the story and sequence of events are exactly faithful to the award-winning original.

Casual games were a different story, with none of the entries being of a standard that was deserving of recognition with an award. Again, strangely, there was much debate on this among members of the jury. Those of us from the industry scored the games completely differently from those who were young gamers – leading to much amusement and introspection on the disconnect between the guys who make the games and those who play them. We eventually respected the views of the gamers, and handed out the award to the game that they felt was best.

But to dwell upon this difference for a moment more – there were certain features in a game that the designers and developers in the jury, myself included, felt were elegant and well-implemented, that the gamer crowd didn't care for and thought were bad. And certain bugs and instances of bad programming or graphics that we were bothered by , they didn't even notice. Much food for thought.

Amidst all this jury duty, I also found time to attend some of the sessions on the gaming industry. The most interesting thing, for me, to emerge here was that, for the first time in a conference like this, Microsoft and Sony were willing to share some unofficial sales figures. Microsoft shared an unofficial figure of 'less than 100000' XBOX units (of course, that could even be five thousand). Sony claimed aound 400000 PS2s, 120000 PSPs and 35000 PS3 units sold. While these figures don't sound very high in light of worldwide figures, it's still a start. And it's up to us to get them up – so each of you go out and convince all your friends to buy game consoles!

Overall, the gaming industry honchos sounded a lot less gung-ho and more measured and pragmatic in their talks this year. While they're still cautiously optimistic about the growth of gaming in India, they're not quite shouting from the rooftops about how gaming shall conquer all. Perhaps it's all for the better, though. In fact, the dominant thought seemed to be that the only challenge for the gaming industry is that things are taking longer than earlier expected (my opinion being that the expectations were too high to begin with). Nobody doubts that gaming is here to stay, the only problem is that it isn't going to hit critical mass anytime soon.

I also got the chance to play some Guitar Hero with a member of the development team from Red Octane, Chennai. Needless to say, I got my sorry butt whipped!

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