Talent Acquisition: an Ever Bigger Challenge for the Indian Online Gaming Industry

iGaming Sector is Booming and Creating Jobs on a Large Scale, but That Could be Problematic

Post-Covid economy might speak of difficult times for many industries calling for expenditure cuts, laying off staff and all kinds of survival measures, but the online gaming sector is not one of them, neither globally, nor in India. As iGaming is experiencing an unprecedented boom and becoming a major job creator, this industry is being faced by a whole different set of problems flagshipped by a massive talent crunch.

The rising penetration of affordable smartphones with powerful specs and cheap mobile data plans in India, together with the lockdowns and the social distancing measures brought by the pandemic, worked to change the perceptions towards online gaming and greatly expand the sector’s user base. Choosing to play roulette online or any other game is now regarded as a mainstream entertainment and socializing activity.

According to data from EY and the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), the country’s online gaming sector has been growing at an average rate of 17.3 percent per year and its market size has expanded from $543 million in 2016 to $1.03 billion in 2020. And that’s not all, as the value of this booming industry is projected to grow further to $2 billion by 2023.

This translates into some 400 gaming companies and startups constantly on the lookout to hire new talent, but the problem is; where to find it?

The Rising Demand for Fresh Talent

The rapid growth of the Indian online gaming sector is forcing companies to expand operations in order to not miss out on market share potential and get smashed by the competition. This creates a rising demand for fresh talent with relevant experience in game logic and graphic design, including game developers and designers, front- and back-end engineers, 3D and character animation artists, product managers and more.

“Evolution is happening on the technology side which is throwing up demand for fresh talent, particularly in the areas of live editing, production and post-production. With more than 200-300 game development companies now in India, the demand for the right talent will only shoot further,” says AIGF CEO Roland Landers.

Hiring Locally or Abroad, Still Problematic

Looking to produce an andar bahar online title or a game with features from Indian culture, a game studio would naturally prefer to procure local talent, but that could be a problem, because there simply are not enough people with the needed skills available. Thus, many studios turn their eyes abroad to staff their specialized teams, but that comes at a price.

“India’s gaming industry is still in its early stages with most of the action happening in the last four-five years. So, there is a very limited pool of senior gaming talent,” says Tamasha.live co-founder Saurabh Gupta.

According to many industry stakeholders, jobs in the gaming sector pay as much as their IT industry equivalents, but that claim might be doubtful, turning remuneration into another hurdle for talent acquisition in India.

“Apart from developers in the gaming industry, other skills such as level design, 3D character modeling, etc. do not attract great remuneration. So, not many choose to take up that work,” says Murali Reddy, co-founder and COO of Bullieverse.

A lot of gaming companies headhunt talent across the world, in Eastern European or Southeast Asian countries. Even if a studio’s junior positions are held by natives, foreigners sometimes remain the only possibility for more specific or senior jobs.

Decentralized work-from-anywhere company structures make that possible, but getting talent from abroad can cost up to 20 to 70 percent more. At the same time, “the most important thing about working with local talent is easy communication,” Saurabh Gupta says.

Educational Institutions are Rarely Ready to Help

India currently has about 15,000 game developers on the background of six million software developers, a huge discrepancy considering the rate of growth and the scale of the country’s gaming sector. One of the reasons for this is hiding in the fact that government-owned universities are not offering any courses in game design or development.

Some private educational institutions including Chennai’s ICAT Design and Media College, Mumbai’s Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics, Bengaluru’s Zee Institute of Creative Arts, and the Arena Animation centers provide such short courses. Certain edtechs have also joined, offering training that can be helpful for a career in the online gaming industry, but that’s obviously not enough.

Regulatory Uncertainty Makes Things Even More Difficult

Another reason that may deter young Indians from choosing a career in gaming is the regulatory uncertainty faced by the sector that can make such a vocation pursuit not a secure and viable option. The country’s legal space related to gaming is patchy, inconsistent, often ambiguous and confusing, and state blanket bans on gaming are not an exception.

Even the new national Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill, which was introduced in parliament this April and may never reach adoption, is far from clear and comprehensive and is dotted by a number of pitfalls. It seems the Bill has been drawn up with no actual understanding of the industry and no consultations with experts.

For example, the proposed act attempts to melt all gaming genres in one and the same pot, making no differentiation between real money gaming and casual gaming that involves some real money elements.

“In short, an online casino shouldn’t be regulated in the same way as, for example, a gaming platform offering a first-person shooter game with optional real money features. These games are widely different, and trying to fit them under one umbrella is a recipe for disaster,” says Felicia Wijkander, Editor in Chief at ENV Media.