Studio visit: taking a trip to the awesome Tiny Mogul Studios

The first thing you notice when you visit Tiny Mogul’s official website is “Tiny Mogul Games – a small studio with big ambitions.” I really dig this simple, yet effective and charming one liner.

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After a few emails/phone calls exchanged between me and a rep at Tiny Mogul, we successfully set up a visit hour, when I can check the studio out and meet the people who house it. Entering the studio building, I realise that the “small studio with big ambitions” line seats itself precisely. Tiny Mogul Games is a mobile game development studio set up in the country’s IT hub, Bengaluru. On the inside, the studio is colourful, charming, with an aura that oozes edgy-ness and creativity.These guys are responsible for the indigenously developed games SongQuest, Shiva: The Time Bender and Magic Temple. I am welcomed by smiling and cheerful faces. I said to myself, “I like what I see.”

I had a scheduled interview with the person (-ality) who heads the studio, Anshumani Ruddra, and we straightaway head to the honours (the conference room, ahem) as I am offered a box of mini-idlis and chutney which I happily accept and munch on. We start with introductions. Before joining Tiny Mogul, Anshumani, an IIT – Madras graduate, was a Senior Game Designer at Zynga. Previously an author of a handful of children’s books, he is now a full-time into game development. His LinkedIn profile states that he was the recipient of the Game Design Award for Player Delight at Zynga.

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Anshumani Ruddra, Studio Head at Tiny Mogul Games

“From a company perspective, we want to create world class games and be the leader in the market” begins Anshumani. “We have a handful of games in the market right now, we want to see what works, what sticks. We are looking closely at the numbers, especially in India, and that is our journey to create great games that people enjoy.”

Tiny Mogul Studios is a venture backed by Bharti SoftBank (BSB), which in turn is a joint venture between Bharti and SoftBank Japan. This was the answer to my question “Why does your email address have a bsb.in suffix?” Anshumani continues by explaining why the initiative to set up a game making studio was taken, “Smartphone penetration in India is among the highest in the world, and the company wants to capitalize on that. Plus Indians deserve games based on their own icons, theologies and principles.” I agree nodd-ingly, one core thing missing in video games is that there are no games our countrymen can directly relate to.

The Tiny Mogul staff works on as out-of-focus Anshumani in his Superman tee sports a teethy smile

The Tiny Mogul staff works on as out-of-focus Anshumani in his Superman tee sports a teethy smile

“And that’s how Shiva: The Time Bender, our second game, came into existence” Anshumani adds. I ask him details on the journey that bought Shiva and he answers, “We are very analytical, we take numbers seriously, and at the same time, we believe in our gut. We understand that people enjoy games like Mario and Contra, so we thought, lets make something contemporary on the same lines. A who better than our very own Shiva as the protagonist.”

A screenshot from Shiva: The Time Bender

A screenshot from Shiva: The Time Bender

We dwell deeper into the Tiny Mogul game making philosophy, “The games we’ve released are long term experiments for us. We are learning something new from them everyday. We don’t follow the path where quantity is king, that’s why we don’t release a new game every month. We are fully equipped and capable of doing that, but we choose not to.” he continues.

I ask Anshumani about how he ended up being a Game Designer from a children’s book writer: “My training was in writing books for kids, and I could have never imagined that I’d be a game designer. Plus, it wasn’t a viable career choice when I was young, since the field was largely unheard of. I used to play a lot of games when I was young, it took me 20 years of working to realize that I want to be a game designer.” So there you go kids, here is living proof that it’s never too late to take up something you really want to.

Edgy wall art behind the LED television. How convenient eh?

Edgy wall art behind the LED television. How convenient eh?

I hurriedly ask him what being a game designer is all about, what young kids who want to be game designers should do and what studios look for, he happily answers “Most interested people have no clue of what game design really means, but in order to be one, the first, foremost and most important requirement is that the person should be a passionate gamer.” I’m thinking a career switch at the back of my head, but let’s leave that for later. “For somebody young, we ask them to deconstruct the game they love the most. We ask them what they like/dislike about the game. How they can improve it. If a thing doesn’t work, how can they make it work. This tells us how the person understands and interacts with the game.

“The next step is to find out what aspect of game design does one like, namely, level design, character design or gameplay mechanics. And finally, the maths. Video games can all be broken down to mathematics. Aspiring game designers/developers should be good with numbers. Even a simple card game has numbers at it’s core.” So there you go, game designing and development isn’t as glamorous as one may think. It requires a high level of aptitude.

We understand. Video gamer makers need to take the edge of it too.

We understand. Video gamer makers need to take the edge of it too.

Anshumani is an artist, and every artist has an ultimate vision. I ask him about his, and he answers seeming as sure of himself as he can be. “I want to make a game that all 7 billion people in the world can play and connect to.” Strong words, these, but very encouraging indeed.

It is not just companies like BSB who have realized the mobile gaming potential in India. Many other MNCs such as Square Enix and Ubisoft have set up shop in India, more are on the way. “Does it change your strategy in any way?” I shoot, and Anshumani gets back “Absolutely not. This is a very good thing. Multiple players being involved in the industry is always a good thing. Solid competition is a good thing. It’s pure economics, it’s healthy.”

A day in the life of a game developer, at Tiny Mogul Studios

A day in the life of a game developer, at Tiny Mogul Studios

About 45 minutes have passed now, and as nosy and excited as I can get when I’m in a game studio, I decide it’s time for the interview to end. But I still manage to squeeze in one last question about the general game development outlook in India. Anshumani seems positive, “More and more companies are popping up, many indie developers, 2-3 man teams are coming up with good games. It’s a good time for the industry. I would like to see a game made by an Indian studio be a big part of the lives of people here, that is all that’s missing for now. It shouldn’t be long before we have something.”

I hurriedly chew on my last piece of idli, take a couple of photographs, and Anshumani leads me to a tour of the studio. There’s a reasonable quantity of wall art, a foosball table and bean bags, people work on their desks and don’t seem a bit tired. It’s a neat workplace to be in.

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