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Gaming: a profile of young star Sangam Gupta

india Updated: Apr 01, 2008 02:09 IST
Kiran Wadhwa
Kiran Wadhwa
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Cups of steaming cappuccino, people in jeans and experimental hairdos plonked on cushy beanbags, a couple of young Greeks and Germans chatting - that's the daily meeting at Trine Animation and Gaming Studio, presided over by founder and Managing Director Sangam Gupta.

The 22-year-old almost chokes when he hears the word 'presided'.

"They're all my friends. Jesus, I don't preside over anything. We just have casual meetings in the evening to discuss the day's progress."

Gupta began his firm two years ago, but he had known he was headed in this direction ever since he was 13, hacking into Internet games so he wouldn't have to spend all his pocket money.

A year later, the Delhi boy turned entrepreneur, with a website called planetcricket.net, which modified online games to make them snazzier.

His turning point came when someone from Electronic Arts, one of the world's largest gaming companies, wrote to him about what a brilliant job he was doing.

"I had absolutely no background in gaming," said Gupta. "My father owned theatres in UP and could never really figure out what I was up to in front of the computer all day."

That one e-mail set his career path. After high school, he went to the US to study computer science and started working for a gaming company there.

It was on one of his vacations home that he realised how big gaming was getting in India - and that there was still no one creating full-fledged games in the country.

Trine Animation is now the only Indian company that creates XBox and PlayStation games in-house.

On the Streets of Mumbai
Gupta founded Trine Animation in April 2006, with Rs 8 crore invested by an equity firm, and five employees - all friends he made on the job in the US.

They began in a one-room office in Andheri, with packaging boxes for furniture. Today, Gupta has a plush set-up in Malad, spread across an entire floor. And 200 employees who spend the day creating content, writing scripts or illustrating for the online games he creates.

"I'm glad I decided to set up shop in Mumbai," Gupta said. "It has the best atmosphere for a start-up, all the resources you need, and even the people within the industry are so helpful here."

His is a typical success story of the nascent but fast-growing Indian game development industry, expected to grow tenfold to $425 million (Rs 1,700 crore) by 2010.

"Gaming has to succeed simply because it is one of the few industries that makes leisure a profession," said Alok Kejriwal, founder of Games to Win, the gaming branch of online lottery company Contests to Win. "Virtually everyone's a start-up, and everyone's succeeding. It's been a year since we began and we already have 150 employees."

Gupta's next venture is a game that is truly Indian in theme and characters. On the drawing board already, it's called Streets of Mumbai and offers players a thrilling car race through Nariman Point, along Marine Drive and into the international airport.

"India creates mobile and flash games, but complex online games with detailed scripts are still not our forte. I want to break that barrier," said Gupta. "India is far more talented and the manpower is much cheaper, so why not our resources to create games instead of doing it for other countries?"

If you study the $1 billion gaming markets in China or Korea, Gupta adds, the most popular games are the indigenous ones that have local characters and themes. "That is exactly what I want to achieve."

Head-hunting, around the world
On Gupta's payroll are Americans, Greeks, West Indians and Romanians - all people he gathered on work trips abroad and all known game creators in their own countries. But this field needs talent, not qualifications, he stresses.

Gupta found one of his best artists at Malad railway station. "He used to sit on the platform and draw brilliant portraits for Rs 10 each," said Gupta. "I offered him a job and today he is one of my most important illustrators, earning about Rs 40,000 per month."

Never a Sunday
While the thought of making your leisure your livelihood is appealing, it needs a lot of hard work. Gupta admits he has no social life.

His day begins at 10 am and ends at 3. It's been this way ever since he set up his company. When everyone's workday ends at 7 pm, it just gets more hectic for Gupta.

At 7 pm here, London starts their workday and it's time to coordinate with his clients in the UK. At midnight, San Francisco, the biggest gaming hub in the world, wakes up. And the jetsetter, who is constantly flying off to either the US or Germany, usually ends up working weekends too.

"When I was 18 and studying in the US, my friends and I would always talk about turning 21 and finally being able to get into US nightclubs. Today, I'm 22 but I don't go clubbing," said Gupta, adding with a smile that it's "worth the sacrifice" because he loves going to work every day.

Totting it up
So how did a 20-year-old raise Rs 8 crore?
"It wasn't too difficult finding an investor because gaming is one of the hottest industries today and they knew that it wouldn't backfire," said Gupta. His age actually went for him - his ideas were fresh and original and he connected with the audience because he was virtually one of them.

When will his two-year-old company break even?
That's a question that doesn't worry Gupta too much. "We're already doing better than we expected and we've surpassed our investors' targets," he said. The company is growing at an annual rate of 100 per cent and is expected to break even in 2009.
"By end-2010, the company will have a turnover of $30 million (Rs 120 crore)," declared Gupta.