Poornima Seetharaman is currently Lead Game Designer at Zynga. 

SJ: Game development is a field not many people know about or fully understand, especially in India. What motivated you to take it up and could you walk us through your career trajectory?

Poornima Seetharaman: It happened by chance that I ended up taking a role as a programmer in a mobile game development company. However it was there that I got the opportunity to try my hands with Game Design. I used to dabble with making custom campaigns for games like Age of Empire II and Warcraft III back in my college days. But never knew about the existence of game development as a career in India. Once Game Design came into my life, I was lost in its beauty and since then there has been no turning back.

SJ: You are the first Indian woman to make it to the Global Women in Games Hall of Fame – that’s so impressive! How would you advise young passionate game designers aspiring to achieve similar accolades on networking in this industry?

PS: Thank you 🙂

We need to tell the world we are here, we are doing this, else they won’t know. It has taken me a lot of years to do it myself. And when I finally did, it was just the aspect of stepping out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t expecting to even be nominated, forget winning it.

While awards are a great boost to being recognized and validated, one must not lose heart if they don’t win. Awards are not the end goal,  but a good pat on the back. Just enjoy what you are doing.

SJ: You have been an entrepreneur and worked for companies in this field. In what ways have the two experiences been different and similar and what are some of your learnings from them?

PS: As an entrepreneur in its most basic element, you are trying to be the boss and the worker. It’s playing both the roles. You are focusing on the product, building a team, growing the business and sometimes even doing inventory et al. It has been a learning and quite honestly a humbling experience. With entrepreneurship, it’s best to work with your partner before you jump into a partnership and to take time to build your first team members as they will set the culture of your company.

When you work for a medium to large company, most of the processes are already in place. There are departments to handle certain aspects of your job, you are doing what is defined for your job and slightly more. But at no point are you having to take on the burden of running everything. There is support, conflict resolution, grievances, mentoring etc that is available to you. 

SJ: Do you see a lot of diversity candidates in your field or is it male dominated?

PS: It’s still male dominated. The global average is about 20% of Women / Womxn. But the good news is that few companies are now focussing on ensuring they hire right. While it is still called diversity hire, the intention is not to hand out jobs to Womxn, but it is more about taking the time out to find the right candidate from the marginalized genders who have the talent and skill suited for the job, but they don’t immediately show up on your list.

SJ: What are the various segments within game designing which one can specialize in? Or is it largely generic?

PS: It’s a large field to cover here. Heh. But you can be a game designer in a generalist perspective as well as specialized one. In India, it’s more on the former side of things. As a Game Designer, you are expected to not only have good communication and presentation skills but also be able to understand games at a very system level. To be able to break it down into modules, and see how they interact with each other as well as think about the overall experience. So you have to understand game mechanics, rules of the game, system design, economy design, level design, game balancing, user experience and so much more.

SJ: What are the challenges one can face whilst pursuing a career in Gaming/ Game designing?

PS: I don’t think there are any specific challenges in gaming per se. Being a subject matter expert depending on the role you are choosing is important. But other than that, you have to be good at what you do / aspire to do. It’s the same as any other field.

SJ: Would you like to highlight some of the things you have done differently in your career which has made you successful?

PS: I don’t know if I’ve done anything differently. But I refuse to give up. If I don’t know anything, I learn about it. I don’t mind learning from anyone whether they are junior or senior. The same way, I don’t mind passing on what I’ve learnt to others too. I feel that it is important for us to share knowledge to grow as an industry. I also speak up when needed. I do tend to be a good listener and ensure that I make people around me feel comfortable and safe.

SJ: While designing a game how do you analyse it’s reach in terms that people will check it out and how do you find the X factor that will make your game unique?

PS: Consumer insights, competitor studies, marketing etc are ways to reach people. X factor is subjective, but we do think about what is that extra uniqueness that we shall bring with our idea. It could be any form of aesthetic.

SJ: Why is being financially independent important to you?

PS: Financial independence while helps in having a comfortable lifestyle, it also helps at the time of crisis. It gives you a sense of security, it also gives you freedom, which I think is key. You feel more courageous to take on new challenges and you don’t have to depend on anyone else.

SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire for Her?

PS: There is no formula to success. Don’t give up. Speak up; for yourselves and for others who can’t. Sometimes our baby steps in the right direction may end up helping someone else. It’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to be not. You are your own person. Be you.


Rapid Fire!

Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with

Conan O’Brien

Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to our readers

Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell

Question: 3 things on your bucket list

Set up my Womxn in Games community!

Make my dream game!

Learn swimming!

Interviewed by: Shilpa Jain