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In Indonesia, an unlikely journey from university librarian to gaming guru

Riris Marpaung, CEO of Gambreng Games Studio in Indonesia. Photo supplied

In 2013, Riris Marpaung left behind a long and established career in books to co-found Gambreng Games Studio, an independent game development firm in Banten that’s leading a new breed of Indonesian gaming startups. She spoke with Southeast Asia Globe about how to find an audience in this rapidly growing industry.

How did you get started with game development?

My background isn’t actually in game development. I worked as a university librarian for over 20 years, so you could say this is by accident. I met Dodick [Gambreng’s co-founder] when we worked together at Multimedia Nusantara University. He was the deputy head of computer science and also the mentor of the university’s game development club. We were working together on organising many events in the university such as TEDx talks, game developer gatherings and graduations. [Dodick] had created a game studio in 2012 but it failed because of the studio’s lack of leadership. He did not give up and asked me to work together on founding a new game studio. He asked me to be the CEO since he believed in my ability to lead.

Have you faced any gender discrimination in the game development industry?

No. But sometimes I feel as though we, as women in this industry in Indonesia, are [given special treatment]… which, for me personally, is not necessary. Nevertheless, there are still not many women in this industry, so I am very happy when more women decide to join this crazy world. I can encourage other women not to be scared and just to jump in.

What do you look for when you are hiring new developers?

Perseverance is the most important thing. The gaming industry in Indonesia is still full of uncertainty, but you will find different ways of extending your studio life such as client-based services and competition. Who you work with is like your family. I spend 20 hours each day [with them]. So, [employees’] personality is the biggest and first thing… more important than skill. When it comes to skills, there are many different qualities needed for different roles. For a programmer, being flexible with tools and having a good understanding of the logic behind programming is a must. For an artist, you must dare to experiment with different genres that you are not used to creating. 

What makes a game go viral, as some Southeast Asian creations have, such as Flappy Bird?

I would like to share our interesting experience with our game, Not a Simulator For Working (NSFW). The theme that we chose was quirky. It is not easy to put the theme into the gameplay [the features of a video game, such as its plot and the way it is played]. After many long discussions and struggling with the prototype, we were finally satisfied with the game. I didn’t expect the game to go viral. I was shocked when some of my friends, even my students, told me that [they] played it.

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