Meet The First Indian Video Game Designer to Enter The Global Hall of Fame

‘Farmville 2’ lead designer Poornima Seetharaman wins global acclaim and takes her place alongside industry legends.
Poornima Seetharaman​ girl gamer india
All photos courtesy of Poornima Seetharaman

Game design in India is an exciting, emerging and fast-growing discipline. Today, there are thousands of aspiring and professional game designers in the country, putting out increasingly high quality games and dreaming of even greater heights.

But Poornima Seetharaman was there first.

Doing game design long before most people in the country knew what that even meant, her career has spanned 14 years. Working with some of India’s best studios on some of the world’s best known franchises (ranging from BioShock to FarmVille), Bengaluru-based Poornima has seen it all. She’s been part of a leadership group of veterans who’ve worked against all odds to take the videogames industry in India from a ragtag bunch of dreamers to one of the world’s fastest growing development hubs. She’s been through exhilarating highs and crushing lows—making internationally acclaimed hit titles and facing the heartbreak of cancelled passion projects and failed businesses.


And a few weeks ago, she became the first Indian game designer to gain global acclaim, when she was inducted into the Women in Games Hall of Fame. The award, which opened up for the first time globally this year, is the pinnacle of recognition for women in games; past winners include Rhianna Pratchett (Heavenly Sword, Tomb Raider), Shioban Reddy (Little Big Planet) and Debbie Bestwick (Worms series).


It’s a staggering achievement for a game designer from a country that’s barely on the map when it comes to world-class game development. For perspective, among the other inductees this year are industry legends like Brenda Romero, creator of the venerated Wizardry games, and Audrey Leprince of The Game Bakers, makers of the console hit Furi.

“It still hasn’t really sunk in,” Poornima laughs. When the nominations opened up this year, several friends (including IGDA founder and industry doyen Ernest W. Adams) encouraged her to enter. “I normally don’t put myself out there; I find it really difficult. But this time I decided to go ahead and overcome my discomfort. There were 61 entries, and when the global jury picked me as one of the 12 nominees, I was just thrilled to be listed along with such talented women like Brenda, Kate and Audrey”.

And when she was finally inducted, she had no words. "Because the ceremony was on a virtual platform, I think I didn’t really feel much at first. But when the congratulations started pouring in, and I received so much love, I think it finally started to hit me”, she grins, describing the event that took place online in September 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Not bad for someone who started off in game design without even knowing that she was doing game design.

“It all started in college when I used to create campaigns for Age of Empires. My friends would play them, give me feedback, and we’d all have fun playing. I didn’t realise at the time that I was actually doing game design.”

The AoE campaigns impressed a friend so much, he recommended her for a game design role at a Korean game studio that was making ambitious role-playing games for mobile. Despite having no prior experience, Poornima got the job. She dived into studying the Dungeons & Dragon’s manuals as research for the project, fell in love with game design, and never looked back.

That experience still resonates in her views today; Poornima has little patience for jargon and definitions. “Game design is all about fundamentals. You don’t need to know all the terms or play every game that comes out. As long as you have strong fundamentals, you can do good game design,” she says with the conviction of someone who walks the talk.

As a part of the famous first batch at Indiagames (one of India’s first globally recognised game studios, which was later acquired by Disney), Poornima was part of the first generation of Indian developers to put out world-class products. Indiagames quickly developed a global reputation for highly polished mobile games for feature phones based on famous franchises. Poornima fondly remembers working on the mobile version of Bioshock, one of the most famous games ever made. “It was a hugely enjoyable challenge. How do you maintain the element of suspense and surprise from Bioshock, and the essential narrative, within the technical limitations of a phone? We had 4MB to make the entire game,” she remembers. Indiagames, of course, pulled it off quite remarkably, and fans of the game call Poornima even today, more than a decade later.


Today, Poornima is at Zynga India, leading design on FarmVille 2: Country Escape. After a decade of challenges including gender bias in the games business and depression due to a failed business, she continues to drive the industry forward. She is particularly passionate about helping women developers overcome the inherent gender bias prevalent in the industry by enabling them to build skills and gain experience. “I’m here because someone before me fought for me. So I’ll keep fighting the good fight”, says Poornima.


FarmVille 2:Country Escape

The games industry in India is on the cusp of a wave. We’re seeing quality games come out of homegrown studios and do well globally. Perhaps one day in the future, another developer from India will make it into the Hall of Fame.

But remember, Poornima Seetharaman was there first.

Follow Anand on Twitter.