Prithvi Virasinghe

Current Employment: Dawn Patrol Games, Studio Head

The Spice Trail, Owner
Education: BA Business Administration, Franklin & Marshall College, Pennsylvania, USA
MFA Design & Technology, Parsons School of Design, New York City, USA

Employment Overseas

Prithvi returned to Sri Lanka in late 2011 after spending 21 years abroad. He spent 6 years in India from middle school through high school and 15 years in the USA from college through to professional work.

For the 12 years prior to his move he was based in New York City and worked his way through banking, marketing, graduate school and eventually ended up working in video game development for the media company MTV Networks.

Prithvi undertook the following roles in New York City– Analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, Marketing Manager at Excel Technology Inc, and thereafter worked as Design Analyst at The Parsons Institute of Information Mapping, and later as Adjunct Faculty at Parsons School of Design. Further in 2005 he was appointed to the post of Games Producer at Comedy Central and in 2008 he took up employment at MTV Networks – initially as Senior Games Producer and thereafter in 2010 as Creative Director of 345 Games.

Return to Sri Lanka

In 2011 I raised funding to set up a video game studio focusing on original content development.  The video game industry is nascent in Sri Lanka. Despite being a $100 billion industry worldwide, it is yet to take significant root here. Knowing these challenges I decided to set up shop here and hire and train local talent in the coding, design and art pipeline of video games. I started the company with Silje Nilsen a fellow graduate school alumnus, hailing from Norway with a background in 3D animation for film and TV. Subsequently we are now married and have a child so I guess that worked out.

To date Dawn Patrol has made 5 games which are available on iOS and Android devices. Our last two games You Got Beat and Nitropia were featured on iTunes app stores in Europe, Asia and USA. We also provide contract development services and we are working with some partners in Japan.

Working on original product and working on services are two completely different experiences. Working on original product you face a lot of uncertainty, never knowing which one will be the ‘big hit’. Often times, you have many failures before you have one true success and it’s fair to say we are still finding our way. As a consequence you try to balance this out with contract work, which gives you a stable income but means you spend more time building other people’s dreams than yours. It’s a juggling act, and I’ve yet to get the balance right.

Simultaneously I have been working on a side ‘dream’ project – comprising a series of villas and restaurant in surf rich Arugam Bay, called The Spice Trail. As much as video gaming is my passion, surfing and food are probably bigger. I just opened Spice Trail in July 2015 and now I think about how I can spend less time on Dawn Patrol and more time on Spice Trail… It’s a good problem to have I suppose.

Opinions about work culture 

My comparison point is New York City versus Colombo, so some of these viewpoints may be a bit harsh since the former is a hyper competitive city and Colombo is generally more laid back.

People are just as talented in Sri Lanka as anywhere else in the world. One thing lacking is exposure to global standards of efficiency. As a result, there is a general level of ‘acceptable complacency’ in work culture that would not get you very far in demanding work cultures such as New York City. This is frustrating to deal with and can happen from the basic level of trying to get someone to repair something in your house to trusting managers to be accountable and take initiative.

In Dawn Patrol’s early days it was hard to attract people to a start-up because many viewed it as being too risky. The concept of ‘equity’ is a non-starter for attracting talent whereas it is coveted in the West. That is slowly changing and in the last 4 years I have seen an upswing in product driven entrepreneurs and an emerging angel investment scene. It is still quite small though and could benefit from more connectedness between these groups.

There are driven individuals here who work relentlessly to be the best, but they are more outliers than norm. This problem is exacerbated by a hysterically ineffective holiday schedule which makes it very challenging for employers in small businesses but maybe appealing to employees. While a healthy work life balance is important for the overall health of an individual and a company, more emphasis has to be placed in creating a culture of accountability from the top down. There is a political joke in there somewhere.

Take on quality of life 

The opportunities for doing something beyond your area of expertise are greater here than in an unforgiving environment such as New York City. Money goes a longer way and you can dabble in more areas of interest than what could be afforded in more expensive cities. The often dreamed about ‘exit plan’ of owning a house by the beach and running a delightful bed and breakfast is actually something you can do.

That said there are everyday challenges you face with simple things like trying to find specific food (often times you need to go to 4 different places to get everything), getting a contractor to come to your house (definitely coming at 4pm!), heaven forbid you need to go to a government office to get anything done, standing in a line, etc. and if you can’t speak Sinhalese you are trapped when trying to solve simple problems. My wife is very independent and it frustrates her that she can’t call a plumber to fix a leaky toilet because they can’t understand each other and she will definitely get overcharged for being perceived as a ‘foreigner’ rather than a ‘resident’. In the West this would be prejudiced or even racist, but here it is standard form.

Sri Lanka has a lot to offer, but you have to be willing to put up with a lot as well.

Advice to potential returnees

To enjoy the quality of life opportunities you have to be adventurous and willing to go down a path with hazy instructions or none whatsoever. Nothing comes easy here, but with effort you can start to see the endless possibilities on this island that is set to explode in development opportunities if it maintains stability and becomes more transparent for foreign investment.

It is more important to network here to get anything done in both the personal and professional sphere. There is a great atmosphere of opportunity brewing as Sri Lanka joins the rest of the world in the race for development. The infrastructure is (was?) coming up and as more people look at Sri Lanka as an emerging market, the time to get on the ground floor is now. Or that may have passed a few years ago, but you can still hop on for the ride.