Nigerian online gaming start-up, MALIYO Games, is being built around creating fun out of otherwise mundane everyday experiences. “Okada Ride”, “Kidnapped”, “Aboki”, “Football Goalie”, and “Mosquito Smasher” are some of the various casual browser games being developed by the Maliyo team to share the experiences of Africans with a global audience. A unique feature of this technology start-up is its use of local gaming content via narratives, characters, environments and sounds. Since inception in April 2012, the start-up has won the hearts of several thousands of gaming fans in the online community. In this interview with Gbenga Awomodu, Maliyo Games founder, Hugo Obi, explains how his team is sharing African experiences with a global audience through fun and interactive local gaming content.
Tell us a bit about yourself – growing up, education, career and fascination with technology.
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. As a school kid reading the Times magazine I was fascinated by the rise of companies such as Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo in the late 90s. I read a lot about the internet bubble-burst and the rise of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs. I started off pursuing a career in computer science and ended up specializing in international business and finance with a degree from the University of Manchester. I topped that up with a short stint at Nanyang Business School, Singapore where I focused on business strategy. I ended up working as a finance analyst in the city of London after I graduated before setting up my first company in recruitment. I am interested in the business of computing, not so much in the process. I am still fascinated by how much technology enriches our life experience, the way we communicate, consume information and engage with our environment.
Could you tell us about the Maliyo Games and what inspired the concept?
Maliyo Games’ simple product proposition is to share Africa to the world through games. That’s the inspiration for our titles and the framework within which we see gaming. We want our games to be fun, entertaining and engaging. We want them to tell their own stories and to be enjoyed by all who play both Africans and non-Africans.
What makes Maliyo Games unique amongst all other web games?
We have a laser-like focus on creating African themed games primarily for an African audience. This is what Maliyo Games is about. At this stage of our company development, our games are symbolic for their localized narratives, characters, sound and environment. We want our concepts to resonate with local people and have a level of originality that communicates what it means to be African in the 21st century. We also want these games to be easily accessible to regular people; this means ensuring that our games are available on mobile devices.
What is the size of your team and how did select your team members?
Our core team is made up of 15 individuals split between Lagos, Chicago, India, Brazil, Tunisia, Manchester and London. We are a bunch of young, fun-loving people who were driven by the determination to create a new market in a space that not too many have ventured in the past in Nigeria and the most part of sub-Saharan Africa. We have selected the individuals based on their belief in our vision, passion for developing quality content and ability to execute within time and budget. We also tap into the communities around us to ensure we are constantly learning. We are always talking to people to get an understanding of what they think and how they feel we can improve their gaming experience when they play our titles.
How and when do you hope to be able to monetize Maliyo Games?
We started Maliyo Games not looking at revenue so much. Since this market is practically inexistent in reference to localized gaming content; we need to focus on ensuring we are making enough investment at this stage. Once we’ve achieved this, then we shift focus to building a strong active user community and lastly, monetization.
Africa with it’s population, internet & mobile penetration and consumer patterns makes us very optimistic about the future path to monetization. This is the sowing season and we are investing in content; soon it would be harvest season and then we would reap our reward.
How were you able to raise your start-up capital; any plans for attracting more funds from, say venture capitalists?
Maliyo Games is currently privately funded. We made a commitment towards developing casual games and we put our money where our mouth is. Looking forward however, we are very keen to identify and attract strategic investors who can support our product development efforts and assist us in building a truly awesome Out-of-Africa Games company.
What key challenges have you had to tackle in implementing the Maliyo Games idea?
Everyday is a challenge naturally, be it driving through the streets of Lagos or trying to manage the business cash flow situation or make a decision on the next title to create or what platforms to development for. However, that’s what makes the day fun. We’ve been privileged to embed ourselves within Nigeria’s tech ecosystem.
Which tech entrepreneurs do you admire locally and globally and in what ways have they inspired your work?
Locally, I am an admirer of Tayo Ovisor (Paga Tech). His product solves a functional problem and they have a very responsive customer care team. They are building a reputable organisation locally. Google is another organisation I admire for their people, work environment, product and respectable corporate culture. These are values we admire and want to bring into Maliyo Games.
What are you projections for Maliyo Games over the next five years; do you have any other tech start-up projects in the works?
We are product people at Maliyo and I am sure games won’t be the only items we touch within the tech scene. As we closely observe what is happening within the market, we will create new solutions aimed at enriching the lives of ordinary folks using technology.
Programmers are generally deemed ‘computer addicts’, snobs, and nerds. What’s your take?
Programmers drink a lot of beer, love super models and are obsessed with becoming iconic figures. And Yes, they are generally computer addicts, snobs and nerds… I think I just added new layers to that general assumption.
How do you spend your leisure time?
When I am in Lagos, I love to hang out at bars in the Island. I’m an outdoor person so I’ve been to most of outdoor bars in VI & Ikoyi. I also play tennis, do a lot of cardio exercise and drink a lot of beer although I’m cutting back now. I enjoy running, going to the theatre, train travel and stimulating conversations.
What would you love to say to our highly esteemed BellaNaija readers?
At Maliyo Games, we love to build relationships. Our games are designed to show Africa in the best light. We want to listen, learn and adapt our games for our uses. Please visit our website @ Maliyo.com check out our games, leave feedback and share our games with friends.
Gbenga Awomodu is an Editorial Assistant at Bainstone Ltd./BellaNaija.com. When he is not reading or writing, Gbenga is listening to good music or playing the piano. Follow him on Twitter: @gbengaawomodu | Gbenga’s Notebook: www.gbengaawomodu.com | Facebook Page: Gbenga Awomodu