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The Man Behind Nigeria’s First Online Gaming Company

The Man Behind Nigeria’s First Online Gaming Company

ENTERPRISE54 – With the deregulation of the telecommunications sector and the introduction of GSM telephony into Nigeria, there has been a sustained growth spurt in all spheres of technology in Africa’s most populous country. The domino effect of this has spread evenly from computer software development, to phone manufacturing, to mobile phone applications and to online

ENTERPRISE54 – With the deregulation of the telecommunications sector and the introduction of GSM telephony into Nigeria, there has been a sustained growth spurt in all spheres of technology in Africa’s most populous country. The domino effect of this has spread evenly from computer software development, to phone manufacturing, to mobile phone applications and to online payment systems et al. All around smart, business-savvy companies and individuals are jumping into the boiling pot of this fairly untapped, burgeoning market. One of such forward-thinking entrepreneurs is Hugo Obi, the founder of Maliyo Games.

The genesis of Maliyo Games is mired in some sort of rancour (Obi and Jason Njoku, the founder of iROKO Partners started up but later fell out on a matter of strategy, Jason would later establish Kuluya Games with his own team). Nonetheless, the fervent entrepreneurial drive of Hugo Obi shines through and since Maliyo started, the accolades, speaking engagements and media attention from both the local and international press have been quite impressive.

Hugo Obi for the most part of his 32 years has been a dream chaser. Right from when he was a school boy growing up in Lagos, Hugo was enthralled by the big American tech companies and their interplay with the stock market. The IPOs, the mergers and the acquisitions were all things that struck him as he read about them in the pages of Forbes, Time etc. This prompted his decision to study computer engineering/science at a Nigerian tertiary institution (University of Benin), since he thought this was the express route to get the tech credibility that would make him into the next Bill Gates, Larry Ellison or even Steve Jobs. However. and not surprisingly so, his expectations were not met. And as this did not fit into his big picture, he had to drop out from the diploma programme and seek out an alternative that would give him the global competitiveness he desired. He hustled his way to Manchester, changed direction from the tech side of the divide to the business side by studying International Business, Finance and Economics at University of Manchester. He also acquired a degree in International Strategy from Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technology University, Singapore. With a solid curriculum vitae that boasts a stint as a financial analyst at GE Capital, Obi returned home to become a part of the mobile/social gaming phase of the technological expansions brewing in the country. It’s safe to conclude that he’s prepared for the long haul no matter what successes or failures he might find in this relatively uncharted terrain.

The Maliyo name itself is buried in the psychology of children at play and concept of moonlight stories and games from the Hausa language. Hugo stuck with the name after soughting feedback from people close to him. With strong consciousness of the African/Nigerian experience, the Maliyo games are quirky, whimsical and extremely relatable with titles like ‘Aboki’, ‘Kidnapped’, ‘Okada’, ‘My Village’, attending to the perennial cry for adaption of local content into tech innovations and social interactions.

Going by Maliyo’s website, their mission is “to share the experiences of everyday Africans with a global audience through games. Our narratives, characters, environments and sounds help us achieve this”.

With Hugo Obi’s many years of experience on the financial side of things, he appears to have a put together a formidable blueprint that will make Maliyo Games an intrinsic part of the Nigerian way of life a la the global recognition of the country’s music industry and Nollywood. With a dedicated team of coders, graphic designers, user experience experts etc, he hopes to push the company to prominence and profitability. According to him, there are plans afoot to release more games on smart phone and mobile platforms – iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry – while still maintaining importance on web and Facebook.

Presently he’s running with the mantra of ‘conceptualize, redesign, redevelop, retest, redeploy’ which explains the fact that they’ve reserved the release of new material for the third quarter of the year (Q3) or later. Hugo is also working on new partnerships – details of which he wasn’t ready to divulge yet but, in his words, will help Maliyo conquer more grounds in terms of distribution and probably income

“There no point in printing newspapers if people can’t get it in traffic at 7 o’ clock in the morning. If you build that relationship, you’ve got a business,” a calm Hugo adorned with dark Rayban shades, says at the penthouse of Lagos’ famed Cc-hub.

According to Hugo, distribution is almost the most important aspect of the gaming business. What’s the point of creating exceptional content if the people who paid for adverts or who its targeted at can’t find it without any hassle? This means the company will continually explore relationships, strategy and partnerships for the best and most prevalent channels of distribution.

Another area Hugo Obi is working diligently on is consistent releases from Maliyo Games. He acknowledges the fact that market penetration outside the ecosystem is still low but if things work his way, he wants to consistently turn out new products at regular intervals that would not only relate to a Lagos danfo bus driver or the roadside restaurant owner, but make them crave the mobile gaming experience. This, he hopes can be achieved by interpreting feedback from people who have played existing games, and improving the features they enjoy.

“The market defines itself, its not defined by individuals”

Outside of making all the decisions on project management, process and content strategy at Maliyo Games, Hugo Obi has bigger dreams of diversifying into other areas of business even if he accepts that the terrain for doing business in Nigeria might not be the most accommodating starting from our international airports down to the roads. He is not one to just moan, he believes that being a successful Nigerian means he should be able to help the country in terms of infrastructure as a form of corporate social responsibility and not having to care or wait for a government to do anything. And like experienced entrepreneur, venture capitalist and academic, Daniel Isenberg put it, “entrepreneurs … see economic value where others see heaps of nothing. And they see business opportunities where others see only dead ends.” Hugo has such entrepreneurial tendecies. And he sees Maliyo not just in the business of making games and earning money, but as an opportunity to inspire and motivate others regardless of the challenges faced.

Within the next two years, He believes the market will be defined and things in the industry would have come full circle. For now, he doesn’t believe any rival company has the right to gloat or even lay claim to producing better games until the verdict is reached by the people playing the games. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the competition even though he has some strict battles to fight with the likes of Kuluya and Pledge 51 Games. Like an article put it, some of the best entrepreneurs are distinguished more by their ability to achieve the impossible than by the originality of their thinking. Perhaps Hugo is one.

Adegoke Oyeniyi

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