EP 311 – Swapna and Nirmal David – co-Founders at Hobo Interactive – The World of the IP Is Most Interesting For Us

by | Jan 24, 2024

The Asia Tech Podcast really enjoyed its conversation with ⁠Swapna⁠ and ⁠Nirmal David⁠, the co-founders of ⁠Hobo Interactive⁠. In an era where digital interactivity redefines our narrative experiences, Hobo Interactive focuses on bringing high quality visuals and appealing storytelling to games and other interactive experiences. Their journey, woven with the threads of world-building, storytelling, and a risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit, offers a captivating insight into the transformative power of gaming as a storytelling medium.

Some of the topics that Swapna and Nirmal spoke about in detail include:

  • The Power of Storytelling in Gaming
  • Gaming’s Expansion Beyond Traditional Audiences
  • The Evolution of Gaming as a Community Experience
  • Building and Integrating Rich Worlds and IP Development in Gaming
  • Fearlessness and Creativity in Entrepreneurship

Some other titles we considered for this episode, but ultimately rejected:

  1. It’s Less about the Game and More About the Community
  2. The Medium of Games Can Have Way More Powerful Storytelling Tools Than Films
  3. I Had Civilizations to Build and Empires to Destroy and Create
  4. We’ve Always Been Storytellers
  5. We’re All Gamers, Naturally

Two cool quotes I just had to share:

  • Nirmal David: “For me, world building is the first thing when it comes to any storytelling… I think games are the most powerful medium for that.”
  • Swapna David: “We’ve always been storytellers…everything’s a story for us. Funny story, engaging stories. That’s been where we’ve always been. So I think was organic for us to get into this industry.”
Read the best-effort transcript

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:05
Okay, let’s do this thing. Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast Swapna and Nirmal David, the co-Founders of Hobo Interactive are with me today. I cannot thank both of you enough for coming here and do this. It’s really great to have you here. How are you both doing today?

Swapna David 0:21
Oh, it’s fantastic. Michael, we waited, I think weeks now to finally align our dates and be here. So this is really great. I’m very happy and today’s like a very historic day in India’s history too. And I’m in India right now. So it makes all the more sense that today’s the day that we are doing the podcast Finally,

Michael Waitze 0:38
I’m super excited about it. Before we jump into the main part of this conversation, can we just get a little bit of both of your backgrounds for some context? And Swapna? Why don’t we start with you?

Swapna David 0:48
Michael, I started my life in film production. So let’s say two decades ago, I started doing documentaries, and then moved on through the big bad word of Bollywood firms and loved it and thoroughly enjoyed it and then moved on to the UK and US film industries. So we’ve always been storytellers name was my brother. And as kids, we were very high pockets. And I think it was my mother’s way of kind of keeping us calm by telling us stories and engaging us with stories. So we’ve always been storyteller. Tell us, everything’s a story for us. Funny story. Not a funny story. But usually, it’s all funny and funny story, engaging stories. That’s been where we’ve always been. So I think was organic for us to get into this industry. I started with film industry, and then well did film industry too. And then he’s an Academy Award winning VFX specialist. And then we kind of finally set up shop and started Holborn tractor. So it’s been a very interesting journey of storytelling. Nirmal…

Nirmal David 1:48
Similar, but different. I decided to be an animator when I was in ninth grade or something, I think I was 12 or 13. Back in the day, no one knew what animation was in India. So my mother obviously freaked out a little bit like what you want to be a what again, but anyway, so luckily, you know, I met the right people who was, you know, sometimes in the right place at the right time, but also we got to, you know, do some amazing stuff. My career, I worked with rhythm and hues for seven years, you know, I was animation lead on Golden Compass, which won the Academy Award for VFX, you know, been part of many, I think about 10 features or something 10 or 12 features, plus short films TV series, after that I went on to clone was with Lucasfilm, in Singapore. And then I moved to Jakarta to be client side animation director on a feature film. And throughout that time, I have been working on ideas and IPS, like Swapna said, we’ve had, you know, storytelling in our genes right from the beginning. Eventually, things got to a point where game making was reachable to people without supergiant budgets. And that’s when I decided to come back to India and set up a hobo interactive with Swapna.

Michael Waitze 2:55
Can you talk to me a little bit about the not just the intersection, but the sort of continuation of animation into gaming? Right, because I don’t think they’re that far away. And the movie business feels like it’s one of the largest entertainment businesses in the world. But I feel like if my numbers are right, that actually gaming is bigger, from a pure monetary standpoint. And then if you want to be in sort of the animation, and visual effects business, it may be even better or more fun to be in the gaming business. Can you just talk about that progression a little bit more for me, please,

Nirmal David 3:28
every game I will tell you that one game that changed his whole life, right? When the transformation happened from you know, we all started by playing Atari and Pac Man, it was a mechanic, it wasn’t a story for us, right? We were only as engaged as when we were holding a system. And like moving stuff around. It’s a high score, or, you know, you beat your brother, you know, things like that. But now there are these games that come in, and it’s changed your perception of gaming. For me that game was a game called Half Life, which was, you know, back in the day, and it was just a shooter, right? Like many other shooters, like Doom and everything, but there was a story angle, I fell in love with the character, right? For the first time, I felt like I moved with the protagonist, way more than I did in any movie.

Michael Waitze 4:15
Yeah, I was gonna say that’s different than being in a movie. Right? Which is more if you’re just watching as opposed to being involved. Sorry, go

Nirmal David 4:21
ahead. Yeah. And you’re actually influencing the progress of a story as well. Right? Yeah. And at that point, something went off in my head. I think this was late 90s, maybe 99 or something, you know, early 2000s, where I felt like the medium of games can have way more powerful storytelling tools than films. Films are great, of course, but you know, for certain kinds of thing. And I think gaming basically expands that horizon to another level. And like you said, the numbers. Yeah, absolutely. The gaming industry is, I think, a couple of billion dollars above Bollywood, right? Like, he’s not even like a few million or something. As a massive jump, right, but there’s also associated hardware sales and things like that. But I think in terms of storytelling, nonlinear is the way to go. Because you are the hero, you know, it’s not like watching somebody do something, you know how it ends once you see that movie once, and you know how it ends, and that’s that, but in games ending can be different each time. Right? So it’s like a replayability, you keep coming back to it, right? And then you get more and more sucked into the world. So for me, world building is the first thing when it comes to any storytelling, right? You know, it’s not about just one mechanic or one story or one incident, it’s about the world, that character and habits and you know, the character itself. So I think games are the most powerful medium for that. And, you know, so that’s when that shift happened. But, you know, sometime back, it was unreachable to be a game developer. Yeah, unless you had a serious budget. But you know, coming up the app stores and things change that. So you know, got more democratized.

Michael Waitze 5:54
I would say that in the media space, where I operate, it’s almost the same thing. I’ve been following the projection of the media business for the last 30 years. And when the technology allowed me to do it, which meant that I didn’t need a billion dollars to sort of build a studio all over the world. Exactly. I did the same thing. And I feel the same way you do about storytelling, I don’t think a story is linear, and you want to participate in and I love this idea, right? If you want even your favorite movie, go back to some of them. Casa Blanca, the Godfather, you’re really just watching. And there are times you’d like to say, what would happen if the character did this. But in the gaming world, you’re actually driving that you are, in a way an extension of that character. And being able to do that in impact that story has to be super cool, particularly in the development of IT. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, of

Nirmal David 6:41
course, it comes with its own challenges. Sure, because now you’re doing branching narrative. So it’s not like one linear storyboard that works for every case. But it’s also exciting, because as a storyteller, you can change the narrative on the fly, which is amazing, which you can’t do in a movie, right? No, no. And, you know, like, depending on who the gamer is, the nature of the story and how they perceive the story changes, which happens in movies as well, culturally. I think in games, it’s a bit more involved, and more visceral as well, but you’re actually experiencing it on the fly, and which is really good. I love that. I want

Michael Waitze 7:12
to make one more point. And then I want to move into like, dig a little bit deeper into what’s driving the growth in the gaming industry. Like one of my other favorite movies, the departed, right? This is a Martin Scorsese movie. Yeah, in the middle, I know the whole story, because I’ve watched it like 1000 times. I’m not sure I should admit that. But it means I can walk away in the middle of that and go get it, go get some soda water, or go get some ice cream or whatever it is, and come back and know exactly where I’m supposed to be. In a game. You’re either playing it or you’re not. You either ended or you’re not absolutely right. So it’s way more immersive. Sorry, Swapna. You were saying?

Swapna David 7:43
No, no, I agree with you. And with the game, it can get very obsessive. I am a gamer. I mean, we’re all gamers naturally. But it’s again, a story that I’m not too proud of. But in somewhere in 2005, I spent six months at home, just playing games. That’s when I got introduced to video games. And I just got sucked in completely I was doing RTS games, so he went by it and biota it and you know, I had some conversations to build an empire to destroy and create. I couldn’t leave the house. It was all consuming and that’s the joy that I think only games can give you it’s really all consuming and you know, it becomes your life. I

Michael Waitze 8:19
love it I’d empires to build and civilizations civilizations develop. What a great thing to say. Yeah, that definitely doesn’t happen in a movie, per se. Okay, let’s let’s talk about some details. When you look at the state of the gaming industry today, and even particularly in Asia, and in India, if you want to talk about that, what’s driving this growth? And what does that growth look like to you today? Okay, so

Swapna David 8:41
Michael, first off, everybody’s online. Everybody, if you especially in Asia, if you walk around, you can see, irrespective of class and income levels, everyone has access to smart smartphones. So inexpensive smartphones, the AEC availability of internet and the massive consumer base for these internet services. This has opened up a huge requirement for content, a need for content and for new entertainment options. This has led them to substantial increase in the entertainment market and including mobile entertainment and gaming. So while the industry is that the gaming industry’s growth in Asia and India has been largely due to the expanding middle class, it’s also really because of the inexpensive mobile technology and affordable data plans. All this is contributed to a larger entertainment audience, and definitely a more engaged gaming audience. So gaming has grown from a niche hobby, say, into one of the biggest industries in the entertainment sector, and it’s reached about 200 million into 2023. That’s a huge number 200 billion, you know, it just I think in the last five years, there’s been a sizable jump to 2019 us was the most lucrative video game market but it’s now been replaced by China in 2022. So the Asia Pacific is clear. Nearly emerged as a very strong market for video games, if I may say so Michael, Intel all these changes have also changed the profile of the gamer significantly. So as you know, video games are no longer just children and teens, all the Nintendo and Sega kids are now in the 30s. And 40s, who grew up playing video games are now adults who love playing video games. And with this growth of mobile industry to people of all ages are coming and enjoying games. So the average age of the game plan now is 35 years. Another very exciting thing for me personally also is that globally, the male to female gamer ratio is close to 5050, is it? Yes. And the female gamer segment has skyrocketed and today it represents a massive 48% of the entire global gaming market. 40% are women.

Michael Waitze 10:52
Is there a difference in the types of games or the specific games that men and women play? And can you then develop specific games for those specific segments? Particularly because as as normal was saying earlier, that technology now is way less expensive to do it? Right? So instead of developing a triple A game, which is also possible inexpensively, you can build mobile games that are more impactful for different cohorts? Is that fair to say?

Swapna David 11:15
Sure. So especially within the mobile gaming sector, that’s where the changes become massive, and women have gotten majorly, the women aged 35 years and older, they are now driving the growth within mobile gaming. Wow, isn’t that interesting, and older female segments are becoming more prominent. So reports now suggests that women have started to align game time as fun, productive, useful way of spending their money time. So as a result, the types of mobile games targeting women are changing. See earlier in the history of gaming, women had to adapt to games. But now women are recognized as a sizable chunk of the gaming audience. And games are being specially specifically designed for the sector. So strong and narrative characters with whom they can identify stories that reflect common themes. And remember will tell you more but female players value problem solving, challenge growing and strategic thinking aspects of the games they play.

Michael Waitze 12:10
I mean, just like in real life.

Nirmal David 12:14
Like one of the fun things like my 70 year old, and you have to wait for a break when she stopped playing Candy Crush to have a conversation. Right? She never touched a game in her life.

Michael Waitze 12:25
Why would she? Because from her perspective, back then, if she watched somebody on a console, right, and you said this is the beginning at the beginning, there was no story like I used to play Pong at my cousin’s house, this was really boring, like two white lines and a white thing going back and forth. And you’re right, my grandmother would walk by and just go, what are you doing? And you have to, in retrospect, agree with her. But go ahead, right? Because if your seven year old aunt is playing games, there must be a reason why

Nirmal David 12:50
the nature of like when Swapna said the nature of the game has changed, right? Yeah, it’s got two effects. And one, which I particularly love. I grew up playing every game that any other kid has access to right, it was mostly violence, right? You were either killing monsters, or no matter what type of game you were playing, it was always that whether it’s even a you know, d&d type, you know, Dungeons and Dragons type thing, or a shooter or whatever you were doing. It was mostly war, it was mostly in that sense. And then of course, there were these small offshoots of other things where strategy was involved. And, you know, storytelling was involved parcel were involved, but they were super niche, like super, super niche, right? You know, what we call the GeekBench? Sort of, you know, game market, right? Even gamers themselves would consider like, Oh, he’s a geek, you know, he just plays games. That has changed now, because of mobile. What’s happened is games like, you know, Angry Birds and Candy Crush, which had such a mass outreach of people, commuting, waiting for stuff, just pick it up is engaging, why not? They seem to think that it keeps their brain wired and moving, and it’s helping them in some way. Yeah. So you know, they got into it. But that also had an offshoot effect, which is the gaming audience matured like basically the people who are playing the suddenly realize that oh, there’s one more game which is slightly different. Let me go try that. And slowly, slowly, slowly, people started becoming gamers as well. So they started picking up consoles, PCs, like I know so many people who are older who never game before, who started with mobile, and now are doing like hardcore simulation games, with 1000s of dollars worth of equipment to drive cars and fly planes and all kinds of stuff VR. It’s moving slowly. So that basically gave us a wider audience to expand and experiment with stuff as well. Like with a female audience. One of the best things is there are so many non violent games out there now. I love it. Right? You can choose what you want to play. What do you feel like engaging yourself with that option is now much wider before it wasn’t. It used to

Michael Waitze 14:43
be that people would use their me time as Swapna reference. So just like watch a series of television series and whether the television series was on Thursday night at eight o’clock, which was common in the United States as a big watching time. Or on Saturday morning, they would spend that time doing that and nobody thought that was strange, right? Because As there was also this big community around, if you want something on Thursday night, at least in the US, you’d wake up on Friday morning, go to work and say, did you see friends last night? And everybody would note and talk about it? Are you seeing some of these more casual games, which are complex as well, but still replacing some of that television watching, which I feel like almost no one does any more. Maybe they’ll binge watch a series on Netflix. But take the time, then to play a game, which then they then discuss with their friends. Hey, did you get to level 17? On this thing? Does that happen now as well?

Nirmal David 15:31
Absolutely, yeah. So you remember the good old days of cheat books, there is published books where you had cheat codes and ultrasounds, level five and Doom or whatever? Well, now everything is online and discord channels, right? But people do discuss it. Like I’ve seen, like, forgot when this was but at a wedding, people my aunt’s age, looking at something on the phone. And they were talking, so I figured it must be pictures of grandkids or? No, it was actually some sort of a game like Candy Crush, but another, you know, similar game, and they were actually talking strategy. And I was like, I’m sorry, what? Like that was an audience that I have never expected to see in gaming. Right?

Michael Waitze 16:13
Can you also introduce games then for I don’t want to say necessarily for seven year old ladies. But if the time to development, and the cost of development is gradually just continuously getting lower? is it also possible now that you hear your aunt discussing with her friends the strategy for a game to kind of get some insights from them, and particularly target a market? That’s like 65? and above?

Nirmal David 16:39
Yes, and I’ll tell you another surprising thing. So we have this new genre. It’s not a new genre. It’s been around, you know, in the, in the vein of, you know, remember the Tamagotchi toys, the one where you feed the pets, right? So there are, you know, Japan had a massive subculture of stuff that we never saw otherwise. Yeah, you know,

Michael Waitze 16:57
I live there. So I saw the whole Tamagotchi thing.

Nirmal David 17:01
But you know, we had we had real pets, people are digital pets at the time in India, but you know, but there are relaxing games where you go in, not to feel tense, but to really calm yourself down, right? There are something as simple as a love story, which is an interactive love story, where you can change the outcome a little bit. It’s a very short playtime, but it’s got such an overwhelmingly high, you know, response on Steam and mobile and everywhere. But there are games like that which change the nature of how we approach it, right. So for example, most teenage you know, teenage people, they love to get games, which is really quick, fast. You know, testing their reflexes usually involves a little bit of violence, but it’s a lot of competing, right. But a lot of the other ones like I know, for sure, Sapna didn’t say it, but I know for sure she loves his game. She’s feeding cats and more cats are coming into the garden. And you know, I know she doesn’t, she’s not saying it was cool, but it is. Right. She’s obsessed with that too. Like, oh, how many camps came to my garden and ate the food, right? That stuff. But surprisingly, all the audience actually wants a bit more thrill than the people who are in the middle section. So I see more and more like I play a lot of a game called Arma three, which is like a military simulation. And it’s like one of the best military simulations, right. And there’s a lot of community around it. So it’s less about the game and more about the community. But I see more and more people when I hear the voices on chat. Certainly, it’s like deeper, more mature voices from you know, from the real younger audience that I started playing with 10 years ago, is there’s a big difference, right? People are actually talking strategy, asking people to come down and think it’s a great thing. And I think in that audience, they actually accept way more experimentation than the teenagers do.

Michael Waitze 18:41
This is actually a really interesting progression for me. If you used to sit at home, this is before we all had the connectivity, right? You could play the game in the basement, you’re essentially playing by yourself. Like I remember, we used to play Dungeons and Dragons on import. Right? And that was kind of cool. But we had to get together with like five or six friends to do it either at my house or at your house, or whatever it was. So that was kind of interactive. But video games at some level, even the the what do you call them the FPS the first person shooters in these violence games, right? We’re very individualistic, at least at the beginning. But now you can literally be playing with people, you know, people you don’t know. And I like this statement that you made. It’s less about the game and more about the community. Because I think that’s true, about kind of everything that we do. That’s good, if that makes sense, right? And if that community is a strong community, there are great things that can come out of it on top of the game.

Nirmal David 19:30
Exactly. Like in fact, I see that the biggest communities are built around games or approached sandbox mentalities. Right, where you give the player the ability to do whatever they really want, with all the physics and stuff. So for example, in Arma, one of the biggest things is on the Steam Workshop, the amount of custom machines people built are just incredible. It’s beyond levels that normal AAA sued us do sometimes, right, in fact that you must have heard of this very famous game called pub G. Right, which is like, you know, it’s the biggest thing. Pub G started off as a mod for ARMA. As a mod, right, somebody created a mod, which was basically the exact thing as pub G. And then later it became like people figured that, you know, that whole genre has a massive audience. And then it went on to become its own game, right. And now, you know, everything from fortnight to all those games follow that same basic pattern. Community is definitely one of the strongest things of gaming.

Swapna David 20:28
But having said that, in this community, women are not a very strong force. So the women tend to be not so much of online players, because of the whole being vulnerable to all kinds of gamers. And the behavior towards a women woman player can be quite nasty and quite, quite aggressive. So I think women tend to do less online games. So the community that we’re talking about does not really have a major presence of women in it. It’s more of a male driven community while the game played by women also. So that’s why there’s been a shift in the games for women and this whole other sectors developed.

Michael Waitze 21:09
I understand. I want to talk a little bit more about hobo interactive, and maybe you can talk a little bit about the games that you’re developing the portfolio that you’re building, and how that is going to capitalize on this discussion we’ve been having, having at scale, about this indie game market

Swapna David 21:24
So, Hobo Interactive, it’s Nirmal and me of course, but it’s it’s way more than that our partners are, let’s say, legends and giants in the industry, VFX industry, we’ve been very very lucky to have worked with the best in the world and then to have them have the same dreams as us and join us and work together to build this whole massive dream. Not that we are on call hobo interactive. So our hobos, slate of games have been developed from our engaging story, which words, we started with creating the world of bots first, that’s the first game that’s coming out. But short, it’s an arcade style, raise a game that’s ready for release. And that game is what brought our other partners together and expanded, but we expanded the company in partnership into a larger structure than we are right now. So we’re based in the UK, but we have a strong presence in India, our production team earlier was completely in India, different cities in India remotely a lot. And based also in Hyderabad, our CEO is a VFX legend are other creatives. So between the normal and the live Varma, who was a head of VFX company with them, and he was in India when they won Life of Pi. And the rest of our creative partners who’ve all worked on the mummy The Golden Compass night in the museum, Alvin and chipmunks, they have got three Academy wins in about nearly 10 nominations. So that’s the kind of people who have now on our team working with us creating these games. So we started with game, the world’s first like really engaging story, which was that was our key focus. And then from that, we created the world of the games. So bar charts the game first and then while we are gearing up for bought rods, Game Two, we are also developing a three season bought rod series, because we have all the stories of the world and the characters we want to bring out there. Apart from the boardrooms, IP, we have a platform right now, which will be which will have a game first

Michael Waitze 23:17
15 years ago, if I remember the timing, right, you had a game called Tomb Raider? Yes. And then they made a movie about it. Right, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, whatever, I don’t remember exactly. But what you’re suggesting is you’re doing this in reverse. Now, my mistake, you’re doing the same thing. So you’re building this game, but you’re taking all your movie and your entertainment, your like traditional entertainment experience and saying, we’re going to build this whole infrastructure around every game that we do. Because the commitment to the storytelling is not just to make it a game, but to storyteller on multiple surfaces that are related to each other. So you’re doing the bot rod game, and then building a series at the same time. Yeah,

Swapna David 23:56
so like, the world of these IPs are most most interesting for us. So we need to the characters and their stories from that world, the game has been derived and the series has been derived and the feature film will come out of it and graphic novels and the merchandise. Of course, I’m watching this, we have such cute, engaging merchandise with you, I’m ready to go. So all this come from the world of IPs that we’ve created. And we are like very IP rich, if I may say so we’ve had these stories we’ve been dying to bring out and so now, like I said, apart from the bots IP, we have a platform where IP, and then there’s a third person, Action Adventure IP, that ladder series coming out first, so we don’t always have the game first. So we do a series first for some IP, then bring out the game depending on the whole genre.

Michael Waitze 24:41
I did a lot of reading on this about 10 years ago, around George Lucas and the development of sort of the Star Wars universe where before he made any of the movies he had like hundreds if not 1000s of characters that were going to exist in this universe that he made, and that the merchandising and the movie and all of these things. that he did, were already built kind of before the movies were made. I don’t know just kind of sounds like you’re doing the same thing. But again, Lucas took a, I mean, I don’t want to swear. But you know what I mean a ton of risk, because back then just to create any of that was so expensive. You taking advantage of this, like less expensive infrastructure building to build the stories in the universe first, and then build all these little pieces in the middle of it, which sounds really cool. But But again, for the audience understand, it means that the opportunity that you’re building is not just a gaming opportunity. It’s an IP opportunity, which is a completely different story. Sorry, normal. Go ahead. Yeah.

Nirmal David 25:36
So for me, both are interlinked. Being a gamer, myself and an animator, both worlds, but for me, both are a completely interlinked thing. Like there are so many games, which has a, like a very interesting mechanic. But once you do that, and then you stop playing, you leave it, it’s out of your mind. Yep. Right. And then when you pick it up again, and you feel like trying that out, and you know, it’s just experiential. But I think games are like, you know, our story is built on a wall, you should be able to carry it with you where you go, yeah, like, there are games, which has made me cry, like, really, like, there are games, which I’ve had to stop playing, because it got too depressing for me, like I got so affected by the decisions that I made, that I had to stop playing them really bothered me, I couldn’t sleep, you know, especially, there was this one particular one, if it’s okay to say a name, called This War of Mine, it’s a very simple side sidescroller kind of thing, where you’re managing a bunch of people trying to survive a war, right? You’re not actively going out killing people or anything, you’re just hiding in a house. And then at night, you go out and scrounge for resources, and you come back, and sometimes then you’re back, some raiders might have taken over the place, and somebody is hurt, somebody’s got an illness. So you have to make a decision sometimes, like, you know, do I give this guy medicine? Or do I give that guy food, right, and people die in your watch, right? So it’s, and you start relating with them, because you’re looking at them at such close proximity all the time. And so the nature of that, like, for me, I get really sucked into that story. And I shouldn’t be affected by the characters, right? So it’s a similar thing, like, I feel like the world needs to be rich for any part of that to be believable, or to be really engaging, right. So if you just say, I found a mechanic, you know, some kind of a physical thing, which is great. And then trying to force a game around it, for me feels less intuitive and less engaging than actually having a really rich world where everything is got, you know, its roles to play, there are multiple different stories happening. And then you choose like one section, and you have a thing that you go through, right. But while you’re doing that, you see the other branches, you see that that world is, you know, really real, and then it becomes way more visceral for you. And so, you know, I look at it from that point of view, rather than, you know, just a game mechanic. Let’s make a game out of that. It’s not that

Swapna David 27:45
I don’t think we are unusual in doing this, though. This is like our key strength. There are other games which like numerals would have been doing this. For example, Monument Valley, if I may say, talk about Monument Valley was for me very deeply immersive game, it’s so it’s a casual game, but I felt like I lived the character’s life and went through it. And I like animals. And I stopped and cried, because there was a whole sense of loss and grieving, and it was a very powerful game. And that comes from a powerful story in the background. It’s not just about the moves I’ve made, or the you know, couple of strokes that have gone into it. It’s the whole story in the wall that it’s come from, that’s very, very important now to engage the gamer. So

Michael Waitze 28:22
you just mentioned the word engage. You know, again, you’re not just building games, it’s way more than that. Right? And sure other people have done it. But it feels to me like the way you’re doing it is really unique. And also your your approach to it coming from multiple Academy Award winning people coming into this business, which shocks me to be fair, it means that there seems it sounds to me like there’s this secular change going on, where people that have been very interested in telling stories at scale, and have won awards for telling those stories. And now moving into another, another place where they can tell bigger, more expansive, more immersive, more continuous stories, and they’re on your team. But you mentioned the word engage Swapna. And I’m curious if there’s a way, because of the way you’re employing technology and the way that everybody has a mobile phone, that you can also engage with the gamers themselves on a regular basis to keep them as part of that community. And maybe even let the gamers engage with each other in a way that’s positive. We don’t want GamerGate This is horrible stuff, right? But if they can engage with each other, they should spend more time doing it, which is better for the game itself. Yeah.

Nirmal David 29:24
One of the I think important things for me is like I said, the sandbox environment of you know, where the community is building stuff with sometimes becomes bigger than the game itself. Right where the game essentially becomes like a back end for people to just meet up but they’re actually doing something much bigger than you know, the game itself for the game even intended to begin with, right so many developers will tell you that we put this mechanic in the thinking that we just needed to fill that gap, but it became like the key thing that brought people together and change the nature of the way they approach the game itself. So I think there are two things here. One is that communities are different, like, we are mostly in a western centric gaming environment. Fair enough, where majority of the games are produced in the West, at least the blockbusters are the big ones. But communities in Asia are very different, because culturally are what would you call it our priorities and the way we look at life, the philosophy is very different. Very. So I feel like there is like in India, for example, the game I’m in gaming is still niche, in the sense that not in the mobile gaming market, I’m talking about like a little bit in the double a AAA industry, it’s still niche, one, because of, you know, just the rising middle class is still not caught on to the idea that an X Box is a worthwhile investment. And that’s still changing, though it’s become, you know, it’s becoming normal now to walk into a house and see a console, which wasn’t the case in the 90s, or the 80s. Right? We were very lucky to have an Atari at home, which was like, crazy back then thinking about it in the 80s, yes, but a whole bunch of people now give their kids consoles, whereas in India, the mentality is like, they should be studying to become engineers, doctors, you know, that bankers, whatever it is, right. So, certainly getting a console for your kid is not considered a sin, which is bad parenting, which is amazing for me, right? Because there are so many things that developed from there, including your brains, you know, gaming is not just just doing shit for no reason, you actually do engage your brain, and you know, it is expensive in some way or the other. But culturally, there are differences. And I still feel like the community outreach that comes from games is not addressing those. And I think there is a big gap there in terms of how communities are built in a western centric way. And you know, if I may say so, but I think in Asia, there’s still a gap. And I think that still slows down the rate at which people are coming into the market, or becoming target audience. And I think that’s really something we could tap strongly because we are Asian, we understand that, you know, we understand the philosophy, pickle background they come from and to really engage with them in that way, I think that’s going to be a big game changer as well.

Swapna David 32:08
If you look at the hobo family, and our extended associations with partners, all of us bring with us a wealth of global cultural experience. That goes a long way into what we’re talking about. So recognize, we have been able to recognize potential diverse emerging markets very easily, because so we have been committed to creating games that reflect multiple cultures and preferences. So this strategy also has like partnering with cultural advisors and designing games with diverse characters and culturally rich settings. But also it’s about inclusive, organized and inclusive community events, like to connect with players worldwide, for example, events in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which is very big in gaming right now or Bangkok, apart from, say, UK, Europe and the US Circuit of events.

Michael Waitze 32:54
Do you see yourself doing game specific events or hobo specific events in a way not to compete with but to kind of mirror like what Amazon does for their AWS event, you know, what Google does for IO and stuff like that, where you’re literally getting a bunch of people in a room and saying, Here’s what we’ve done last year, here’s what we expect to do this year. And here’s how we expect to help you engage with us and work with our games, right?

Nirmal David 33:20
So one of the good things about bots is it brings back the old days of you know, sitting with your friends in one room and playing with each other. Right. And I think having like a competitive eSports bot razzing will be a great thing to do. And that’s something I’m really looking forward to playing with someone online. Yes, that’s fine. You know, you do that, and then you get off. But when you’re playing with friends in the same room, it’s a completely different vibe, right. And I think Bothrops is a prime example of bringing that white back. And I’m really looking forward to that. It should be great as a community event, per se. Yeah, it’d be great.

Swapna David 33:54
Also, for families to play the thing about Bottrop ever adult, video game lover in a house with children, it is the best game possible. You know, it’s not a tracer. It’s not violent. It’s aggressive, but not violent. It’s competitive, but it’s high adrenaline, but it’s not really negative in any sense of it as a female protagonist.

Michael Waitze 34:14
I want to come a little bit full circle here. But I feel like the two of you grew up in a non traditional house in India. Is that a fair thing to say? Absolutely. I was in India in 2017 for a startup conference, and there was a man on stage, a young man on stage talking about building an edtech company. And he said very casually, he said, there are only three things an Indian person can become a doctor, which is one of the things you mentioned, an engineer, which is the other thing you mentioned, and a family disappointment. So yeah, but I feel like you are not a disappointment to your family. That besides all the other things that happened to you like what was it like being from a family that was so alternative, and then growing up and then going to Hollywood go into Bollywood winning these awards and doing things that nobody else around you is doing even you said, like visual effects. And the stuff that you were doing animation wasn’t even kind of known in India when you first started doing this. Can you just go back for a little bit and talk to me about like, what was it like growing up being so different from everybody else? Because your friends must have thought your parents are insane.

Nirmal David 35:19
Yeah, well, since you use the word insanity, I should tell you, my dad was a psychotherapist and ran a hospital for 30 years or so. Right. Right. And in fact, there was a rumor in school that, you know, I think his dad started the hospital because he’s bonkers. I got it. Right. And I found out that when I was in ninth grade or something, when people got closer with me, they were like, We really thought for a while. But that’s because by way of looking at things were very different. You know, I was always trying to create things when people were trying to get into fights. It was like a very different kind of environment. One thing we had at home was, nobody stopped us from trying anything new. Yeah, right. Nobody ever said don’t do that. Or don’t say this, or don’t what’s that? Nothing you do? What do you want? And you learn your lessons? Yeah. Right. So there was always the building block. And I think one amazing thing for us was that Swapna is not that much older than me. Right? She’s only like, two and a half years older, right? Even though I look way better, but she’s not. Right? Is

Michael Waitze 36:18
that okay? Believe me, believe me, I’ve got a I’ve got a younger brother, and he wants it to me, I don’t understand how you ever get a girlfriend, girlfriend being as ugly as you are? Anyway.

Nirmal David 36:33
So it’s the same.

Swapna David 36:37
thing better looking we always get in, it’s like, who gets in there faster.

Nirmal David 36:43
I just did it before she did. But so one of the good things about that was we always we hung out together, we have the same friends, right? But it’s like going back home, but also having a friend with you. Right? She can totally be a bossy sister when she wants to don’t get me wrong. But, but there was always that thing of building stuff together. And, you know, coming up with ideas together, I’m assuming that people around us must have looked at our parents and said, maybe this is not the way you should be bringing your kids up, right, there was definitely something there. Like Sapna will tell you, we actually started making our own language, when we were when I was like two or three years or something. And I was like six. And you should do that. Because you were the, you know, initiator of the idea.

Swapna David 37:31
For some reason, I wasn’t very early reader, I started reading very early newspapers. And so by age six, I was reading the reading the daily newspaper, and I was quite a voracious reader. And I decided that fine, it’s actually five and a half that the problem the world was having was that we had too many languages. So I decided that we should invent a new language. So I sat together. So whatever words have never come up with as a two and a half, three year old would be the new word for say, rain, or whatever. And then at some point, we forgot to needs a grammar to make a sentence. And we really got quite far. Obviously, opponents are quite thrilled. And they thought we were onto some, something amazing. But that didn’t go far. But we’ve always been creating our own worlds to say stories, not on words. That’s what that’s been the key thing, the stories and what we wanted to say, and, and you’re just generally excited. And for my parents, I think what I really need to say is numeral they touched on the topic, what they’ve given us really is fearlessness in terms of fearless dreaming. I’ve never heard my father say, oh, but you can’t do that. Because this might happen, or do you might fail. We’ve had zero failure of fear of failure. So having the entire complete lack of fear of failure, that’s like a huge thing to give a child. Yeah, we don’t, I’ve never neither of us have ever thought, Oh, what if we do this and it doesn’t work. That’s never been our thought process has always been, oh, let’s do this. And then maybe we can do this. And know when we should do this. It’s always been how we lived our entire life. And at some point that does work. So if something doesn’t work, you just find another way to go about it, or go down a path and then say, oh, doesn’t work, we go find something else. It’s never a question of failing, or what’s happening. And it’s always like, Oh, my God, there’s so much to do, and so many stories to say, and so many people to meet. And it’s always been that. So we’ve been very lucky with our parents and the way we’ve been brought up

Nirmal David 39:19
and dreaming big. I think we take it for granted. But when I went out of home and started meeting people in college in other parts of India, yeah, I realize how big a difference that is. Like, I still remember, you know, starting a band when we were like 13 or 12 or something. And then my mother’s like, you know, What’s your intention with this? And I was like, What do you mean, you’re gonna get the Grammy next year? Why are you engineers? They’re like, what are you asking? Like? I mean, certainly that you asking.

Swapna David 39:47
Me sorry, I must interrupt for the story. So growing up, we were always convinced that we were going to get our academy awards, individual ones. And as an older sister, I always seem to have more pocket money than normal and I would be always funding is like, right so I write all the time. So during one fight, Nirmal said, When I get my academy award, I will not Thank you. So this he must have been like maybe 11 or something. And I was 13 or 14. So I said, since we were kids, and we had no idea that the Academy would send you tickets or whatever, we had no idea, right? So we said, I said, very confidently, but then I’m not going to give you the money to go get the ticket to go for the Academy. So how are you going to not thank me? This has been a regular conversation, there was no doubt about these things not happening. It’s always been a given. Yeah, you dream you make it happen.

Michael Waitze 40:33
I love it. One of the things that made me really happy when I walked into my own daughter’s room when she was like 14 or 15 years old was she put up a poster on the wall? That said, The only regret you would have in life for the things you don’t you didn’t do? Well, not the things you did do. And I thought, Okay, this is gonna be a great kid just reminds me of like, what the thing that your parents infused you with as well. And that made me super happy anyway, go ahead.

Swapna David 41:02
It makes a world of difference in how you really live your life. What is it to achieve? I mean, we may not always always get where we want to go. But the fact that we even try it, that makes a huge difference. Exactly. If you don’t try the rate of failure, like you say is 100%. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 41:16
And I think I whispered into my daughter’s here, which as she was growing up, like Have no fear, just like continuously. So it just became a thing that she thought. Yeah.

Swapna David 41:25
So Michael, like Nirmal said, We’ve been friends. And that’s been a great as kids that first of all, a rare thing. I mean, we want to kill each other, of course, half the time, but the other half time, we are great friends working together. And the fact that we’ve learned to work together has played into our output and what we come up with. And we’ve been all the more lucky because we’ve always gone ahead and made friends like family all our life. So and the fact that these fans are now our partners, and part of the structure that’s been set up is for us, hugely gratifying. And because it’s friends coming together and creating these IPs in the world, we’re sitting on a goldmine of IPs and games, everyone’s invested the same way. It’s not just me. And then we’ll everybody’s there to say their stories. And it’s their company. And it’s amazing. And we have like, like, we talked about what was the IP with the multiple verticals, then we have another platform and IP, and we have the action adventure IP. And apart from that, and that’s all just phase one. We also have a mobile division, which is turning out for mobile games as we speak. And our Phase Two has another huge explorer slash building IP being developed and produced. So I think this all comes from getting to work with friends and friends like family. So that’s been the biggest, biggest joy of creating hope on tractor when and looking forward to what’s going to happen in the next 10 years.

Nirmal David 42:49
One thing that’s really important and what Swapna said right now is you know, there are people who might think your vision is good, and they might back you but when people join your vision, become part of it. It’s like the community thing in gaming, right? There’s nothing more satisfying that you know, when that happens, and I think that we’ve been very lucky.

Michael Waitze 43:09
Okay, I really want to thank both of you for doing this. This has been an insanely great conversation. And to be fair, I’ve learned a ton I love talking to people that are deeply immersed in a business in which I’m not operating because I get a with a much different perspective on it. And to be fair, our listeners get a different perspective on it as well Swapna and nirmal David the co-Founders of Hobo Interactive. That was truly awesome. Thank you so much for your time today for doing this.

Swapna David 43:31
Thank you for having us. Michael. It’s been amazing talking to you. You made it very easy, and it’s fantastic. Thank you for that was great.

Nirmal David 43:39
I got to insult Swapna a little bit on air.


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