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Dorothy Orina left engineering behind to pursue game development at Maliyo Games

In a moment of dissatisfaction, while working at a prestigious engineering company in Turkey, Dorothy Orina made a decision that changed the course of her career.  Although she enjoyed her time in Turkey and her engineering studies, she decided to leave both behind to pursue her passion for game development. Today she works at Maliyo Games, based in Lagos, Nigeria.

My first encounter with Orina was in 2022 while documenting the achievements of the Game Up Africa Program, a Maliyo Games initiative. At that time, the Nigerian-based studio’s game development training program had tripled its participants in just a year, with Google on board as a partner. Orina stood out among the participants I featured in the piece. After graduating as the overall best-performing student, she swiftly joined Maliyo Games as an intern in early 2023 and months later became Game Up Africa’s Program Manager. 

Kenyan dodgeball

Orina’s childhood didn’t revolve around video games, but she cherished outdoor activities like skipping rope and playing the Kenyan dodgeball, Kati. She’d introduce unique challenges to make them even more enjoyable. “I enjoyed the thrill of playing games with friends and family. I still regularly engage in many outdoor games and board games. My favorite is Kenya at 50. I love a good time with my loved ones. I’m also very competitive and playing these games with them makes me feel alive” In high school, she sought to break the monotony of boarding life by boldly joining the drama club. Despite initially shying away from how big the club was at her school, she discovered her talent on stage. “Apparently I was really good. I just didn’t know it yet. I ended up performing in 2 nationals for 2 consecutive years.”

After high school, Orina joined PACEmakers International, a group that helps children in underserved areas get a good education. At Koma Rock Primary School, Orina took the initiative to lead the drama club after hearing about the teachers’ plan to revive it. She successfully trained the students for a term and led them through their regional competitions. Building on her experience at PACEmakers, Orina co-founded Page Turners in late 2021. She explains, “Back in high school, my friends and I visited a children’s shelter in Dagoretti, Kenya, and saw that the kid’s lives and ambitions revolved around their immediate surroundings. So, we organized fun activities and brought in volunteers to talk about their careers, read books with the kids, and introduce new perspectives to expose them to the outside world. We even built them a library and showcased some of the projects we were working on. One of these was a functional robot arm by one of our volunteers. It was amazing to see the kids getting excited about learning and thinking bigger about their future careers.”

Mechatronic engineering

Orina’s creativity continued to shine in university. She recalls, “A friend wrote a stage play and asked me to direct it. I also wanted to perform, so I did both. It was well-received, with a large audience and positive feedback.” Despite studying mechatronic engineering, she explored various artistic pursuits. She invested her savings in a sewing machine to create unique fashion pieces and designed gift cards with pop-ups. “I customized the cards to suit each person’s personality and interests. People were impressed because these were tailored to their tastes, unlike anything on the market.” She humorously recalls, “The most frequent question I was asked on campus was ‘What can you not do?’ because I was involved in so many activities.” 

Studying at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology where innovation was highly encouraged and facilitated by the school in the form of training and startup acceleration, Orina learned new skills like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) development. However, experimenting with prototypes required specific expensive equipment. This led her to venture into game development where she could easily test on her PC or phone while using the same software and programming language for extended reality (XR) development. Orina set up virtual labs for her school, using AR technology. She showcased her prototypes to her supervising professor outlining the benefits of immersive technology for engineering students. “He was pleased with the idea, so he gave me the go-ahead to do it as my final year project.” During an inter-university business competition, Orina pitched an AR showcase for furniture and household items and won. This inspired the establishment of iPop, a startup that enhances teaching through immersive technology. They would later develop AR Edu, an app that makes education fun and immersive by placing interactive learning materials in students’ spaces. 

Dynamic and creative

After graduating, Orina embarked on an eight-month internship in Turkey. Reflecting on the experience, she notes,  “The repetitive nature of the work made me realize that I prefer a more dynamic and creative space. Working on the same thing every day became draining. So I had to cut my internship short after three months. I wanted to spend the rest of the time transitioning into something else that aligns better with my interests. It was an opportune time because, after those 3 months, Maliyo Games announced their internships. So on my very last week in Turkey, I was applying for an internship as I changed my flights. I did all the tests within that period. Then when I came back, I got feedback that I had been accepted for the game development internship.” While at Maliyo Games, she realized her passion for organizing programs, so when she joined the team full-time and got promoted to program manager, she embraced the role wholeheartedly.

One of the things Orina loves about her role is the personal connections she makes during Creative Tuesdays, informal chats where participants share their motivations and experiences. “While learning game development, I struggled to get a community. I only had one other person in my network that was also developing games. That’s why I cherished Game Up Africa so much when I got wind of it. It boosted my learning significantly. I want to create a similar learning space and community for other people looking to join the game industry.”

Made in Africa

Currently, she’s focused on launching in-person Game Up Africa meet-ups in Lagos and Nairobi, complemented by online streaming options. These sessions cater to programmers, designers, and game enthusiasts. Notable recent success stories from the program include Akinkumi Marvelous, who joined Maliyo Games after building his portfolio during the Game Art Academy, a subsidiary of Game Up Africa. As they transition from virtual to more physical meetings, Orina eagerly anticipates a more cohesive community where participants learn, share, and network to move the industry forward.

She faces challenges with stereotypes about working in the video games industry. People often question if it’s an actual career path. To counter this, she explains, “When I tell people what I do I start from a point of software engineering. And then, I narrow it down to developing games, because when you just tell them you’re working in the games industry they already think it is a joke. So it’s the perception.” Despite challenges, she finds motivation in industry updates saying, “Maliyo Games just recently announced Disney Iwaju’s Rising Chef. It’s a game in collaboration with Disney Games, based on the Disney Iwaju animation that premiered in February and it’s big. It’s something that you can show people who don’t understand the whole games industry career and say ‘Hey! look this is happening. This is being made in Africa and I am part of it.’”

Valuable mentorships

Orina finds strength in her close-knit family and friends, “It helps to be surrounded by people who are also intentional about being the best version of themselves. It keeps me going, knowing that we are all pushing, working hard, and moving forward together.” In her career, Orina receives mentorship from various individuals, including Hugo Obi, the founder of Maliyo Games, and Walid Kilonzi, CEO of Fallohide. They provide valuable insights and help her analyze the true impact of her work, guiding her experimentation and decision-making process. Orina expresses gratitude, stating, “Working closely with Hugo Obi, who’s been in the industry for more than 10 years, has given me a better perspective and understanding of how the industry works, what methods work and what doesn’t.”

Orina’s projects, like AR Edu by iPop, gained attention from Business Daily Africa, IEEE magazine, and Kenyan newspapers, providing publicity for her and the technology. Attending Africa Games Week in 2023 was a dream come true for her. She says, “I’ve wanted to go for ages! It’s the biggest game industry event in Africa and it was awesome. I met cool people working on amazing projects, and learned about our industry’s history, and where we’re headed. I also got to mentor upcoming studios at the Games for Change Africa Festival.” Reflecting on her journey, she advises her younger self to “Keep re-examining my interests. It took me a while to realize even though I enjoy the technicality of engineering, the repetitive nature of the work didn’t particularly suit my interests.  I’ve always been experimental and had lots of interests. I’m all about deep reflections now to stay on track.”

Wendi Ndaki
Wendi Ndaki
Wendi Ndaki is a versatile visual artist, writer, and passionate technology enthusiast with a keen interest in the intersection of art and technology. With a Bachelor's degree in Information Systems Technology, Wendi has accumulated 5+ years of experience as a writer in the gaming industry. She is deeply committed to merging her two passions: art and IT (technology), finding the perfect harmony where they converge. The video games industry, with its seamless fusion of art and tech, has become her chosen home. Through her writing and animated videos, Wendi aims to bridge the information gap, empowering creative tech businesses to thrive and flourish in their endeavours.

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