Skyless Game Studios Co-Founder Arad Malhotra is 'Serious' About Video Games
The Drexel grad and video game entrepreneur talks about what's next for the philanthropic game company.
June 3, 2015
Arad Malhotra’s path to Drexel’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship was anything but typical. The New Delhi native and Drexel alum co-founded Skyless Game Studios in 2012 with fellow Dragons Chris Bennett and Oleks Levtchenko. Since then, the company has been working to root out corruption, help children with autism and improve transparency in government — all through video games.
We caught up with Arad to talk about his experience as an entrepreneur, why he picked Drexel and what’s next for his philanthropic video game studio.
You’ve taken quite an interesting route to West Philadelphia. Why did you pick Drexel?
I was born in New Delhi, India. At 13, my parents, my younger brother and I moved to the United Arab Emirates where I grew up and attended the Delhi Private School.
A lot of people ask me why I moved all the way across the world from a “top” destination like Dubai to Philadelphia, and my honest answer is always Drexel. I was always interested in studying computer science and building a career in video games. I chose Drexel, not just because it has a top video game program and gave me an awesome merit scholarship, but also because I was genuinely excited about the co-op program after learning about it through my uncle, a 2004 graduate.
Tell us the origin story of Skyless Game Studios. Where did the idea for a socially conscious, “serious games” studio come from?
Oleks and I often dabbled in different entrepreneurial ideas but never really got anything serious together. While I was away at my co-op in Germany (at Siemens), Chris and Oleks started a company called Hyperion Code that aimed to develop a collection of apps that increased personal and professional productivity. They had the idea and business model, but no technical capability or experience to develop apps. That’s when I got back from Germany and decided to join them as a technical co-founder.
So we started developing apps and two months into development, we realized that Google started making almost exactly the same apps, but for free. We decided to fail fast and pivot. We went back to the drawing board and brainstormed on what we were really passionate about. The two things that really stood out were gaming and philanthropy. So we decided, why not merge the two and create something unique?
That's how we became the first “philanthropic game design” company. There are other “serious games” companies that do games for K-12 education, training, etc., but none with a pure focus on global issues like corruption, terrorism etc.
What’s been your favorite project at Skyless so far? Why?
Follow the Money, our video game-based anti-corruption training for law enforcers. It was our first project, it’s our largest project and it has been evolving over two years of development. Being born in India, I saw a crazy amount of corruption, bribery and malpractice going on in daily life and it really affected me. When I was old enough to understand, I realized how it has really hurt and curtailed the growth of the country.
It’s gotten us some amazing traction as a young startup including being invited to the United Nations and the Forbes 30 Under 30 summit.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered as you built the company?
The learning curve associated with balancing business development, managing a rapidly growing team and trying to constantly keep innovating our technology.
What is Skyless working on now?
We are currently working on multiple projects: Follow the Money, Assemble it (a game for kids with autism), City Hall (a game that teaches people about transparency in governance) and Life Leap (a healthcare awareness game with proceeds going toward vaccinations and health supplies in India), just to name a few. We also have some “secret” projects that will be announced in the near future.
What’s next? Tell us about the biggest things on the horizon.
We have a lot of big things in the works. To begin with, we are planning on three to four product launches almost simultaneously within the span of the next few months. We are also looking into partnerships with some major non-profit and social impact companies. The biggest, however, is the completion and launch of Follow the Money, which we are going to customize and deploy five countries over the course of the next year. Once we get feedback and measure the success of the training, we plan to scale the solution to multiple countries and adapt it for other industries in need of similar training. Simply put, we are excited to empower the world in the fight against corruption using video games.