In the 8-bit Baoverse app, it’s okay to play with your food

We catch up with Hato’s Ken Kirton and Bao co-founder Shing Tat Chung about another exciting food project, making dining more digital.

25 January 2023

When you hear the words Hato and Bao in the same sentence, you can place a healthy bet on the work being distinctive. On 20 January, the design practice launched an exciting new project with the restaurant – following news of a Bao book from Phaidon coming this year. Titled the Baoverse, it is an interactive app that gamifies the restaurant experience, giving users the opportunity to select their favourite Bao character and explore digital locations via an 8-bit pixel city, complete with art by Marcelo Colmenero.

The Baoverse is the first release from Not in Game, a platform made in collaboration between Hato and Bao, and one we can expect to see more of in the future. After meeting over a decade ago and collaborating on the likes of Cooking with Scorsese, Ken Kirton and Bao co-founder Shing Tat Chung hope to use the new platform to help businesses expand their restaurant offering into the digital sphere.


Hato / Bao: Baoverse (Copyright © Not in Game / Bao, 2023)

The Baoverse depicts each Bao site as a different building on a “bustling downtown street”, a press release describes. The point is to enhance a user’s trip to a real Bao store, letting users level up an in-app “passport” by visiting sites and unlocking real life benefits along the way. The app has its own digital currency – Baocoin – and even bigger aims for the future. “If a user purchases a T-shirt through [the] Convni store in real life, we are working for that to be reflected in the app so that their avatar in the Baoverse will immediately be able to wear a digital version too,” says Ken.

While the Metaverse underpins the project, the Baoverse is decidedly more retro in execution. “Bao were certainly one, or if not the early adopter of bringing 8-bit design language into the food and hospitality sector,” says Ken. The new app is an extension of that concept, with Ken citing Sims, Pokémon and WarioWare as inspirations for the visuals. “I’ve always felt that the food and gaming industry are strongly linked and go hand in hand, it’s just that as a child we are taught not to play with your food,” says Shing. “But the two are built around social interactions and enjoyment. This juxtaposition is something that we are really interested in exploring further with Not in Game.”

Marcelo Colmenero’s cities are meant to spark escapism and feel like a totally new landscape – “not London and not quite Taiwan but a new world to explore,” says Ken. The app also leans into a zoomed-out, birds eye view of an in-game city, something the pair says has always been present in Bao’s branding. “One of the main inspirations were the older versions of SimCity or RollerCoaster Tycoon. You as a player exploring the world following along the journey trying to become a citizen by the amount of locations you visit.”

GalleryHato / Bao: Baoverse (Copyright © Not in Game / Bao, 2023)

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Hato / Bao: Baoverse (Copyright © Not in Game / Bao, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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