Wednesday, 26 February 2014

New frontiers

THE story of free video game app Flappy Bird makes for an interesting case study. Created in May 2013, the game rose to sudden and massive global popularity at the beginning of the year, topping the download charts in online app stores and in the process stirring up quite a bit of controversy. For the video game critics and reviewers, the simplicity of the game’s design and aim, as well as its high difficulty level meant the game did not score very highly with them in terms of quality. In fact some actively advised persons not to jump on the Flappy Bird bandwagon.

And yet, they did. More than 50 million times, actually.

With the boom in popularity coming some months after the game’s release, there was speculation that the game’s developer, Vietnamese Dong Nguyen, had used bots to artificially boost downloads and move his app up the charts, thus drawing it to the attention of the millions who access the app store.

His decision to remove the app from online stores only increased the mystery surrounding the success of the game, since he was reportedly earning US$50 000 a day from in-app advertising revenue. Nonetheless, Nguyen insisted that his decision was a response to the massive public scrutiny he was subjected to due to the popularity of the game, and not due to any legal diffculties. He has made and continues to makes other apps which remain available for download, he said.

One lesson that can be drawn from the Flappy Bird story is that despite all the research and trials that often go into product development, sometimes the simplest concepts can achieve great success – it is reported that it took Nguyen just two days to create Flappy Bird. How the app came to prominence among the millions that are available online remains a mystery, but what is a fact is that once it got the public’s attention it got very popular, very fast. It just goes to show that sometimes the appearance and reputation of popularity might be all that is needed to earn real popularity. This is something that all marketers around the world want to have happen to their products. Although very basic in design and concept, the game managed to tap into an instinctual part of the human psyche, making it very addictive. It seems players simply could not stand to be bested by such an apparently simple challenge.

The Flappy Bird story is also an excellent reminder of the opportunities that exist in software development, no matter where you are in the world. Job opportunities in this part of the world for highly skilled individuals have always been at a premium, hence the brain drain which hampers the development of our national economies. However, in a field such as software development, there are no borders.

Of course, not everyone can expect to repeat Nguyen’s success with Flappy Bird – perhaps not even the man himself! In business, the formula for success cannot be bottled and mass produced; timing, luck and a host of other factors must come together in the right combination. But while it is always encouraged to dream big, one should not do so at the risk of overlooking opportunities closer to home. One regional insurance company has had an app developed specifically for its clients and the Barbados Tourism Authority recently launched a downloadable island guide application. The market for these types of products indigenous to the region is yet to be fully explored.

The small island states of the Caribbean are said to have limited resources, but what some of them do have is extensive Internet access and mobile phone saturation. This provides an encouraging environment for the software development sector to flourish and it is hoped that seeds planted thus far in this field will eventually bear fruit in abundance.

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