The Filipino answer to Flappy Bird

Ezra Ferraz
Pugo, made by husband and wife team Camy and Patrick Cabral, has similar mechanics with Flappy Bird

VISUAL FEAST. Pugo is a masterpiece with drool-worthy lettering and detailed illustration

MANILA, Philippines – Many of you have played Flappy Bird, but have you played Pugo? It’s a game with similar mechanics made by Filipino husband and wife team, Camy and Patrick Cabral.

The reception to Pugo has been as wide and varied as the reception to Flappy Bird. This is most apparent in the terminology they use to describe Pugo. Some writers and gamers have referred to it as a “Flappy Bird clone,” as though the Cabrals simply performed some sort of copy-and-paste job of the original game. 

Others use gentler terminology. They say that Pugo was “inspired by Flappy Bird.” Phrases like this strike me as more accurate – the Cabrals built upon a game, rather than simply cloned it.

Phrases like this also point to the strength of the Cabrals, and the reason why I thought it would be appropriate to interview them. The Cabrals took a known, popular, and proven commodity in Flappy Bird and found a way to put their own spin on it: they localized it.

The speed with which they did so is also impressive: it took them only 10 days to produce the application. The Cabrals can thus serve as a lesson on the importance of capitalizing upon the right opportunities as they come along. This notion may seem like a given, but it cannot be overstated enough. As entrepreneurs and as business people, we are often guilty of over-thinking or over-planning our ideas rather than just going out into the world and trying our hand at building them.

Localization

Patrick Cabral made Pugo with his wife, Camy. Photo courtesy of the Cabrals

As mentioned, Pugo is similar to Flappy Bird in game mechanics. Both involve tapping the touchscreen at the right time to move a character through a series of oncoming obstacles. The most striking difference between the two is in the fact Pugo is clearly made for a Filipino audience (even if the application is available to anyone on the app store).

This begs the question: why localize a game to Filipino culture? Yes, the Cabrals are Filipino, but given the popularity of Flappy Bird, wouldn’t it make more sense to produce a generic version of the game? Surely this would be the way to go since the appeal of Flappy Bird was also transnational.

Patrick thought differently. His thinking came down to a simple truism: “Filipinos have a soft spot for everything nationalistic.” In other words, by catering to a narrower audience – one that took pride in its heritage – they would stand a better chance of differentiating themselves from the glut of Flappy Bird imitators flooding the app store. In effect, they would get more downloads.

And they have. To date, more than 100,000 people have played Pugo, pointing to the clear value in localizing foreign ideas. And the extent of the localization need not even be particularly complex – Pugo’s, in fact, was mostly cosmetic.

Patrick said, “Most people respond to eye-candy. If you can make Filipino culture look beautiful in front of an international audience, then you have a great chance of making it. People can forgive some details as long as it looks beautiful.”

He continued, “The greatest challenge is having a feature that will set you apart from the rest of the clones that people will enjoy. We did that with Pugo – we added a feature which a lot of people deemed enjoyable, which is adding an extra life to prolong their gameplay in the form of our national flag.”

It’s having little touches in the game like the Philippine flag that make Pugo attractive to Filipino gamers. They’re also what make Pugo attractive to the local press, which has homed in on the success of the Cabrals. Patrick admits as much: “We might not have gotten a lot of press had we not added the local flavor.”

Innovation

Camy focused on the character development of Pugo

One critique of the Cabrals is developers and creatives as talented as themselves should have sought out to build an entirely new game rather than merely build upon one that was popular at the time. In other words, they should have leaned more toward innovation than imitation.

Such thinking belies the original goals of the Cabrals. They never sought out to create the most original Indie game. Pugo, in fact, was conceived as an experiment of sorts. Patrick said, “The goal of this game was to learn how to publish an app. That way, when we are ready to release our original game, we won’t have so much trouble.”

Patrick continued, “We would have learned what users want in a game, how they respond to ads, how long they can wait for an update or a bug fix, how far can eye candy get your game, and how the media affects the number of downloads.”

Patrick understands that the learning curve for app development is steep, and they are still only on the ascent. He said, “Innovation happens though code, not through art. Even if we want a more innovative game, we have yet to develop the skills necessary for that or the money to pay the people who can execute our vision.”

To succeed in the long-run, Patrick is committed to creating truly innovative games as an indie developer in the Philippines. Patrick said, “While we see that we can actually make profit from beautifying an existing game, it’s not really something that we want for our business model. While we are still trying to be better in programming and we are still not able to implement innovative features, we would settle on releasing well-polished apps, but the ultimate goal is to produce beautiful and innovative games.”

But Patrick is quick to caution about spending too much time working on any one game. “We already spent at least 6 months trying to learn game development, and I think the best advice that we can give is to create something simple and release it. If it didn’t work, at least you didn’t spend a lot of time with it.”

And those are more than just words – the Cabrals had to hold back their inner perfectionists when releasing Pugo in order to get it out of the gate. Patrick said, “We noticed a few bugs when we released Pugo but we really had no time to fix it then – as it actually took us at least a week to release an update. We would have missed the window, which was Flappy Bird’s popularity, if we tried to make the game perfect for the release.”

When explaining why the build and release cycle is so quick, Patrick’s logic is hard to argue with. “It’s not worth it if your innovation is going to cost you a year to develop,” he said. “The first one to get it out on the market is always the one that wins.” – Rappler.com

 

Rappler business columnist Ezra Ferraz graduated from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, where he taught writing for 3 years. He now consults full-time for educational companies in the United States. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Follow him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz

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