Where do you get your news? How do you get your news? It’s no surprise that the channels through which readers (users? customers?) can access timely information on what’s happening in the world are multiplying — think beyond Facebook’s Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, a virtual reality video viewed through Google Cardboard, a massive one-way group chat on WhatsApp.
The Washington Post is trying out another means of delivering good old #content: through a free 8-bit–style phone game in the vein of the short-lived mobile phenomenon Flappy Bird.
In the Post’s “Floppy Candidate,” available Monday for iPhone, Android, and in the Amazon app store, users (readers? players?) can choose from the buffet of 2016 presidential candidates and tap that avatar through a range of obstacles like the Washington Monument, old-fashioned tape recorders, and even a Trump Tower. Hit Trump’s head on any one of those obstacles, for instance, and it’s game over.
Players can collect coins and answer topical trivia questions. Answer a trivia question, and get pointed to a Post story on that very topic that opens within the app: Which country, for instance, has collected nearly half a million signatures to bar Donald Trump from entering? Answer: the United Kingdom.
What’s the logic behind Post developers, designers, and product people working on an admittedly addictive game where the entertainment value seems to outweigh the news value? As the Post’s director of digital products and design Joey Marburger explained to me (the game took only a few weeks to develop in-house):
It started in our new experiences team which is a combination of engineering, product and design. We wanted to build something fun and that led to a game. But we took the angle that whatever we built had to be fun first. The news aspect had to be fully integrated and more of a secondary feature. That’s why how the news quiz aspect came about. Once we showed a few people in the newsroom we knew we were on to something. Once our executive team played with it we started planning the launch.
The “fun” element was key in the development of Floppy Candidate, according to Marburger:
What has prepared us for this is shipping products on a regular basis. We have a great structure for communication and product development. Once we knew what we were building, we almost went on autopilot in the same way we’ve done native app development before. The issues we ran into were a lot of the creative direction of the game’s features. We wanted to add our own touch while keeping the core game play similar to Flappy Bird. The whole design process was very democratic between the engineers and designers. We talked out every feature and made a lot of tough choices to protect the main goal, which was to have fun.
This mobile game project isn’t totally out of left field, as the Post has been prolific in the mobile arena and has is aggressively growing its audience through social platforms, apps, and more. (The Post reportedly just had another good month in web traffic).
“[M]obile game apps is a huge, growing market,” Marburger said. “That also helped us stay focused even though we discussed a web version as well as other platforms. That’s still a possibility though. Because the game was so inspired by Flappy Bird, which was a mobile game, that helped narrow our focus as well.”
The injection of interactivity into the news-reading experience is of course nothing new, from news quizzes that get readers to compare their scores to other readers’, to attempts to reward readers with merit badges for sharing stories. And for its Apple Watch app, rather than wrestling with news alerts for a tiny screen, BuzzFeed created what is essentially a Tamagotchi pet.
“Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient,” is the Amazonian mentality espoused by the Post’s owner Jeff Bezos. With random treats like Floppy Candidate, the Post seems to be doing just that.