Lebanese mobile game reaches Top 5 in US, Middle East App Stores

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Ever since Birdy Nam Nam launched in August 2011, to reach 100,000 downloads on its first day, 450,000 times in its first month, and 1.5 million times in its first six months, the founders of Lebanese game developer Game Cooks- one half of the Birdy Nam Nam team- have been hoping to recapture that success.

It was a rare moment for the Arab gaming scene, although the success of Birdy Nam Nam has now been dwarfed by Pou, the too-cute Tamagotchi game built by a 24-year-old Lebanese entrepreneur, which now sees around 300,000 downloads a day.

However, Game Cooks- founded by brothers Lebnan and Arz Nader in the wake of a fallout at Birdy Nam Nam- is on the path to being a consistent hitmaker. Three weeks ago, the team released Scrab It, a word scramble mobile game for Android and iOS, that saw over 160,000 downloads in its first week. It quickly hit the Top Five for Word Games in the U.S. App Store and Top Five in the overall Games category in countries across the Arab world, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait.

The game completes what founder Lebnan Nader describes as their mind-straining educational series, testing players’ memories and knowledge before the new school year. Their previous two games in the set, NERDS and Déjà Vu, each have a very distinct and even unusual feel that conforms to Game Cooks's quirky style. LAte last year, Déjà Vu itself reached #1 for iOS in several countries across the globe.

This title, like Déjà vu, puts a new spin on a classic game: a word’s letters are scrambled and players are given a topic or hint to help them rearrange the letters to make the correct word. For example, the game offers the hint: “English made car” and the letters: “YLTENEB” and players have to reorder them to spell “Bentley.”

Topics range from geography to fashion, sports to food, celebrities to popular brands. I admit I had particular trouble with the fashion and sports topics as I’m not very informed in these areas, and found it frustrating that I couldn’t progress without using the limited free turn-skip function.

But in the game, players can buy more of these powerups- like freezing the clock, skipping a turn or revealing the order of some letters- as in-game purchases, on top of paying to turn off adds or to unlock the premium version.

I enjoyed the game, but found it to be much more simple than their other two titles, and not quite as engaging as my favorite game they created, Captain Oil. But perhaps simplicity is what players like most. “I believe word-of-mouth got us the downloads and, since it's one of those cool and simple games, it got good feedback,” says Nader.

The team sourced topics and answers in-house, splitting general subjects up among team members who all compiled a shared list of questions and narrowed them down to the best ones.

Although this game fits within Game Cooks' current theme of developing puzzle games, Nader insists that the team isn't limited to a given category but rather continues to ask “what do we feel like creating?”, then simply iterates until it’s a viable product. Scrab It itself saw three redesigns before they came up with this final version.

He admits that he’s not sure if this is the best strategy for creating games, but right now, he says, “I prefer letting my team explore, testing their creativity without limits, and seeing where that takes us. We had a more ‘educational side’ the past 9 months, now we're feeling more ‘action.'"

Their next title, Fly for Peace, is in the works and will be a sequel of sorts to the studio’s first game, Run for Peace, which saw the hero dodging explosives, missiles and oil spills to “spread peace” in maps across the region. It will be interesting to see how they revisit their first game style after some success with these more recent titles.

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