As the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign started heating up, The Washington Post launched its Floppy Candidate app, a smart, fun-filled spin-off of the hit Flappy Bird game.
Instead of feathered friends, Floppy Candidate features the presidential candidates as characters. Game play pokes a bit of smart political fun, plus it has an educational component. While navigating around obstacles, players earn coins for correctly answering news and trivia questions.
The response to Floppy Candidate has been a mix of surprise and delight — exactly the reaction our diverse team of engineers, product designers, and editors wanted.
The app was born out of the desire to step outside the box in the way we present our content. Our team was challenged with developing an original and creative way to engage audiences that are not our traditional subscribers.
We wanted the experience to be fun, with some tongue-in-cheek political coverage sprinkled on top. We also wanted to launch before the holidays, when there’s a lot of buzz around games and many people receives phones and tablets as gifts.
The project had an ambitious timeline, going from rounds of brainstorming to the official app launch in just several weeks. We are newsies, not gamers. So we had to figure out what worked and what didn’t through experimentation and trial-and-error.
Over the past five years, we’ve gotten really good at building native apps for iOS and Android, due to our experience of building so many and maintaining them.
Once we had the basic idea for Floppy Candidate, it only took a few weeks to build a prototype. We had an open-source version of Flappy Bird from Github to work from, which gave us a huge lead on the development. Also, everyone working on Floppy Candidate was having fun building it, so everyone put in a lot of extra effort.
The engineers built it with designers working alongside them. We followed our standard product rollout plan, which involves marketing, legal, editorial, and others to make everyone aware that we were building this game and planned to release it before the end of the year.
Floppy Candidate is a product of total collaboration. Ideas came from developers and political reporters, as well as a few willing children of Post employees.
We had help from the professors and fellows of the Journalism Leadership Transformation (JoLT) program at American University. We connected with them through networking events, and they were brilliant beta testers. They gave us a lot of feedback on the gaming dynamics and features we could possibly build.
The children of Post employees provided some of the best insights. We have super smart people at the Post, and in turn they have super smart kids! The feedback from them was great. That really helped us craft the style of the quiz questions to be short and quick while being informative. If we made the kids laugh, we knew we would make the adults laugh, so that was a great metric.
Floppy Candidate has been a success. We’ve loved hearing from users, particularly from a high school government teacher who used Twitter to challenge his ninth graders to a Floppy Candidate battle, awarding the top three performers the ability to earn extra credit.
And we’d be happy to hear more. Send your thoughts, questions or requests for extra credit to @FloppyCandidate.