The story caused quite a flap around the world: a pigeon was detained in India on charges of espionage after it flew across the border from Pakistan and into the village of Pathankot. The news fired up social media users on both sides of the border, with hashtags #PigeonVsIndia and #IfIWereAPigeon trending widely in Pakistan as Twitter users mocked India’s spy agencies.
While some used the incident to further stoke a 68-year-old rivalry, others, like game developer Tahir Mahmood spotted a business opportunity. His Pindi-based company, THM Apps, released a game based on the exploits of a ‘spy pigeon’.
Since its release on June 5, Spy Pigeon: Secret Mission has averaged more than 300 downloads per day from Google Play Store. Gamers all over the world, including India, have been sending pigeons into “enemy territory to conduct a highly sensitive secret spy mission.” Google Play Store currently lists 16 ‘spy pigeon’ games, all uploaded to the site just days after the Pakistani pigeon crossed the border.
Some, like Wisdom IT Solutions’ Spy Pigeon Bird Shooting rose through the charts faster than others: it has been downloaded more than 50,000 times. Created by Atif Mahmood, Muzammal Hussain, Awais Amjad and Nabeel Akram in just 36 hours, the four software developers from Bahawalpur’s Islamia University saw it as on opportunity to ridicule India’s security forces. “We thought it would be a fun joke amongst friends that would make the Indian army look more stupid than it already is,” said Muzammal.
Like most of the hastily created spy pigeon games, Spy Pigeon Bird Shooting has a rudimentary design. But players are not downloading it in droves for the gameplay.
Users from both Pakistan and India have been trading a volley of insults in the reviews. “If a pigeon managed to scare you [India], what will happen when the Pakistan Army crosses the border?” asked one user. Another urged Pakistanis to ‘fight like men’ rather than through games.
Tahir Mahmood’s game, though not as successful as Spy Pigeon Bird Shooting, has side-stepped such quarrels, perhaps due its mild content rating of 3+ and the absence of any gunplay. Spy Pigeon Bird Shooting is rated 16+ for ‘strong violence’.
For Mahmood, showcasing his team’s talents was more important than poking fun at India. “THM Apps wanted to create the game as soon as it could… it shows that Pakistani developers are skilled enough work on an idea very fast,” he said.
For months now, Mahmood has been working closely with a team of developers to train 200 fresh graduates in the latest techniques in the gaming world.
Muzammal, on the other hand, feels Pakistan’s gaming industry is wasting its potential. “Students are not leaving colleges with the skills needed on an international level,” he said. “We are taught theory with very little practical work. You can be the brightest in class but you need to struggle for a year at least to gain the skills you need.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2015.