The Making of Pollywords

12th Dec, 2017

Posted in Team

Towards the end of 2013 on a flight to Dubai, I met a young dev on board an Emirates flight. We discovered a common passion for startups and technology. Today Mr. Jehandad Kamal is the man that powered the team bringing POLLYWORDS to life. The product is a multi-lingual words board-game that helps players improve their vocabulary and language skills. Why call it POLLYWORDS? That’s down to our mascot being a blue parrot called POLLY. The name also implies MANY (poly) WORDS, which is exactly what this game is about! 

As the CTO of an Indie Gaming Studio, JD (as we fondly refer to him around the studio), has done an exceptional job in delivering on a product with a features list as long as his sleeve and a bootstrapped budget (Since this is a blog post about words - Jd's last name KAMAL does mean ‘Miracle’). JD constantly pushed back on countless features and as a result had the courage to bat away CEOitis to over-deliver in the highly competitive world of Educational Gaming. Our other team members Amal Sarwar, Haris Hussain, Hassan Jawed, Nino Galenzoga, Tabain Akhtar, Emi Mitchell, Sophia Samaras and Tamar Roth all deserve major kudos for their determination to ‘ship on time’! We should also give a nod to all our families that endured late nights and countless weekends of work (love the new HSBC ad that says ‘ Funny how many nights it takes to become an overnight sensation’ - heres hoping for that!), as well as our dear investors (family and friends) that believed in our vision for the game and what it will be when it ‘grows up’. Thank you everyone and now on to the game! 

Our debut product POLLYWORDS has enormous ambition to help create the largest dictionary online that also brings together a romanized word set for languages with non-roman scripts such as Urdu, Arabic and others. Tall order, this, and we were told again and again that others had done this before. We beg to differ, NO ONE has built a social game that helps build the largest online dictionary. This is about leveraging gaming to build an asset while delivering educational outcomes.

The game itself is born out of:

1. Inspiration from family and friends that spoke so many languages other than English, and my grandfather who still quizzes me on the difference between a Cantaloupe and an Antelope! 

2. Frustration that there is so much that the world has to offer by way of languages and yet we create rules that favour only one: English. We needed to bring everyone on to the same board, quite literally, and allow them to play using their own languages while learning from others! The world is flatter (thank you Mr. Friedman)!

3. Opportunity in the very nature of casual gaming over mobile devices and the sheer ubiquity of game play across gender and cultural divides

4. Curiosity to truly test whether Passion, Play and Purpose (Tony Wagner - Raising Innovators) could drive the crowd to co-create an asset such as a crowd-sourced dictionary through game play

Using the game we devised a mechanism that would allow us to create this enormous data store. This is going to be a work in progress and will depend on how much people share with us. 

We believe that 'Language is fluid' and changes with time and as cultures morphs due to new stimulus. Sometimes that is because of technology. Take for instance the inclusion of the word ‘Phablet’ into the dictionary or for that matter ‘Selfie’. Took a while before they, ‘the pundits’ at large dictionary publishers, decided it was a real word! The crowd had already spoken and we feel thats where the real power lies in shaping and creating words and language. Other times cultural revolutions cause the changing of language take the case of Turkish changing script (thank you Ataturk). Whatever the stimulus, the fact of the matter is language changing is accelerating as more people than ever before are bumping into each other and words like ‘Chindian’ (Chinese and Indian coming together in Malaysia and Singapore) are taking root in our consciousness. This game hopes to capture some of that acceleration through the power of casual and social gaming.

What excites me most about POLLYWORDS is the potential of social learning through this massive experiment. The day the product goes live we will be able to support play in English, French, Spanish, German, Turkish, Urdish (Romanized Urdu) and Arabeasy (Franco-Arabic or Romanised Arabic) in our first wave of languages. However, there is some method to this madness and you need to stay tuned to this blog in order to hear about the other languages that we will be releasing over the course of the next many months.  

Our philosophy around social language learning through game play is simply that anyone you play against, you are likely to learn a word from. Our challenge to you is playing a game and NOT learning a new word! It’s hard when the Smart Board tells you about words you thought you knew in one language also exist in others. A great example would be HAWA which means Wind or Air in Arabic, Turkish and Urdu. Try making it and watch the notifications on screen. Language discovery through games is pretty exciting!

The ability to manipulate languages is something special for our advanced linguists and results in the ability for people to make the word ARM into ARMÉE (ARMY in French). We reward such behaviour handsomely as it shows great mastery and probably gives your neurons a great jog! 

We also never gave up on user engagement and have introduced the concept of Charactiles (Characters on Tiles) which can be used to Block, Tackle and Vex your opponents :) Brands and Charities, be aware of the ability to run campaigns in our game through these little beauties that sit on the board throughout the game! 

While we have submitted the game to Apple for review and are keeping our fingers crossed for a pass on the first submission, we know know that we are officially not going to be making our desired go live date for Techcrunch Disrupt (October 21st, 2014) where we will be demoing the product in the Start-up Alley (and yes we did not make it to the Startup Battlefield - know of any other games that did?). So if you are around please do come by and say hello! We would love to have you play a few turns or perhaps a game with us…and get your feedback on our very first product on the App Store.

We are also in the process of launching the b2b product for Schools, Universities, Residences and Language Schools / Instructors, so look out for that and get in touch if you are excited about the potential that learning through play holds for learners across all ages! We are especially keen to hear from teachers and professional educators.

Until the next blog post…hope you enjoy the sneak peak video attached to this inaugural blog post and we look forward to have you on-board. 

P.s: Remember to tweet us @pollywords_ or email at info@erlystage.com! Please do sign-up at www.pollywords.com and give us a shout-out tweet or a post out in the ether! Also, if you think that we should accelerate the inclusion of your language into the game please do reach out to me at farid@erlystage.com and lets see how we can do just that.