Sunmark FCU Takes Industry's First Quack at Mobile Gaming

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LATHAM, N.Y.-Rubber duckies wearing eye-patches hurl themselves at angry pirate monkeys in "Duck Pirates," the first Android and iPhone video game created by a credit union.

But wait-there's also "Country Ducks" and "Southpaw's Double Play," similar apps that the CU developed for community partners.

Sunmark FCU here built the Angry Birds-inspired apps to help encourage donations to a local food bank-and to promote the Sunmark brand, according to Ryan Hickman, new media specialist at the $400-million CU.

"We wanted an easy and entertaining way to go viral with information about the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and our relationship with them," explained Rich Meddaugh, communications associate for Sunmark.

The free game features a button that allows users to donate to the Food Bank via BilltoMobile, PayPal or Google Checkout, said Hickman. A Sunmark ad appears at the bottom of every page in the application.

"Even as people download new levels of the game, each page will say 'Sunmark,'" he said. "You click the ad to learn more about our products, primarily our mobile products and products that cater to youth."

Country Ducks switches out the Duck Pirates theme, with the ducks wearing cowboy hats, some angry sheriffs and a desert background. Sunmark developed Country Ducks to help "push" the Food Bank and the Sunmark brand during a local radio station's "Country Fest" this July, said Hickman.

More than 30,000 people attend the annual Country Fest and could download Country Ducks, thus extending Sunmark's reach, suggested Meddaugh.

Sunmark is developing a third version of Duck Pirates called "Angry Southpaw" for the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Troy, N.Y.-based minor league baseball team. In the baseball version, the team's cat mascot battles enormous rabbits wielding Super-Soaker squirt guns. Sunmark ads and the "donate" button appear throughout.

"Every summer we pick a charity to reap the benefits or our activities within the community," added Hickman. "Usually, it's a golf outing. This year, we wanted to do something different, something that would engage the younger community a little more. We cloned the vibe of the Angry Birds mobile application because it's very popular in the mobile world. People are familiar with how it works."

In the actual Angry Birds app, fierce cartoon birds hurl themselves at egg-stealing pigs, attempting to upset the pigs' fortress and rescue the eggs. That mobile game, developed by Rovio Mobile of Espoo, Finland, is the top paid game in the Apple App Store and is near the top of the Android Market charts as well.

Beyond promoting the Food Bank and Sunmark, the object of Duck Pirates is to knock the monkey characters off of their perch, capture a treasure, and achieve the highest score, Meddaugh said. The Sunmark Duck serves as the mascot for the CU's youth initiatives, Hickman said.

Duck Pirates was made available for download this month in the Android Market and Apple App Stores to anyone with relatively up-to-date operating systems for Android handsets, tablets, iPhones or iPads.

Sunmark also embedded Facebook Connect in Duck Pirates, Hickman said. Users can click a button to allow access to Facebook and then compare scores and comment.

Development costs were "not outrageous," he continued. The CU's software development team is familiar with mobile games, and a development framework called Corona made it easy to deploy Duck Pirates across multiple platforms and operating systems. To facilitate donations, Sunmark used the mobile payment platform Thumbmoney.

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