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Fantasy football fans: Do you know where your favorite apps are made?

Last season’s popular Facebook fantasy football app was developed in Karachi, Pakistan, a city known more for its chronic ethnic and sectarian bloodshed than football.

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“Having a Berkeley MBA helped. All the companies we’re working with are from San Francisco ,you have the Bay Area connection. It adds a bit of credibility,” he says.

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Operating from a converted warehouse in the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital, We R Play now has a staff of 35 employees, mostly under 30. Dressed casually in jeans and T-shirts, We R Play workers – almost half of whom are women – work in a laid back atmosphere reminiscent of the Silicon Valley startups they aspire to.

Desks are lined with action figures and sci-fi artwork, while the rec-room has a large Pakistani style lounge with traditional rugs and cushions, as well as a Table Tennis table.

When it comes to producing quality work, though, Afzal has proven his company is anything but lazy. Among their list of accomplishments, We R Play developed Gardens of Time for Disney subsidiary Playdom, which became Facebook’s most popular game in 2011.

Challenges

Working in a politically and economically volatile country has its challenges.

“We’ve had days when we haven’t had electricity at," says Azfal, recalling the times before he could afford generators. "There have been days when the Internet hasn’t worked and we’ve had to go to coffee shops just to download our tasks.”

At other times, he adds, “There have been days when people haven’t been able to come in because the roads were blocked from protests. These are part and parcel of working in Pakistan.”

But the main challenge facing the industry is creating original content, says Mr. Zahir the business journalist. 

Currently, these companies are doing outsourcing work for Western companies like back office coding and artwork. What gets more attention and generates more revenue is when businesses make original software and keep the rights to the intellectually property. That's just starting to happen in Pakistan. Before Pakistan is recognized as a country producing original software, not just outsourcing services, that has to be stepped up, he says. 

“Providing services bring in clients. It needs efficiency and you have to satisfy the clients. You do that by being efficient with your processes and meeting deadlines," says Zahir. Creating new, original products, on the other hand, is trickier. "It’s less to do with efficiency and more to do with talent. It’s a much bigger risk.”

Apple’s app store and the Android Market provide a good forum for startups to take those risks. It's a forgiving market driven by impulse buys, says Mr. Akhter, whose resume includes stints with Apple’s headquarters as well as with Microsoft. His company’s app Fish Frenzy, for example, has now seen over 2.5 million downloads. 

“I think people are more open to taking risk than they were in the past and that’s a good development. Wherever you have startup activity you have innovation and that’s a really good sign for the country.”

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