Feature Article

The Rise and Fall of Flappy Bird

Victory for the haters.

by

Aren't mobile games the worst? They're so simple and forgettable, existing just to suck away money from people who don't realize there are far better ways to spend their time. Even calling them games doesn't feel right. There's no skill involved, no challenge, and without the elements inherent to a good video game, they're just time-wasters. Inconsequential nothings. The manipulative pricing practices prey on those too weak to fight against their addictive tendencies. Shelling out cash for instant-win items? Pestering your friends to grant you more turns? It's all disgusting. And when you throw in the mound of soulless clones littering the marketplace, it's clear that the mobile market is a creatively bankrupt wasteland that's killing the entire industry.

At least, that's what some people think. But such an extreme stance on the fastest-growing section of virtual entertainment doesn't mirror my own thoughts. I recognize that mobile, just like consoles and handhelds, has issues, but also a lot of good elements. Still, there have been so many insults flung at mobile games that echoes those angry thoughts, and it's really baffling. This came to a head last week when the innocuous Flappy Bird was tarred and feathered. I cannot understand the hatred directed toward Flappy Bird. And after the developer closed the door on this high-score challenge over the weekend, I am saddened that loud, angry voices prevailed over the calm, rational people who want nothing more than to have fun.

Not only is the art similar to Mario's, but the studio name is a shortened version of Gears of War!

So what is Flappy Bird? It is (was?) a phenomenon that all too quickly ran its course. The concept is the epitome of simple. You tap the screen to make the titular bird flap its tiny wings, and you try to avoid green pipes by flying over or ducking underneath them. If you slam into one, your flight ends, and you start up again to try to best your previous high score.

The biggest strength and most glaring weakness of Flappy Bird is that it takes only 72 words (and I was being verbose) to describe the entire experience. People who wanted nothing more than a mild distraction flocked to Flappy Bird, comparing scores with friends while feeling slightly productive in the five minutes spent waiting for their bus to arrive. It's utterly harmless, something not worth the time and energy to be passionate about. And why would someone have strong emotions for Flappy Bird? It's utterly benign, something meant to be consumed and forgotten rather than dissected and dwelled upon by the gaming community.

I am saddened that loud, angry voices prevailed over the calm, rational people who want nothing more than to have fun.

And yet, there are very strong feelings surrounding Flappy Bird, though most of them came from the negative attacks. There's an article on Kotaku (that they later apologized for) that accuses the developer of copying the artistic styling of Super Mario Bros. 3. Remember, just a few weeks before this outrage, the Internet was up in arms when King tried to trademark the words Crush and Saga in order to stymie the horde of Candy Crush Saga imitators. Now people are just as angry because someone dared to have pipes and a bird in a game, as if Nintendo somehow has a monopoly on those two aspects of video games. Does it look a little like a Mario game? Sure. But not enough to warrant the heated response it generated. Is this just our unfettered disgust toward casual entertainment that has caused us to lose our senses? Candy Crush Saga and Flappy Bird aren't our games--they aren't for the hardcore--so when they prove popular or encroach upon a cherished property, we bare our fangs.

Flappy Bird also had the gall to be hugely popular. Dong Nguyen, the developer behind the game, revealed that Flappy Bird was pulling in $50,000 a day from advertising. Obviously, this is terrible for everyone involved (except Nguyen), because nothing as simple as Flappy Bird should be bringing in truckloads of cash. Allegations were made that he used bots to boost his popularity while other sites said that wasn't the case. People posted YouTube clips complaining about how difficult the game was. Of course, others feel very differently. Obviously, Flappy Bird is divisive. But the anger is disproportionate to what Flappy Bird actually did. it shouldn't be the torchbearer for everything that's wrong with the mobile space. In fact, given that its biggest sin is how hard it is, that doesn't seem so bad at all. Flappy Bird also defied many of the damaging trends in mobile by earning money through conventional means that didn't hurt the core experience or alienate the many people who loved the game. Flappy Bird's success is a good thing.

Flappy Bird was free. Not free-to-play, not free*, not any other misleading nonsense. It was completely free, no strings attached. If you loved Flappy Bird so much that you wanted nothing more than to give your money to the person who gave you that joy, it was impossible to do so. There were no in-app purchases. Crazy, no? The $50,000 that it made every day was through advertising. Unobtrusive advertising at that. Once again, I have to ask why Flappy Bird generated such a wave of negativity. By delivering simple fun for no money, it used a business model I wish more games would emulate. Nguyen could have maximized his money by including in-app purchases that let you dress the bird in different outfits. Or maybe you would be limited to three plays per day unless you paid some cash. Well, those dirty practices were certainly possible, but they didn't exist in Flappy Bird. But the hatred still poured forth.

Direct your anger this way, please.

Contrast that with the recent Dungeon Keeper Mobile. If any game is worthy of scorn, it's this one (and the detractors have been quite vocal). This game is designed to milk you dry, shaking you upside down so that every last dime and nickel falls from your pockets. Dungeon Keeper Mobile puts a strict limit on how much you can do within a day. Once you use up your moves, which takes only a couple of minutes, you need to pay more money. Fantastic, no? And if you disapprove of this payment scheme, you can't even express your displeasure through a negative review. Try to give Dungeon Keeper Mobile less than a perfect score in the Android version, and you're taken to a feedback form, instead of being able to post your review unfiltered.

Being angry at Dungeon Keeper Online makes sense; it's designed to take advantage of people. But Flappy Bird? It doesn't have any of those problems. Yes, the "hardcore" may demand more from games than one-tap interactions. Bravely Default is much more my style than a simple high-score challenge, after all, so that's where I spend my gaming free time. But not everyone wants an in-depth role-playing game. Weird as it sounds, there are people out there who want mobile entertainment but can't wrap their heads around Spelunky or would rather read a novel than partake in the bizarre-yet-awesome storytelling of Persona 4 Golden.

For some, gaming is just a distraction rather than a way of life. For those people, Flappy Bird gave them something to do during the five idle minutes they had. But we were loud and angry, couldn't live in a world where a game so mindless could be so popular. Our hatred ruined a lot of people's fun, and forced a developer yearning for a simple life to pull Flappy Bird from the app stores. I think it's healthy when we find something damaging and let our voices be heard. But we have to pick our fights wisely. Not everything that we don't like is worth attacking, and it's sad seeing Flappy Bird pulled from the app stores in part because we were making the developer's life harder. Are we finally happy now that it's gone? Or will we find a new target to rally against?

Discussion

126 comments
nytechux
nytechux

If anyone is interested in reading a brief analysis of exactly what made Flappy Bird so popular from a cognitive science perspective, check out this post about how powerful the promise of simplicity in a UI can be, the man-machine interactive attributes that are correlated with highly effective motivational factors, and a discussion of the cognitive science behind concepts such as simplicity/complexity deceit, error tolerance, transfer of learning, and reward systems.  A must-read for anyone interested in the science behind the fleeting phenomenon.


http://www.mauronewmedia.com/blog/why-flappy-bird-is-was-so-successful-and-popular-but-so-difficult-to-learn-a-cognitive-teardown-of-the-user-experience-ux/  

poopinpat
poopinpat

He should have just closed his twitter account and let the money roll in!  People are going to find something else to feed the addiction anyways.


Considering there is game jam devoted to making flappy bird clones (flappyjam) you could go as far as to think that him removing the game is doing more damage than just leaving it on the store!

VANGUARD003
VANGUARD003

Sigh. If people enjoy a game and want to play it, they should be able to play it. Sure Flappy Bird was derivative, but in reality it was probably just some guy making some inconsequential game and putting it up for shits and gigs. Then it happened to be entertaining to a bunch of people. That doesn't mean we should ridicule the shit out of it. That's just dumb. Sigh.

Blackrasor
Blackrasor

Maverick Bird is one bad LSD Trip, enjoyed the article really much.

calvinsora
calvinsora

I just found it amusing that it would become so massively popular, nothing more. Honestly, the mobile market gets a lot more flak than it deserves; it doesn't have that many astounding games, but the incredibly arrogant assumptions of superiority regarding what people dub "casual" gaming only seems to be propagating a false divide between those that play games from time to time and those that have it as a major hobby. Honestly, I don't care what games you play, how long you play them or how you perceive them - as long as the market still offers what I want in any capacity (it does), I'm honestly happy more people are getting into the the hobby from any angle.

Tiwill44
Tiwill44

True, Dungeon Keeper deserves more hate, but for different reasons. Actually, mobile gaming as a whole should be hated. The most popular games shouldn't even be called games, they should be called time-wasters.

vadagar1
vadagar1

ugh

only game i play on my phone is tetris and the occasional angry bird 


frankly i dont care to care about not caring

obsequies
obsequies

I actually really like this game. It's supposed to be simple, and I would almost consider it a satire?

gazzapper
gazzapper

Great gaming rags to riches story though ....check out Pooper Bird

Talavaj
Talavaj

The game is a complete rip-off, in both the gameplay and art. If you get to make $50,000 a day for something you spent zero effort on you are bound to get criticized.

He should've taken the game down immediately not wait for public backlash, any creator with ethics would do that.

How can you be proud of your work being successful when you yourself acknowledge it does not deserve it at all ?

adro191
adro191

omg so much noise for such a game, can we get on with our lives already 

JosLuda
JosLuda

Just Download Hummy Birds on Android, coop is like lolwtf? xD

faizanhd
faizanhd

There are now more than 5 replicas of Flappy Bird on Newgrounds. 

Microsteve
Microsteve

Flappy Bird is a great game, you don't half write some garbage Tom

bhtnanh
bhtnanh

The mobile platform, particularly the tablets, has potential for complex and deep gameplay, so to see another worthless "game" with worthless stone age gameplay designed with plagiarism in mind finally got pulled off of the store is a great sign. I'm happy. Videogame has been systematically watered down to appeal to those who don't give a flying shit about videogame in the first place. This piece of shit deserves it. Don't feel bad for the asshole that made this game: full of money and some fame under his belt, he's more than fine living in the country where money and power dominate dignity, human values and critical thinking. 

Videogame doesn't need to be a way of life but entertainment needs some minimal value and not some short of diarrhea inducing fast food like it is now. This trend it's growing, kill it before it kills the real fun. And who should be vocal about it if not the gamers? Anyways, now he can go back to "make videogame in peace" which probably involves more stealing and unoriginal ideas. The net rarely do something right but this is. Good riddance!

WeWerePirates
WeWerePirates

I agree with much of the article, in an age where people are being bombarded with micro transactions a "free" game funded by adds is definitely the lesser evil. However I think Mc Shea is rather to keen to jump to Nguyen's defence. The sprites aren't directly lifted from Mario but there are definite similarities to distinctive elements of Mario. The difference between that and the Candy Crush Trademark issue is that if you asked people about the word "crush" or "saga" out of context they probably wouldn't have though of Candy Crush. If you showed some one the pipe for example they would either not recognise it or think of Mario, at least before Flappy Bird. In addition the Bots issue is brushed aside in less than a sentence where as there is a big question mark over this issue. In an open market place if some one bots their way to the top then they are doing that at the expense of other apps, though arguably the top spots are already dominated by the marketing of big companies. It's extremely difficult for a lone independent developer to get attention for their app.


Alongside the likes of Dungeon Keeper, Flappy Bird is at the very least the lesser of two evils but it is still something we should be concerned about as gamers as another milestone in mobile gaming as an engine driving a race to the bottom.

deckardsdreams
deckardsdreams

And the link to The Last of Us is... ?


This the second article of late from Mr. McShea that unnecessarily involves reference to the thinking person's Game of the Year, let it go Tom, you didn't like it, that's fair enough, it doesn't make you a leper, but don't use the menu page to catch the reader's eye for an otherwise irrelevant premise stretched into an article, have you really nothing better to do ?  

fiXyouRfacE
fiXyouRfacE

Oh my God, why are you people talking about this game? Who gives a fat shit about Flappy Bird?

hitmanxmk
hitmanxmk

I would say Flappy crap, but anyway as said in the review, mobile, tablet, facebook etc etc "games"...are designed just to drain your pocket..and nothing more...its shame how much impact would that have on PC game industry just because so stupid annoying games made by a single person in one week are generating more money than a whole team of hundred of people working with years on a huge game project.

toddx77
toddx77

I find the game fun and honestly if it game out in the NES days it would probably be considered a classic.  As for the game being taken down Dong is only doing to to benefit him.  By taking such a popular game down he has brought more attention to it thus when he brings it back more people will be downloading it and ad revenue will probably be higher.  

3D3
3D3

People just making a big thing over nothing

makryu
makryu

Honestly, in a way we hardcores just bullied tasteless and idiotic people who were playing the game. Despite it being a condemnable behavior, the medium can only benefit if we manage to drive away this kind of people from it. Mainstreaming of the gaming hobby after all hasn't brought many benefits aside from "famous actor voice acting!!!!" and "look at that pseudo-realistic explosion!!!".

pupp3t_mast3r
pupp3t_mast3r

Yeah I've got to say I didn't entirely get all the hype around Flappy Bird, it was a free game that didn't ask money from you in any form whatsoever.

mastergundam
mastergundam

To those who are out of Vietnam the country. This developer is being criticized by majority of dumb people in Vietnam. They seem to be jealous of him in many ways, some even say : "he was just a lucky guy but have no talent at all".. and blah blah. This is the main reason he took down the game. Please spread the word, most of talented vnmeses never work in VN, they left the country for good. There are alot of talented people in VN but they never got a chance to escape

ECH71
ECH71

******* haters... I hate them so ******* much, I'm gonna **** them up and **** down their necks.


:)

jflkdjs
jflkdjs

Great article, Tom. There are so many amazing games on the Marketplace. My all time favorite mobile game is "Tiny Thief". I just LOVE that game! I really really need a sequel to that game :)

Takeno456
Takeno456

Good article. I think it really goes back to pick your battles wisely. I may not be a participant in that game but at least it was not a money grubber like most casual games are. I understand the anger and passion against a lot of the mobile/causal games. I feel the same way most people do against the way many of these games have become so heavily monetized. However we should pick our battles more carefully. If we do this to every game that is casual then developers will think we are just being loud and they won't take us seriously. We should try a bit harder to focus our venom against the real money grubbers. That way developers will understand we are not just hating all casual games, just the ones that are made with the intention to screw our wallets. If we do precision strikes instead of mass lash outs we might get taken a bit more seriously. That's my two cents anyway.

madjack1812
madjack1812

This thing was over so fast, I hadn't even realised people were angry at it.  Why would you get wound up by a completely free game that you're not playing?  So what if the pipes look like a Mario game - Nintendo is more than capable of looking after itself and they really don't seem to mind about them.

Daian
Daian

The developer is barking mad, I wouldn't care if all the 12 year olds in the world hated my game, those piles of money that assure I'll live an easy life would make me feel much better. 


He's out of his damn mind.


Please Dong Nguyen, if you're reading this, just transfer the game rights to me and say it was I that made it, let them hate me all they want, I would not give even the tiniest of f***s.

GrlGmr
GrlGmr

@bhtnanh How old are you? For the first 5-10 years of video game history, the games weren't any more complicated (or any better looking) than this. But a lot of them were really, really fun. Does the fact they were uncomplicated and primitive looking mean they had no value?


I agree with mmagula1. Grow up and quit whining.

ggregd
ggregd

@bhtnanh  Flappy Bird is symptomatic of everything that's wrong with the world.  Sure.  Go with that.

mmagula1
mmagula1

@bhtnanh  This is one of the most steaming hunks of preening garbage I have ever read. Last I checked Grand Theft Auto 5 sold more than a billion dollars and 2013 was one of the best years for indie releases yet. Mobile gaming isn't watering down anything. More diversity should be a good thing and not something that a bunch of babies start crying over because they want to create some sort of "class"  distinction so they can feel self important.


Grow up you ass.  

mr_nee
mr_nee

@deckardsdreams  You can't deny the fact, that TLOU is the GOTY... unless you haven't pleyed it, or were high all the time or... well, ok, there are plenty reasons to deny it.


What seems interesting to me is that internet portals are so keen on protecting their intellectual property, yet they think it's ok for them to use all sorts of pictures found online and even to modify them without permission

GrlGmr
GrlGmr

@makryu If you think the audience that is playing Flappy Bird is the same one demanding famous voice actors and realistic graphics in console games, you are sorely mistaken.

makryu
makryu

@jflkdjs Tiny Thief is a solid example of how a mobile game can be engrossing and worth your time and still have that "gonna play only five minutes" vibe.

makryu
makryu

@Gelugon_baat @makryu

It may be elitist, but it doesn't make it any less true. Or would you rather have developers and publishers start making Flappy Bird-like games and turn it into a trend? Anytime a bad game is successful we risk seeing the industry turn in that direction, so it isn't as harmless as many would suppose.

toddx77
toddx77

@Gelugon_baat @makryu  It may be elitist notion, but it is truth.  The more something is mainstreamed the more it screws over the original fans.  Like makryu said more voice actors in games are turning out to be celebrities to try and bring in more money.  It is just like an animate movie from pixar, disney, or dreamworks.  Instead of using actual voice actors who can change their voice, celebrities are used instead to make more money.  I fear in the future the more expensive a game is to make the less we will see of people like Troy Baker, Roger Craig Smith, and Vic Mignogna.

ps3gamer1234
ps3gamer1234

@TomMcShea @ps3gamer1234  I don't think it is possible.