Once again little birds have invaded iPhones everywhere. Flappy Bird, unlike Angry Birds or Candy Crush, reached popularity without a story, without levels, and without any fancy graphics. The simple and infuriating game climbed the iPhone App charts, claiming the #1 downloaded title, before it imploded from the weight of its own notoriety. To understand why Flappy Bird is no more, it is important to take a critical look at how it managed to be loved, and hated, by so many players.
The game itself is simple, almost comically so; you control a little wide eyed bird who flaps every time you tap the screen. The goal is to maneuver the bird through holes between two Mario-esque pipes and every Time you succeed you gain a medal. Do not let the simple nature of the game fool you; most people will spend 20 attempted before passing the first set of pipes; to reach double digits takes days, and weeks for triple digit goals. Behind every game, popular or not, is the designer. For Flappy Bird this would be Vietnamese independent game maker Dong Nguyen. The simple designs and pixelated art are repeated throughout his mobile games, like Shuriken Block or Super Ball Juggles, which were played by only a few and never came close to the charts. Flappy Bird started out much the same; for the first few months it was downloaded by only a handful of players. It was only after Nguyen released the first update did the first whisper of Flappy Bird begin. It all started with a single tweet; “Fuck Flappy Bird.” This expression of frustration would be the first of many shared through social media. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit have become crucial to the success of games; by connecting with others, players can feel an increase in competition by quickly comparing scores, share experiences, and feel like part of a community. It is from these humble beginnings that the rampant fad of Flappy Bird developed
There are several theories as to why Flappy Bird became #1. The most popular theory says that Flappy Bird is nothing more than a world wide joke; you talk about what an amazing game it is, tell your friends to play it, and then get a chuckle as they too become aggravated and addicted. A second theory postulates that people connect with Flappy Bird on a philosophical level. The Atlantic posted an article that deconstructed the game into a statement on human existence and the lack of meaning many people find throughout their lives. The third theory, and my personal favorite, states that Flappy Bird is simply a good game. We have become accustomed to amazing graphics and cinematic cutscenes, but the formula for a good game is the same today as it has been in the past. As Nolan Bushnell said, “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master.” There is nothing easier than simply tapping the screen, but nothing harder than actually reaching a score of 100. What ever the reason may be, Flappy Bird topped the charts in less than a year and became a social media sensation. A twitter account dedicated to Flappy bird has already gained 140,000 followers and the Flappy Bird Facebook page has over 360,000 likes. Nguyen was making $50,000 a day from ad revenue while Flappy Bird was at its prime, but all the attention had also started to take its toll.
When anything becomes popular it will attract enemies. Flappy Bird, with its addictive nature and excruciatingly difficult game experience, created an enormous amount of rage. A surprisingly large portion of this rage was directed straight to Nguyen. A simple look at his twitter account shows how many angry comments he receives every single day. Add on the pressures from fans wanting updates and improvements and Nguyen could take no more. There is speculation that the removal of Flappy Bird on February 10th from the app market as a very clever marketing ploy. It is much simpler than that. Most game companies have who divisions of staff to deal with the public. Nguyen had no such help, and the pressure of his success steadily built over time until he could no longer take the limelight. On twitter he posted in response to a fan, “it is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.” Flappy Bird is an illustration of the darker side of social media and obsessions; the rise and fall of a single man from obscurity to insanity.
Joel Copeland blogs about mobile technology and enjoys coding mobile applications for iOS. Joel recommends checking out http://gizmolord.com/four-app-developers-pushing-boundaries-phone-can/ for another great article about mobile app development.