Feb 6, 2014
Flappy Bird is the game that has inexplicably taken over mobile gaming like a storm. It seems silly at first: it’s just an endless ‘flyer’ where players control a bird by tapping to flap its wings, propelling it upward to fly through pipes, getting a point for each set it flies through.
There is of course, the question of how Flappy Bird became a hit: no one really is entirely sure where the initial spark came from. I tried to talk out some of the theories yesterday on our Twitch channel.
I also set a satisfactory high score:
Dong Nguyen has claimed that the game’s success is entirely legitimate, and to a certain extent, it’s extremely possible and is true to a large degree. While the game didn’t become popular until a few months after its initial release, all it might have taken was for one person to find the game, share it with others, and from there, it takes off and gets into the charts, and from there the natural top charts circulation where something gets downloaded because it’s in the charts, along with the social sharing of the game helps it launch up to number one.
But the problem is that it can be hard to believe that such a natural phenomenon actually occurred. Buying downloads to get into the charts is possible – either through legitimate user acquisition or through illegitimate botnets with fake downloads. But such methods can be expensive – and Flappy Bird would make no sense to use these methods. The game is monetized only through ads, which don’t necessarily make that much money. Perhaps given Nguyen’s sudden reluctance to speak to the press or to garner further attention to himself, he’s hiding something. Perhaps he built a botnet of his own, and tested it out on his own app, and it worked too well. It got his app in the top charts, but it becoming a bona fide, legitimate hit, was entirely unintentional – and people finding out he has a botnet would be bad for his reputation and potential business.
But really, no matter how Flappy Bird got popular enough initially to go viral, it doesn’t really matter because it is a mega-hit now. And it’s because the game is, while crude, actually somewhat good. It’s challenging in large part because of the small spaces the bird has to go through and because the collision detection is strict – there’s no fudging it at all – but there’s actual skill-based mechanics there. They’re basic ones, but that makes the game have that “one more play, just one more” feel to it: it feels so easy that players should be able to do better. And they set out to do so again.
So thus, the success of Flappy Bird being a happy accident makes sense: Dong Nguyen created an accidentally brilliant game. That its massive success is a happy accident as well almost makes sense.