The Fall and Rise of Flappy Bird
This week on Storming the Castle, our group members Zack Smith, Paul Potvin, Johnny de Alba and Alex Weiss ALL team up to bring you our thoughts and ruminations (and a video!) on one of the biggest gaming phenomenons of 2014: Flappy Bird! Love it or hate it, the game is an enigma. C’mon! You know you’ve played it! Everyone has! So what’s all the fuss about? Lets find out!
Pac Man! Super Mario Brothers! Wii Sports! Angry Birds! And soon to be added to this pantheon of games: Flappy Bird! But wait! Before you object, hear me out. All of these games have several things in common. At the time of their release, each was unique. Who knew moving a yellow circle around with a joystick, eating dots along the way, would be so maddening? What about that plumber jumping on… are those.. mushrooms? Hold on, you’re telling me flying a bird through pipes at the proper level isn’t unique?
Each of these games was insanely popular when they were initially released. They all had several clones, and popularity leveled off eventually, with the clones (note I said clones, not sequels) usually falling by the wayside. How many Pac Man look alikes were there? Seriously, how many people today play Ladybug over Pac Man? It wasn’t the first platformer, but the first Super Mario Brothers arguably set the genre, spawning tons of platformers. Wii Sports? Best selling game of all time? There’s a multitude of other sports compilation discs out for the Wii, and other systems since then. “Flappy Bird.” How many times have you been in the grocery store and heard *BLING*…. *BLING*. Ok fine, I’ve been that guy. Still. Look at all the clones. Imitation is flattery.
Generations? These games transcend them. My mother is a non-gamer, but I can get her to play Wii Sports when my fiance and I visit the house, and she has been known to dip into Angry Birds on her tablet. My immediate supervisor at work is 71 years old. For some time he too was an Angry Birds player, and he was aware of Flappy Birds when I showed him a few weeks ago. He’s played it. A friend’s toddler knows who Mario is. It seems everyone has tried these games, or at the very least, the brand identity with each of these is strong. Pac Man is probably more identifiable in some Thirdworldistans than athletes or politicians.
All of these are addictive in one way or another. Yeah, even Wii Sports. My dad and I pummel the crap out of each other until we get tired fencing. Break it out at a party and watch what happens. Angry Birds? How many times have you flung birds trying to blow up pigs just right? Flappy Bird? Once you start, it’s hard to put down. Simple, easy to learn, easy to play, like all these other games listed.
Unlike everyone else here, I think (if hopefully when?) the game is released again, it’ll be one of ‘the’ goto mobile games. I’ll go a step… err… leap further. I want to see this on Wii U with an integrated score board. I’m serious. I’d drop $10 for that if it saved your best replay too. If not Flappy Bird, the big N should make a legit “Flappy Cheep Cheep” game, using actual Nintendo sprites and sounds.
I don’t get the hate, it fulfills the checklist. Popular, unique, addicting, clone-inducing, lasting gameplay. So what gives? Flap away!
How did Flappy Bird become a success nearly a year after it’s release? This is a game that mysteriously shot into super stardom with no marketing campaign behind it. A sudden spike in buyers cannot happen without a mass crowds awareness. Something happened that lead to this game’s success. Sure, Flappy Bird has elements that make the game addictive; It even taps into our nostalgia. It is familiar. The problem is, I can’t accept all that as an explanation. There are a lot of unnoticed games with these same elements that have never received the attention they deserve. It didn’t hurt that the recipe used for designing Flappy Bird helped maintain it’s viral status. So what happened?
One theory speculates the use of a mass bot marketing campaign. A bot is a script used for automating tasks in the place of a user account. This is handy if you have over a dozen user accounts on a social network like Twitter and need to automate a few promotional tweets. Now imagine if you had access to a bot network that you could use to trigger fake reviews. From an outside standpoint it would all seem legit. While on a software scale your game has become number 1 on a website like iTunes. It is now exposed to way more people than it would have had before. This is a black hat strategy that many successful game developers employ. There are marketing companies out there who allow you to “buy” reviews. No matter which strategy is employed, it is still manipulating the system.
A second theory points to video game commentators such as PewDiePie whose YouTube channel has millions of subscribers. Just one video from PewDiePie helped expose Flappy Bird to millions of new players. Ironically, PewDiePie had little positive to say about this game. The negative commentary, combined with the simplistic game mechanics was more than enough to get others to try it. Frustration seems to play a big role here.
If one commentator with millions of subscribers talks about something, you can bet his fans will try to ride his coat tails: I’m talking about written reviews, response videos, you name it. It doesn’t have to be a response video. If one person is able to generate a little buzz from something, someone else is likely to give their spin. If people continue to talk about something it becomes a phenomenon that the larger media eventually picks up on.
One final theory states that some large website held a contest on who could write the most amusing Flappy Bird review. This could explain why most of the Flappy Bird reviews were anecdotal. The reviews are focused on people’s frustrations with the game, rather than defining if the game is good or bad. These frustrations are at times comical. Most of them are just people trying to be funny.
So what really happened? I believe a combination of these things, minus the contest for the worst review. I think writing a bad review for Flappy Bird became a trend that others caught on to. What’s more important was not the “viral” part, but the exposure part. Anything can go viral if it taps into people and gets them talking. What many developers fail to acquire is exposure. The theories from this article are just a few examples of how one might obtain that exposure.
They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but perhaps a little too much imitation too fast is too flattering. It was inevitable that clones would spring up after the popularity of Flappy Bird exploded, but who would have predicted that so many would flood Apple and Google’s online stores so quickly? I found all of these clones by simply searching for “flappy” and downloading as many as humanly possible. What you’ll notice is that few of these clones stray very far from the initial flappy design. Choose an adjective and an animal, then some pipe like objects to avoid. Rinse and repeat. What you can’t tell from the video is that none of them share Flappy Bird’s simple fun gameplay and most have crappy controls. Especially “Jay”, that one flat out sucks. If you’re going to copy a popular game, at least try and copy what made it fun to play in the first place. Below is my video showcasing some of these clones:
Only time will tell if Flappy Bird is revered as a true pioneering classic, strange enigma, or even remembered at all. Yes, it was taken down by it’s author in an attempt to free the world of his apparently evil game. But let us not forget, this is the internet. And the internet is eternal. Love it or despise it, Flappy Bird will live on.