At first, Flappy Bird seems fairly innocuous. It’s a simple mobile game in eight-bit graphics reminiscent of the old Nintendo Entertainment System. Players tap their screen to make a little bird flap up, and the goal is to get through as many narrow gaps in an endless series of pipe obstacles. Easy, right?
Not so much.
Users become instantly hooked through frustration at their failure to get the tiny bird through. Social media users on BuzzFeed, Tumblr, Instagram, and other sites are all commiserating with each other. Tumblr user Crying-Over-Fandoms wrote, “Where … did Flappy Bird even come from [sic] one day everything is normal like it always is and the next day people are crying and getting divorced because of this … game” to which user Tumbledhere eloquently responded, “It is the flapocalypse.” Posts in the BuzzFeed community have been popping up with titles such as “12 Times ‘Flappy Bird’ Drove Human Beings Into A Black Maw Of Existential Despair” and “The 21 Stages Of Having Your Life Completely Ruined By Flappy Bird.”
The app’s combination of simplicity and extreme difficulty causes both a Lovecraftian level of madness and addiction in users. Between the hysterical reviews, bitter social media posts pervading almost every social network, and the addictiveness of the app, Flappy Bird has become the most downloaded app in both the iOS app store and the GooglePlay Store. In an interview with The Verge on Wednesday, Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen revealed that the app is earning a whopping $50,000 in ad revenue each day.
As of February 9th, Nguyen took the app off all available markets because he says that it ruined his simple life. In the wake of its unavailability, iPhone and Android users are now auctioning off their devices that have the game, which are fetching bids of as much as $100,000.
People everywhere are baffled at the savagely addicting and aggravating game’s popularity, especially Nguyen himself. Uploaded in May with virtually no updates having been done, no marketing, no storyline, no viral hooks, no sophisticated visuals, no levels, no trophies, and no achievements, what exactly can mobile developers take away from this underdog success story?
Nguyen himself comments on the app’s viral success, saying “The reason Flappy Bird is so popular is that it happens to be something different from mobile games today, and is a really good game to compete against each other. People in the same classroom can play and compete easily because [Flappy Bird] is simple to learn, but you need skill to get a high score.”
“When working on a mobile app, it is critical to have something unique that you can’t find anywhere else,” said internet marketing expert Chris Vale of Virtue Advertising. “It seems that Flappy Bird played on nostalgia, and they definitely got people talking.”
Simplicity certainly does seem to be a factor. The game’s graphics are completely stripped down and nostalgically basic. The point is very straightforward, as is the points system. Difficulty is another obvious reason. While the game is not impossible, it certainly brings back to mind the phrase “Nintendo hard.” In the 80s, Nintendo used to make their games excruciatingly difficult because they believed it gave games a longer lifespan and more playability. Back then, players weren’t interested in learning the end of a story or anything like that. They just wanted bragging rights and a well earned sense of accomplishment.
Chances are, there’s really no clear answer as to how Flappy Bird became so successful. Although, that’s no reason not to try to figure it out. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Game developers may never figure out what people really want, but they may learn something in the process.