There was a time when I didn’t know what Flappy Bird was, when I was blissfully unaware of its existence.
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There will come a time, in the very near future, when everyone will pretty much forget about the weird little mobile game.
But right now, Flappy Bird—despite its removal from the App Store—is the most famous video game in the world, basking in its bizarre fifteen minutes of fame even after its untimely death like some burnt out rockstar.
It’s a curious phenomenon. There’s no rational reasons for the game’s popularity, and its demise is more puzzling still. The game is widely loathed, punishingly difficult, and not so very different from countless other forgettable mobile titles.
I’ve tried to puzzle it all out, but still come up short.
So instead, I’ve just pulled together all the most interesting bits. Maybe each one is a piece of the puzzle—a puzzle which, if it could be cobbled together, could point mobile game developers toward that secret viral recipe that’s so crucial in creating a successful mobile hit.
1. Flappy Bird actually launched in May of 2013. It didn’t surge in popularity until January of this year, when it became the most downloaded app on the App Store. Why it never took flight in its first months online remains something of a mystery.
2. Developer Dong Nguyen created the game in just two or three days. This just goes to show that when it comes to mobile games, it isn’t polish, creativity, budget or quality that matters most, but rather some intangible viral quality that nobody can quite predict.
3. At the height of its popularity, Flappy Bird generated an estimated $50,000 per day according to The Verge. All of the revenue for the free app came from advertising. I have a hard time picturing myself walking away from that kind of cash—at least not without a gun pointed at my head.
Think about it: Nguyen could have raked in millions more just by delaying Flappy Bird’s demise—$950,000 more if he’d pulled it at the end of February instead of on the 9th. (Quite possibly more as news and hype continued to swirl around the game.)
4. Critical praise doesn’t predict success. Flappy Bird has received a 54/100 from critics on the game review aggregate site Metacritic, with a user score of just 4.6, making its sudden rise in popularity last month even more baffling. (Forbes’ Paul Tassi gave the game Cthulhu/10, which may be my favorite review score of all time.) Truly, Flappy Bird is the reality TV show of the mobile gaming industry. (Potential game idea: Flappy Duck Dynasty.)
5. Nintendo didn’t have the game pulled. Despite the game’s apparent knock-off of Nintendo assets, the Japanese game maker denies having any problem with Flappy Bird, squashing the notion that Nintendo influenced the decision to take down the game.
“While we usually do not comment on the rumors and speculations, we have already denied the speculation,” Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa told The Wall Street Journal.
6. Creating mobile games is more dangerous than we thought. Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen has received death threats for pulling the game, proving once again that people are absolutely crazy and have altogether too much time on their hands.
Flappy Bird’s appeal is difficult enough to decipher; that its most hardcore fans would stoop to death threats is beyond comprehension—though not altogether surprising in this business. Perhaps the secret to viral success is tapping into the death-threat crowd.
7. You can still buy Flappy Bird used. After pulling the game, savvy eBay users put devices installed with Flappy Bird up for auction. Many are listed for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Fans angry enough to threaten Nguyen’s life over this should stock up on these devices before everyone forgets what Flappy Bird even is.
8. There are clones. Flappy Bird itself may not be the most original game ever, but there’s always room for even more derivative work. Nguyen’s creation has spawned a laundry list of its own clones and knock-offs. If I were a game developer I would absolutely rip this one off and call it Flappy Crush Saga.
9. Flappy Bird is helping the economy. Forbes contributor Paul Tassi has written many fine articles in his day, but none have generated the sort of traffic his post on Flappy Bird’s removal received: Nearly 2 million pageviews and counting since Nguyen made the announcement. Truly, Flappy Bird is the Justin Bieber of mobile gaming.
10. The real reason Flappy Bird was taken down, according to its creator, was its potential for addiction in users and its negative impact on Nguyen’s own “simple life.”
In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Nguyen said the game was designed to be played for just a few minutes at a time and instead became “an addictive product.” Undoubtedly, he could have sold the game to any number of mobile publishers for bucketloads of cash, so it’s hard not to take him at his word—though he has created other games and plans to continue to create more.
Few video games “go viral” in the way that Flappy Bird has. Few outside mobile gaming ever do.
Unlike traditional console and PC games, mobile games tend to spark to life in a big way and then fade out—unless you can really perfect a lucrative feedback loop. Oddly enough, the very reason Nguyen gives for removing the app is the exact thing most mobile game developers strive to perfect: Addictiveness.
Think Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga. These games are designed to hook you and then drain your wallet.
And maybe there’s something noble—or foolish—about removing a game because of its addictive nature. Either way, Flappy Bird is dead. Long live Flappy Bird.