Within a month, the mobile game “Flappy Bird” soared in popularity only to crash and burn as quickly as it rose. Released in May 2013, the app remained relatively unnoticed until a spike in popularity in January, becoming the most downloaded app for the month and resulting in a port from iOS to Android. The game received greater attention after Vietnam-based developer Dong Nguyen reported that the app generated about $50,000 per day in ad revenue. Despite the rampant success, Nguyen announced via Twitter that he was removing the game for unspecified reasons, saying it was unrelated to legal issues but implying that his reasons involved the heavy media coverage surrounding the game.
“I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down,” Nguyen tweeted. “I cannot take this anymore.”
The game’s charm comes from its simple-to-learn but difficult-to-master mechanics. Players simply tap the screen to make a small, pixelated bird flap its wings, causing it to rise or fall while guiding it through obstacles in the form of pipes. There is no end, as players simply compete against their friends for the highest score they can manage. While people who already downloaded the game can still play it, the absence of “Flappy Bird” has resulted in multiple eBay listings of phones with the game installed, with prices ranging up to $90,000, as well as a plethora of “Flappy Bird” clones, mimicking the gameplay.
Various controversies surrounded the game, ranging from questionable art assets, with the game’s iconic pipes seemingly taken directly from the “Super Mario Bros.” series being unoriginal at best, to theories that Nguyen used bots to generate artificial reviews, creating the groundswell that led to legitimate popularity.
The popularity of “Flappy Bird” exemplifies the issues with mobile gaming, with the game’s success trumping the various issues surrounding it. The platform lends itself to lighter games, with users preferring a title they can play for short periods and that will keep them entertained. While console and PC games have leaned closer to heavier, narrative experiences, mobile titles are only required to focus on mechanics. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it leads developers to cut corners to maximize profit and hook its players. Even if Nguyen didn’t steal art from Nintendo, the inspiration for his art is obvious, and the whole thing comes off as a tasteless rip-off. The rise of “Flappy Bird” rip-offs drives the point home, with developers rushing to capitalize on the game’s removal. Originality and innovation are discouraged when it is easier to simply copy what works. Even “Flappy Bird” is based on the mechanics of titles like “Helicopter Game.” Despite all this, mobile titles are undoubtedly popular and unquestionably profitable. While there is still success to be had with this model, it comes off as seedy, and until it changes, the market will inevitably stagnate with developers trying to one-up each other. When this happens, it’s the players that lose.