For those not aware, Flappy Bird is (or was – more on this after the jump) a free, ad-monetised mobile game, released sometime in May 2013, in which the user taps repeatedly on the screen to get a deformed duck to fly through a series of gaps between pipes. It is simple. It’s nonetheless brutal in its required precision, a single misstep sending your duck-thing plummeting to the ground. It borrows heavily from old 16-bit Mario for its visuals. It is not revolutionary. It’s certainly not interesting. It is not something we should really be highlighting at all. Flappy Bird was a good duck, but not a particularly noteworthy one.
But Flappy Bird has flapped more than its wings since it came to the greater Internet’s attention in January this year. And in a month, it’s been destroyed. As of writing, developer Nguyen Ha Dong of .GEARS Studios has followed through with his declared intention to remove the game from digital marketplaces, so Flappy Bird is no more (you can, however, download any one of the quadragintacentillion clones if you feel the need to tap repeatedly on a screen to make a bird flap). This is largely to do with the increased focus Nguyen has received as a result of Flappy Bird’s sudden, immense popularity – and his decision to remove it has garnered ire and scepticism from detractors along with accusations of plagiarism. It’s seemingly a misguided move since, technically, Flappy Bird is now more akin to Pandora’s Bird, but that’s Dong’s prerogative.
Where do we start? At the beginning, where sometime in the middle of January, Flappy Bird started charting on the Google/Apple stores. Many have theorised that Nguyen had perhaps used bots to artificially inflate its rankings – a claim he hasn’t exactly denied. While that may have been the case initially, subsequent downloads were the result in a frantic worldwide phenomenon which saw, at its peak, some 50 million downloads across the two digital stores.
Similarly, Forbes reported at one point that the game was generating around $50,000 per day in ad revenue. Not bad for a game Nguyen claims he developed in two to three days.
Many game writers latched onto the popularity of Flappy Bird, either writing perturbed opinion pieces as to why it’s so successful to its status as “Outsider” art (one of my favourite pieces, if truth be told, despite the absurdity of it). Other media outlets weren’t as kind, with Kotaku publishing a piece on the “ripped-off” art assets which they’ve since edited to be less sensational and less inaccurate.
We’ve had similar success stories before – iShoot stands out in my mind as the first mobile game I felt really grew into a press “sensation” – but Flappy Bird‘s tale is unique in its meteoric rise and equally rapid descent into chaos. I’m not sure what to think about the game, having never played it, but it seems an almost engineered drama, one set to quiver in the echo room of the Internet. Memento mori, ol’ flappy bird. Memento mori.