In Defense of Flappy Bird

Full disclosure, I’ve never played Flappy Bird. I’ve never watched anyone play the game or gameplay videos of any sort. I’ve seen its frustrating effect on players and its infuriating toll on game enthusiasts.

Having not played the game, I don’t have the frustration that so many of its players do— crashing into pipes and whatnot.

From an outsider’s perspective, I think the game is genius. Just from seeing screenshots on my Twitter timeline, I completely understand the game’s purpose and mechanics. Tap to fly up, release to fall. Do this while navigating your bird-like avatar through gaps in oncoming pipes. It’s a viral take on a flash classic. I played the Helicopter Game constantly in grade school and even more later after I installed flash-ready homebrew software on my Playstation Portable. As far as I know, there are no complex controls. You only require one finger (or thumb) to play.

As for the gamer’s qualm regarding the design of Flappy Bird and it’s heavy homages to classics like Mario, I think the anger is misguided. Are the visual cues there? Totally. 100%. There are green pipes and a repeating background that looks a lot like Super Mario, but where your average Kotaku commenter sees a “rip-off,” I see a game developer playing to a nostalgic advantage.

Dong Nguyen created Flappy Bird in 3 days. Flappy Bird nets him a cool $50,000/day. That’s $18 million a year if it continues in popularity.

So what makes Flappy Bird so popular that it’s been downloaded 50 million times? I think the answer is as simple as the app. It comes down to competition, bragging rights, and an obsession with the unknown.

Some have gotten pretty upset while playing.

Whether you’re good at Flappy Bird or not, you’ve probably bragged about it on Twitter. If you’re good, you’ll have shared a screenshot of your scores via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any combination of those. If you suck, you’ll probably say something about conquering the game in another way… deleting it.

Either way, you’re promoting the game to everyone you know. Some of those people will download the game and see what it’s all about (if they haven’t already). This is why dotGears’ App Store download statistics keep rising. The game is self-promoting. Nguyen didn’t have to do a thing after publishing.

“Flappy Bird has reached a state where anything added to the game will ruin it somehow, so I’d like to leave it as is…” — Dong Nguyen, Verge Interview

From my understanding, there is no finish line. You can’t win Flappy Bird. You can just get the highest score. This concept will keep many playing for a LONG time and as long as people keep playing, it will continue to make money on its ads. As it should.

I’m not going to download Flappy Birds. I don’t need to. I know its effects on the player and I don’t need that sort of trivial frustration in my life. There are other, more leisurely, games to play. That said, I’m glad for the success of dotGears and Dong Nguyen. What has happened to his game is exciting and rare. Any developer should ever be so lucky.

Download Flappy Bird on iOS and Android platforms.