Yet another bird has appeared to devastate society and frustrate the masses. The latest viral gaming hit Flappy Bird has been lowering productivity in workplaces and distracting students in lectures, tap by single tap.
In case you’ve been living under a really, really huge rock, Flappy Bird is currently the most popular app on both the Apple and Android app store. First released in May 2013 by a Vietnam-based indie game developer, Dong Nguyen, its sudden leap from obscurity in the past few weeks made it the game that everyone is playing but no one really knows why.
The premise of the game is deceptively simple: tap the screen to propel a butt-ugly, one-eyed, fat-lipped bird through Super Mario-inspired pipes. However, hit a pipe and your bird plummets to its death, inevitably unleashing a string of swear words from you.
If you can’t seem to get a highscore of anything above 10, you are not alone. Flappy Bird sits firmly in the genre of Masocore (a portmanteau of “masochistic” and “hardcore”); games that are not just hard, but insanely hard, intentionally designed to frustrate the player. And this is essentially what the entire game is all about: bite-size spurts of extreme frustration mixed with an unhealthy dose of devastatingly futile optimism to keep you going.
In an attempt to understand the game’s popularity, the entire gang at 2359 decided to join in the fun and start a leaderboard here at work. Our top score of 123, while pretty impressive, didn’t bring us that much closer to enlightenment.
(Although at this point I cannot help but to included a Star Wars meme here)
Jokes aside, I’ve never been much of a gamer, which was why I was genuinely baffled by the attention this game was getting. (But then again, we are talking about a world that played, nay, embraced games like FarmVille, Temple Run, Angry Bird and Candy Crush.) Three tries in and my face was already contorted with frustration. An appeal, I suppose, was precisely how short it was due to its difficulty level. Unless you are a particularly proficient player, each game should not take you more than 10 seconds (it takes approximately more than one second to score one point). The game takes a fraction of a second to restart, making this the ideal mindless mobile game to play while waiting for your bus or queueing for your food.
The element of hope keeps the player hanging on, game after game. It’s always a simple mistake that costs you your game, whether it is a tap too quick, or a tap too many, and you think, “I’ll get it the next time”. You are always chasing after the possibility, however slight, to improve your score. And this is perhaps the real appeal of the game. The very quantifiable high score that makes players’ score levels easily comparable. Every single point is painstakingly scored, and the desire to better your own score is immense. The points are directly indicative of a player’s skill level (a three-digit high score will raise eyebrows in a room), making this game a highly competitive one.
This is precisely why Flappy Bird’s rise to fame is so surprising. The developer clearly did not expect the app to get so popular because if you examine the UX, you will realise that it doesn’t link to any social media sites, just to a single leaderboard (e.g. Google Plus for Android phones). For an app that, in the words of the designer, is “designed for offline competition”, it is surprisingly tedious to share your scores. For you to share your top score, you would have to take a screenshot before uploading it manually to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine or Tumblr. And that was what people did, complete with #FlappyBird #Flappocalypse #ihatethisgame #ibrokemyphone #screwthisgame hashtags. Perhaps that was what contributed to Flappy Bird’s popularity. Aside from its addictive nature, when players have to manually upload their scores to Twitter and Instagram, they are more inclined to customise their post and add creative and hilarious hashtags.
It has gotten to the point where writing a Flappy Bird angst review has become something of an art. A quick glance at user reviews on the Apple and Google Play app store will reveal that. This one below definitely takes the cake:
There are so much angst and frustration from this one tiny app, prompting writers to bemoan the state of humankind (see CNET’s reflective piece hilariously titled “Flappy Bird is the embodiment of our descent into madness“).
As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and the surge in Flappy Bird copycats is indicative of the game’s popularity. On Google Play alone, I’ve encountered apps like Flappy Wings (a bird that honest-to-god actually poops), Flappy Pants (underpants that fly. And no, I don’t get it either)and Flappy Tappy(a, erm, pig that flies). As Flappy Bird allegedly reaps in a whooping $50,000 a day from ads, it is no wonder that developers are scrambling to imitate this game, thinking that Flappy Bird has found it, the mysterious recipe for a successful mobile game.
Other developers have tried to cash in on this hype by claiming that the Flappy Bird creater got his inspiration from them.
Which Dong Nguyen was quick to dismiss, claiming that it was just a coincidence.
In a previous 2359Media blog post, our residential UX expert, Valerie wrote an article, “How to Build a Billion Dollar App like Instagram“, and it seems like Flappy Bird has all three elements down pat.
Your app in one phrase
Flappy Bird couldn’t have done this any better. “Flap your wings to fly…” and that is indeed very succinctly, the essence of this game.
The 80/20 rule and Made for User
To recap, the 80/20 rule states that you should prioritize 20% of the functions used by 80% of the users. Flappy Bird is, very simply put, a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). It is the very bare minimum and 100% fuss-free. Tap to start and navigate your bird, and tap replay to start over; that is about all the controls in the game. In fact, given how the creater did not expect the popularity of the app, even the sharing of high score is a simple and straightforward score posting to Play or Games Centre. There are no customisation whatsoever, no selection of levels, not even a pause button (on the Android version at least).
But it works.
The current version of Flappy Bird is exactly what users want. A simple and fuss-free game for them to play on-the-go. A vast majority of players just want to be able to restart the game with minimal load time and minimal taps.
The only thing that Nguyen is working on to change is the position of the replay button. As a left-hander, he conveniently placed the replay button on the left side, causing much awkward thumb twisting for (a large majority of) right-handers. Nguyen said he has submitted the changes and is currently waiting for an approval from Apple.
Nonetheless, however lucky Nguyen might be, the success of this indie game is somewhat heartening and Nguyen agrees whole-heartedly. In a twitter response to a follower, he tweeted: “Indie games have opportunities too. It doesn’t need to spend money for promoting to get success.”
So, hang in there and keep flapping, guys. And when the ugly bird starts to piss you off, relieve some of that pent-up fury by smashing them to bloody pulp in SquishyBird, or head on over for Flappy Bird Therapy. Better still, check out the YouTube video for a erm, quick Flappy Bird Fix.
Or maybe, the reason why people still persist in playing this infuriating game that has spawned hoax murder stories is a lot simpler. In the words of a friend who has a highscore of a whooping 240, maybe they “simply refuse to suck at piloting a pixelated bird”.
UPDATE: The lifespan of this app is apparently as short-lived as an amateur’s game. In a series of tweets on the 9th of February, Nguyen announced that he was taking the game down.
While many have speculated that this was but a marketing stunt ( a one-man studio walking away from $50,000 a day? IMPOSSIBLE!), it seems like it might very well be true. At the very least, we can expect the inexplicable hype over this game to finally die down.