The Rise & Fall of Flappy Bird
FEB. 10, 2014 • The pride of Vietnam’s mobile app development scene, Nguyen Ha Dong, has removed his hugely popular Flappy Bird game from distribution. The free title was released last May and existed in relative obscurity until November when iOS downloads skyrocketed. Soon Flappy Bird was getting between 1 million and 2 million downloads a day on Apple’s App Store, and roared past 50 million. The Android version followed the iOS original on January 30, and quickly passed 10 million downloads on Google Play. Flappy Bird generated revenue via advertising, which The Guardian newspaper estimated at $50,000 per day since the game took off. The title is reminiscent of SNES platform games from the 1980s in style and gameplay. Players use finger presses on the smartphone touchscreen to make a cartoon bird flap its wings and fly around and through obstacles, in levels that are intentionally difficult to progress through. Nguyen’s reason for pulling Flappy Bird was that the game’s success was too big a burden for his one-man studio to deal with.
Impact: The dreams of some can be nightmares to others. By all accounts Flappy Bird is an incredibly difficult and frustrating game to play. Despite this, and with no promotion whatsoever, the title grew into a No. 1 hit on word-of-mouth – completely overwhelming the resources of Mr. Nguyen in the process. What appears to have happened is that most player’s inability to progress more than a few minutes through the game became something to brag about. Flappy Bird is a very simple game with few controls. What Nguyen did include however was two means of discussing the title socially. Press the Rate icon and players are taken to the App Store reviews section for game while pressing Share leads to social media. So many people went onto share their frustrations with Flappy Bird that it went viral six months after release. The lesson here is that consumers will respond to something novel, even if it frustrates them. What sets Flappy Bird apart is that it is both easily accessible and intentionally challenging at the same time. Back in the early days of arcade video games titles such as Joust and Atari Football required serious frenetic input from players to succeed. What Flappy Bird did was tap into a similar mechanic and competitive attraction via smartphones. Perhaps Nguyen has received enough revenue in three months that he shut down a title that threatened to usurp all of his energies. Then again, there is no guarantee how much longer that Flappy Bird could have maintained its growth arc as people got sufficiently frustrated to put the game down for good. Regardless, Nguyen once again proved how well simple and competitive concepts can resonate with millions of consumers.