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Fly Away Home:

Short and sweet shelf life for 'Flappy Bird'

By Zach Lederman
On February 11, 2014

I don't really understand what it is about mobile games and birds. In 2009 we had "Angry Birds" take the app store by storm, followed by "Tiny Wings" in 2011. Now, in 2014, we've had "Flappy Bird," which has been, arguably, the most popular of them all.
In "Flappy," the player takes the role of the titular bird and navigates his or her way through a series of pipes, trying to avoid bumping into any of them. One single bump and the game ends. It's an incredibly simple and addictive concept. However, this game is not like any other game on the app store. This game comes with one of the most intriguing stories I've ever had the chance to write about.
The game was originally released in May 2013, but flew under the radar for a long time. However, in the beginning of January, something happened to set off what I like to refer to as the "Flappy Reaction." In the course of just a few days, the game seemed to absolutely explode; generating thousands of downloads per hour. Since its big break, the game has been downloaded over 50 million times, and reportedly garnered creator Nguyen Ha Dong upwards of $50 thousand dollars per day in advertising revenue. Unfortunately, I don't have the slightest clue what originally formed the catalyst in our situation here.
So what makes this game so special? Well, frankly, I don't understand it myself. It's certainly not an original concept by any stretch of the imagination. Games like this -commonly known as "helicopter games" - have existed for years now. In fact, by all accounts, "Flappy Bird" isn't even a particularly good helicopter game. There's little to no difficulty curve. The game starts off, and permanently stays, frustratingly difficult. The graphics and scenery are bland and uninspired, and practically every sprite in the game looks stolen from older Mario games. Honestly, the pipes that you have to avoid look like carbon copies of the famous ones that originated in "Super Mario Bros." for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Yet, despite all of this, gamers and non-gamers have gone absolutely berserk over this game. Yes, the game is a free download, but 50 million downloads is still astounding for any app, free or not. Of course, as with anything successful, the game did garner significant criticism. Most ratings from credible game reviewers were mixed at best, and it seemed that for every fan the game had, there were two or three people that hated it.
Eventually, it seems, Dong could no longer handle keeping the game on the app store, tweeting, "I am sorry 'Flappy Bird' users, 22 hours from now, I will take 'Flappy Bird' down. I cannot take this anymore." When asked if the issues were related to a rumored Nintendo lawsuit, Dong tweeted, "It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore." True to his word, less than a day later, the game was removed from the app store, and it seemed as though the "Flappy Bird" phenomenon was over.
Really though, deleting the game has just left us with more questions than answers. Was it really the fame of creating such a popular game that Dong couldn't handle. By his own admission, he was making up to $50 thousand dollars a day for doing basically nothing. I can't imagine anyone in his or her right mind turning down that kind of money, despite the negative attention. That's more money than most people around the world make in a year. My personal guess is that it was related to Nintendo considering a lawsuit. The company is notoriously protective of their flagship franchise. It isn't much of a stretch to imagine the multi-billion dollar company suing to protect their intellectual rights, despite Dong's claim otherwise.
So if you want to try "Flappy Bird" it's unfortunately too late now. Too late, that is, unless you have a few thousand dollars to throw around. Since the game's deletion, many business-minded individuals have taken to eBay and other online auction sites to sell their various phones and MP3 players that have "Flappy Bird" installed on them. At first I was dubious, until I checked for myself and saw some people are paying in the thousands for these now-rare phones and iPods. To those people, I strongly suggest getting their heads examined for possible brain damage. There is nothing unique about "Flappy Bird," and it is certainly not worth paying that much for a free app that any semi-talented developer could create in a day or two.
So is "Flappy Bird" gone for good? It's possible, but I don't think we've yet seen the last of it. Whatever happens though, the story of "Flappy Bird" is one that is going to go down in gaming infamy.
 


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