For a short period of time, the smartphone and tablet game Flappy Bird was all the rage — ‘rage’ being the operative word in that sentence. It promised to be a straightforward time-killer for doctor’s waiting rooms and train journeys home; a simple tap game that challenged you to flap a bird’s wings and fly it through a series of green pipes. However, it was so poorly designed that the game prompted frustration from everyone who tried it.
The gaps were impossibly tight, the physics was difficult to gauge and the eponymous bird would often die without having collided into anything at all. I played the game for about an hour over the course of one weekend and didn’t manage to get a score higher than 7. It was so difficult to play, in fact, that some gamers broke their devices in anger.
People started taking to social media to discuss the app and it wasn’t long before curiosity got the better of the gaming world. Soon, everyone wanted to take a shot at Flappy Bird.
In much the same way that you can’t look away from a car crash, gamers just had to see what the fuss was about. They wanted to find out if it was really as bad as people were saying. In addition, players wanted to see how the seemingly easy task of tapping to get a bird through some pipes could be so challenging and cause such a vitriolic reaction. That was certainly the reason why I downloaded it.
Whether people were playing it out of morbid curiosity or they were genuinely enjoying the simple but addictive app didn’t matter though; they were playing it. Thus, it became one of the most popular games on the app store. In just a matter of weeks it was making its young developer Nguyen Ha Dong, a 27 year old from Vietnam who designed it in just 72 hours, upwards of $50,000 a day from in-game adverts. It was a rags tor riches story like few others in the gaming world. He was propelled to celebrity status over night. But, as anyone who tried maneuvering the bird through those pipes knows all too well, what comes up must come down – and this is precisely what happened with Flappy Bird.
Nguyen Ha Dong very clearly became frightened by just how much attention his game was getting. He took to Twitter to demand peace from the press (he refused to give interviews during this whole period) and often had to fend off criticism from those who didn’t like Flappy Bird. This sometimes included death threats. Things only got worse when people also began to accuse Nguyen Ha Dong of foul play. An app designer and marketer for Blue Cloud Solutions insinuated in a blog post that Nguyen Ha Dong used bots to hijack the ratings and boost it up the charts. Many people also accused him of plagiarising the aesthetic of Nintendo’s Super Mario games – not least of all because of the pipes.
The ‘fun’ therefore came to a halt. Like the game’s bird colliding into a pipe, Nguyen Ha Dong killed Flappy Bird off. He tweeted that he would remove it from app stores in just a few days, meaning that those who hadn’t installed it would no longer be able to. The developer said he wanted to return to a life of simplicity. He said he had created an ‘addictive’ monster and had to destroy it. Cynics wondered if he had been handed a Cease And Desist notice by Nintendo after the aforementioned allegations. Some even thought it might have been a marketing ploy to get one final surge of installs before the game inevitably faded into obscurity.
The real reason for the app’s demise may not be known. But one thing is certain: Flappy Bird is no more. It has become a bird so rare that people were listing phones that still had the game on eBay for thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, a great many knockoffs have appeared on app stores in the weeks following its disappearance. It goes to show that the story of Flappy Bird’s unprecedented rise and spectacular fall is so incredible that it won’t be forgotten any time soon.