A Casual Casualty: Flappy Bird

Just as Icarus’ portentousness resulted in death, Flappy Bird, the hugely popular casual game from Vietnamese developer, Dong Nguyen, seems to have flown to close to the sun. Hastily removed from both Google Play and Apple stores yesterday night following a Twitter announcement in which its creator accused the game of “ruining his life”, it looks as if this short-lived app phenomenon now belongs to the annals of time.

But with the game generating an alleged $50,000 through advertising revenue and turning Facebook walls into a forum for bragging and frustration, why was the decision taken to clip its wings? Was it for artistic and principled reasons; did the independent Nguyen loathe his ascendancy to the top of the mainstream consciousness? Probably not.

Perhaps the apparent threat of legal action from gaming giant Nintendo led to its grounding. Indeed, the game’s theft of Super Mario Bros’ iconic green pipes is blatant, and additionally, its crudely-drawn eponymous bird bears more than a passing resemblance to the antagonistic fish that feature prominently in the aformentioned’s underwater levels.

Or maybe it has ceased to exist because of accusations that several bots were deployed to bolster the game’s downloads, presenting an illusion of its success and popularity and thus spiking app store activity.

But whilst we can jealously sit around for weeks on end and eke out the real reason for Flappy Bird’s quarantine, we’ll probably never know the truth. So let us not rejoice at its death but celebrate what made it so bloody addictive.

There’s really nothing about the game’s design that screams complexity or complication. It’s based on a freakishly simple concept; tap the screen to guide the bird around as many pipes as you can. Its graphics are laughably plain and its mechanics can be picked up by anyone in possession of an index finger. And it’s this home-made feel that made the game so endearing; no expenses wasted on focus groups and big-wig researchers/ trend forecasters, just an endless runner that provided its players with endless fun, endless frustration and endless playing time.

William Shakespeare’s Polonius, a character featured in Hamlet, once spoke the sentence ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ and it’s clear that Flappy Bird has followed in the footsteps of Temple Run and Candy Crush Saga in appropriating this sentiment for the mobile gaming market; simplicity is the key to the happiness of the gamer and to lining the pockets of the gleeful developer.

In fact, Flappy Bird’s only complication resides in its deceptive task. How hard can it be to manoeuvre a miniature bird around a scattered array of pipes? Just ask this guy. And his reaction is just one shining example of both the game’s addictive yet highly irritating qualities. These sensations are best conceptualised in this clip; thrilling, tempting and painful in equal measure. Yet, you could never resist just one more go at showing those meddling pipes who was boss! And another. And another. All the time attempting blithely to justify your shirking of real-world responsibilities.

Dong Nguyen has vowed to remain active as a gaming developer but it’s doubtful that he will ever be this triumphant again. Flappy Bird may be gone but its legacy crows an important message to game developers; don’t overcook and over-think your app, take simplicity under your wing and you’ll soar to success. Casual gamers are sitting ducks.