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.

What game do we make next? The 64 million $ question.

What kind of game should a game developer make to give them a bigger chance of success? This is something we have been discussing in the dojit mobile game development offices. With a stable of games releases, a couple in the pipeline, and a lot of statistical analysis – is it possible to predict the future when it comes to mobile game development success?

If we look at information from App Annie then this month’s iOS platforms biggest mover was Imangi Studios, best known for producing the hit game Temple Run. On January 17, 2013, they launched the sequel, Temple Run 2, whose massive success helped the husband-and-wife team jump 34 spots to the #5 ranking in this month’s Index. Not bad for a running game – so perhaps running games are where it is at? Which is great news for our Dragon Dancer release.

However, on the other side of things, a company which has created no running games has had it’s sales continue to accelerate remarkably in January 2013. GungHo Online Entertainment  Janurary’s sales represented close to 30% of sales for all of 2012 and represented an increase of 1022% over the same month one year ago. And not bad if you only have 14 games released!

While GungHo might well also sell PC games and console games (e.g. PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS), its financial report – pegged its leading growth driver to be mobile apps sold on the iOS App Store and Google Play. Their January 2013 report called out the success of their hit game Puzzle & Dragons in particular. Remarkably, GungHo led the Top Publishers by Monthly Revenue rankings not only for the iOS App Store, but also for Google Play. So perhaps it is puzzles and platforms where we should align our creative efforts. Platform games with a puzzle element for a younger audience like our Home Bear Spring edition are doing very well in China – with more than 65% of our downloads coming from that region.

Yet should we really follower the lead of the leading game houses, isn’t doing so simply trying to play catch-up? Who would have guessed that the biggest selling and fastest growing games would be categories like “make you think” and “make you move”?

If we had been looking just at numbers then a few years ago, the top charts on Facebook, iOS, mixi and Tencent were largely resource management games. From managing farms to running cafes, a whole host of these games from hundreds of top publishers dominated casual gaming East and West. Now in the “make you think” category, the mobile games topping the charts include strategy games like Clash of Clans (Supercell) and Kingdoms of Camelot (Kabam), brain / puzzle / word games like Candy Crush Saga (King.com), Puzzle & Dragons (GungHo Online) and LINE POP (NHN). In the “make you move” category, we have many more twitch-based games such as Temple Run 2 (Imangi Studios), Subway Surfers (Kiloo) and Angry Birds (Rovio).

Meanwhile,to confound everything, Cha Cha Cha made its debut in this list as the #2 grossing game – a car crashing ‘make you move’ game. Which has been successful for a whole host of other (almost non game reasons) as CJ E&M explains “There are two main reasons Cha Cha Cha has become a top 10 gaming app on Google Play, both in terms of monthly revenue (#2) and monthly downloads (#9). First, it’s a really exciting game to play. There are many racing games, but we distinguished our game with a car-crashing feature that really resonated with our audience. Second, we focused monetization efforts on users in their 30s-50s. These users are less sensitive to trends than younger users, so they retain better. This demographic is also willing to spend money on games that suit them.” So perhaps our question shouldn’t be what type of game should we make – it’s more what type of person do we want to play it?


But do mobile game developers really choose their demographic based on life time value of the potential customer or more what is easier to get with social media marketing and what’s on trend right now? How did you pick your demographic?