Flappy Bird. Flappy. Fucking. Bird.
About a week ago, I was perusing the App Store as I normally do. Much to my surprise, I saw a new king atop the free app charts: Flappy Bird. This was odd to me because I usually feel like I’m paying enough attention to see an app’s rise in one way or another. But not here. The app seemingly rose from 0 to 60 overnight.
Now, I have no idea how/why this actually happened. Maybe a nefarious scheme is pumping (or at least priming) these games, maybe not. But unlike others, I’m actually not that skeptical. Having played all the games (as well as the Flappy Bird clone, Ironpants, which currently stands at number four in the App Store) and hearing friends talk about it, I think I get it. And the answer couldn’t be easier.
We live in an era where videogames are getting more and more complicated. I couldn’t begin to tell you how to play the latest Call of Duty because I will never go anywhere near that game. It’s not that it’s not fun — I’m quite certain that it is. But the amount of time I would need to invest to get “good” at the game is way too high. It’s a huge barrier to entry. And this is a problem the industry has faced for a while.
Compare this to the games we used to play as kids. The brilliance of Atari and Nintendo games resided in their pure playability. You didn’t need to read an instruction manual to play them, you just needed to pick up the controller. Once you did this, a few taps and you were off.
Flappy Bird and the like are this to an extreme. The only thing you really need to know how to do here is tap the screen. It’s the definition of mindless entertainment. And in an ever-busy world, you just need a few free seconds to play. It’s refreshing.
And yet, the game is not too easy. In fact, it’s quite hard. This is an important element. As a result, you get frustrated and try again, and again, and again. You want to believe you simply cannot be this bad at the game.
Meanwhile, the game serves up another ad, and another, and another. It’s actually brilliant in so many ways. It’s the crack cocaine of mobile gaming.
And this is exactly why Nintendo should take my recent advice and create a console dedicated solely to simple gaming. The App Store has long proven there is still a market for “retro” games, and Flappy Bird and its brethren are showing that this market may be larger than anyone previously imagined.1
That’s not to say Flappy Bird will remain king forever. In fact, I suspect we’ll see many more clones and all of these titles will cycle through the top of the App Store charts very quickly. This disposable gaming works both ways.
Regardless, I don’t believe this style of games are a fluke. Nor are they going away anytime soon.
Also note how much the design of Flappy Birds is like an old school Mario level, pipes and all. This is no accident. ↩