In Memoriam: Flappy Bird – The Worst Game Ever Made
The smartphone tap game Flappy Bird was all the rage — quite literally. It was so poorly constructed and impossible to play that some broke their phones in utter seething anger. Gamers on the App Store called it “the death of me”, warned others to “save yourselves” and proclaimed it as “the apocalypse”. CNET even went as far as to call it “the worst smartphone game ever created”. Nonetheless, Flappy Bird was perched at the top of the App Store’s charts with its creators .GEARS Studio making upwards of $50,000 a day. That is, it was until this weekend when, in a bizarre twist, Flappy Bird was taken down from the store. Its young Vietnamese creator Nguyen Ha Dong tweeted that he “cannot take this anymore” and announced he was taking the game down. Some speculated he was being sued; others saw it as an admission of guilt over cooking ratings. But whatever the case, Flappy Bird defied all logical explanation and soared to heights that few games have ever achieved.
Was Flappy Bird The Worst Game Ever Made?
For those who didn’t have the (mis)fortune of playing it, Flappy Bird was pure evil. It was more or less the worst thing to happen to humanity since the plague. Nguyen Ha Dong developed the game in just 72 hours and the shoddy design made you wonder if he worked on it for just an hour and spent the remaining 71 watching Big Brother.
It challenged you to fit a pixelated animated bird through a series of pipes by tapping the screen to make it flap its wings. Simple enough, right? Wrong. The gaps were tight, the trajectory was difficult to gauge and the physics of the flaps were so messed up it was impossible to know how high you’d go with each tap. Sometimes you’d hit a pipe even when you hadn’t actually hit a pipe. That’s not to mention that adverts would frequently pop up on screen and distract you. Consequently, the average turn lasted about 10 seconds and most people struggled to get a high score of more than 7 or 8.
Playing Flappy Bird was a soul-crushing experience. It quickly left you a broken, beaten, devastated wreck. As the bird plunged head first into the same green pipe time and again you would be left staring into some kind of existential abyss. It’s a game that hated you and made you hate yourself.
Therefore, whichever way you choose to look at it, the success of Flappy Bird was a complete head-scratcher. It baffled developers who had toiled for years on their games only to be demolished in the charts by such a shoddy, rushed product. It stumped critics who couldn’t understand how this had taken off in such extraordinary fashion. What’s more: if its success continued and Nguyen Ha Dong hadn’t taken it down Flappy Bird might even have out-performed some of the major new releases on XBox or Playstation in revenue.
The Reason For The Game’s Soar To Success
There is an argument that Flappy Bird’s popularity was because people were playing the game ironically. Gamers, they said, were enjoying the experience in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way with their tongues firmly placed in their cheeks. Their stance was that Flappy Bird is essentially the app equivalent of listening to Rebecca Black — and like Black, it was just a momentary fad. Some even accused Nguyen Ha Dong of foul play. An app designer and marketer for Blue Cloud wrote on his blog that Flappy Bird’s rise from obscurity to popularity (many people don’t know that Flappy Bird is actually eight months old) looked “really similar to bot activity”. However, the real answer is probably a lot simpler: it was just so damn addictive.
As the bird plummeted to the ground and you were encouraged to play again it was hard to resist just one more go. Because the turns were so short Flappy Bird was, furthermore, the perfect time waster for those mere seconds when smartphone users don’t have something else to occupy their eyes or their mind. There was also the sense that something as simple as getting a bird through a gap shouldn’t beat you, that you were better than this, appealing to your sense of pride. That’s not to mention that anyone could play the game. Skilled gamers didn’t have any kind of advantage in Flappy Bird because, well, there was no skill involved in the first place. The simple tap-tap-tap mechanism created a level playing field.
But the fun came to a halt this weekend, like one of the game’s birds barging into a green pipe, when Nguyen Ha Dong tweeted that the game would be removed from app stores. His tweets suggest that he was spooked by the enormous level of media coverage the game had received. They read:
Press people are overrating the success of my games. It is something I never want. Please give me peace.
— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 4, 2014
And also, I am sorry press people. You are not my players!
— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 7, 2014
@joekloc Hello Joseph, the media need to leave me alone. The game isn’t that great! Apologies but I won’t answer anymore questions.
— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 4, 2014
The game’s fans said that Dong’s pressure represented many of the challenges independent game developers face in the press. The skeptics speculated that Flappy Bird was being taken down for legal reasons. So whether it was just a momentary fad or the next big smartphone craze, an unlikely stroke of genius or a symbol of humanity’s descent into madness, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that Flappy Bird’s bizarre, unpredictable and unprecedented flight was unlike anything the industry had seen before, regardless of its actual quality. For that reason, it may be gone, but it won’t be forgotten.