Are you playing Flappy Bird on your smartphone? No? Don’t read any further.
Unless you’re playing the game, you won’t understand the anguish experienced by the 50 million people who’ve already downloaded this seemingly non-threatening app.
The mechanics are simple: get the bird to fly through the space between the pipes by tapping on your mobile’s touchscreen. But there lies the rub: it sounds good in theory, but is actually difficult to practice. Tap too slowly and the bird plummets to its demise; an extra tap out of panic can send the bird crashing to one of the pipes blocking its flight.
Suddenly, every moment becomes a threat to winning the game. That distracting ad on top of the screen? Death. Your spouse/roommate/mother bugging you to fix your stuff? Death. Feeling the urge to pee in the middle of the game? Prepare to die.
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The Atlantic contributing editor and game designer Ian Bogost observes: “Flappy Bird is a condition of the universe, even if it is one that didn’t exist until it was hand-crafted by a Vietnamese man who doesn’t want to talk about it…Because the game cares so little for your experience of it, you find yourself ever more devoted to it.”
If that’s not enough to frustrate you, this might be: the developer Dong Nguyen, a 29-year old developer from Vietnam, only spent a few hours every night coding Flappy Bird. In an interview by Chocolate Lab App’s Elaine Henley, he revealed, “The bird in Flappy Bird, I actually drew in 2012 to use in a platformer game but the project was cancelled. All the programming took around two-three days at best with all the tuning to make the gameplay feel right.”
As for the success of his addicting game, Nguyen credits it to chance. “I didn’t use any promotion methods. All accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram about Flappy Bird are not mine. The popularity could be my luck.”
(Not surprisingly, there might be some truth in Nguyen’s statement. As Elaine observes, some players have made a game out of creating the best Flappy Bird review on Twitter.)
Like the many other games that have come before it and have already outgrown their novelty (remember Tap Tap Revenge?), Flappy Bird could merely be enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. Still, not a lot of people are raking US$50,000 in ad revenues – something which Nguyen can proudly claim.
The clear lesson of his story though is: If he can do it, then anyone can.
How the internet made a simple idea so successful?
Who could imagine something so simple could be so successful? “Flappy Bird is hardly a new design—it follows in the footsteps of a genre now known as the ‘endless runner’,” Bogost tells us, but is quick to interject, “Set in relief against its precursors, Flappy Bird seems positively minimalist. The Zen Garden School of Design would encourage us to interpret this choice as more rather than less sophisticated: by removing all unnecessary elements, the purity of the endless runner is revealed.”
If there’s one thing that Flappy Bird teaches us (apart from the fact that pushing too hard or too fast isn’t always the way to win), it’s this: it doesn’t always take a very complex idea to become wildly popular.
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Thanks to the internet, anyone—whether they live in the US or Vietnam—can quickly turn their simple concepts into reality, and promote their products in a snap. Have an idea? The resources to pull it off are readily available online. Don’t know how to code? CodeAcademy will help you learn how. Don’t have the patience? You can hire a freelancer on Freelancer.com. (You can even get people on the website to market your product once it’s done.) Everything is readily available at a click of a button.
Nguyen might credit his game’s popularity to luck, but your success doesn’t have to be. You just need to know how to replicate it, using the right tools which you can instantly access.
So the next time you delay with launching that idea percolating in your head, know that somewhere, someone out there is huddled in their bedroom, building the next successful app that will be another reason for you to procrastinate. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle, metaphorically represented by a virtual bird that keeps flapping on, with no finish line in sight.
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