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The “Flappy Bird” Iphone Phenomenon

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By Johnny Bevers

The wildly popular and ferociously difficult iPhone game, Flappy Bird, was a huge success upon release on May 24, 2013.  It was highly criticized as a “quick job” for its below average graphics and outrageously hard gameplay.  This, however, didn’t stop it from making a ton of money and having a huge following.  The app was taken off the market due to the constant critiques.  Many people have tried to follow the success by creating similar games, and while Apple has been cracking down on copycats who try to capitalize on the word “Flappy”, there are still many alternatives out there for you to get your fix.


flappy bird on iphoneFlappy Birds was developed by Nguyễn Hà Đông and published by GEARS Studios.  It was an unlikely hit, topping the charts and becoming the #1 iOS game on both the iPhone and Android.  The simple graphics had a nostalgia-tickling charm, featuring side-scrolling two-dimensional graphics and audio that reminds one of old school arcade games.  The goal of the game was to navigate the bird through the breaks in the green pipes without touching them; doing so ended the game.





flappy bird start screen in action

Fans got a masochistic thrill from Flappy Birds, which many believe was inspired the “Helicopter Game”, a gaming sensation that has been around for decades.  Nguyễn Hà Đông, whilst recognizing the difficulty of the game, stated that none of his games are meant to be unbeatable.  The blend of skill and luck by no means impeded its growth.  With its initial release for the iPhone 5 and subsequent release for the iOS 7 in September 2013, Flappy Birds quickly climbed the charts.  By January 2014, it was the #1 Free App on the Chinese and US app stores.  It was released for the Android on the GooglePlay Store on January 30, 2014.  Proclaimed as the new Angry Birds, The Verge noted that Flappy Birds was pulling in $50,000 a day in revenue, all through advertising.

flappy bird graphiceOnly taking two or three days to develop, reviewers were highly critical of the game.  While it received mixed reviews, the general consensus of “professional” game reviewers was poor to say the least.  Huffington Post dubbed it as an “insanely irritating, difficult and frustrating game which combines a super-steep difficulty curve with bad, boring graphics and jerky movement.”  The Metacritic score was just as shoddy with a rating of 52/100 and toted it as “the ultimate mobile game rip off”.




flappy bird play screenStill, the games success is undeniable.  Since it was shut down, people with the game preinstalled have been putting up their mobile devices on eBay, with some phones reaching bids of $99,000!  This mobile gold rush was fueled by the creator’s refusal to republish or sell the game.  So, the question remains:  Why would anyone take down a game that was pulling in such a staggering profit?


flappy bird pic of phoneIn the words of Nguyễn Hà Đông himself, “It is not anything related to legal issues.  I just cannot keep it anymore.”  This comment was in response to an allegation that the producers of the game were in a legal dispute with Nintendo for its graphical and auditory similarities to Mario.  This is not the reason; it seems as though the creator is, simply put, a game developer with the aura of a Buddhist monk.  Money is not what he is after in his profession.



sponge bob on flappy birdHe has also created other successful games.  FlappyDoge, being one of the most similar, is a PC web-based game that is essentially the same thing Flappy Birds was, the only differences being that it trades the bird for a dog and taps on your iphone for clicks on your mouse.  Ironpants is another flight game where you are a superhero attempting to fly through an obstacle course.  Your super strength won’t help you here though, you will still die immediately upon impact with something as mundane as wooden boxes.  There’s still a whole onslaught of carbon copies.  These include Fly Birdie (which has taken the number one spot on the App Store leaderboards, and is more forgiving in that it gives you three lives), Flappy Plane, and Flappy Wings.  There is also a number of parody versions such as Fall Out Bird featuring the ensemble of Fall Out Boy and Flappy Bert starring Sesame Street’s beloved star.

Badland is one of the more graphically stunning Flappy Bird-isque games.  It is a surreal game for the iOS and Android that is a turning point to the horror genre.  Most horror games have to rely on monsters popping out of the darkness to instill any sense of tension, but this game is different. Although there is no identifiable protagonist or antagonist and no real storyline, the intensity is something that is unrivaled in the world of sidescrollers. Like Flappy Bird, you tap to go up and release to go down, but in Badland the controls are slick and the gameplay is captivating.  The terrain is beautiful, but don’t get caught up the assethics too much.  As if this wasn’t enough, It also supports multiplayer!

There are a few other games released by Flappy Birds creator, Nguyễn Hà Đông.  These games are also wildly popular, made moreso by the shutdown of Flappy Birds.  Super Ball Juggling is one of these.  In this game you will attempt to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible, the kicker (no pun intended) being that you have two characters to control.  The key to this game is keeping the momentum going.  You begin with your red-shirted character on the left, kicking a soccer ball to keep it in the air.  After a few kicks a ball will be introduced to your green-shirted counterpart, and you will have to keep both balls going.  Timing is essential, the best time to kick the ball (click) is when it is level with your height. Super Ball Juggling can also be turned into a two player game if you and your friend both click different sides of the device.

cartoon making fun of flappy birdAnother game made by this developer is Shuriken Block.  In this addictive app you must keep five people safe from the falling shurikens.  It starts off easy enough, clicking a few falling blocks to destroy them before they hit one of your unmoving, paraplegic characters.  But, as the game progresses you must move faster to keep them safe.  Depending on how well you block the shuriken, you will be awarded between 1 and 10 points, when you reach 150-300 points the level gets harder.

Although these games are both trending, one cannot deny that the success of these games can be attributed to the popularity of Flappy Birds.  You can’t help but wonder if these games will remain popular or if it is the residual prosperity of a one-hit wonder developer.  All of the games this developer made are so simplistic that it’s amazing they’ve done so well, but in the words of Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  Will the creator of the Flappy Birds phenomenon keep pumping out simple games with clunky controls that somehow still turn a profit?  Will he start making more complex games?  Or will he ultimately fail and regret having ever shut down the one game he made that had such a following?  Only time will tell.

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