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Flappy Bird is proof that no one knows what the audience wants (polygon.com)
233 points by bpierre on Feb 6, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments



"The big players in the AAA sector believe the people want military shooters and open-world games full of the old ultra violence."

A lot of people do want those things, which is why "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto" make billions of dollars every sequel.

"The indie community believes that what people really want is experimental games with heart and a unique visual sensibility. And puzzle platformers. And roguelikes."

Some people do want those things, which is why these genres have dedicated followings.

At the risk of sounding glib: Flappy Bird's success doesn't prove or disprove anything about the gaming industry. It certainly isn't some sort of paradigm shift, and it's hardly an indication that "no one knows what the audience wants."

To put it more directly: there is no "the audience," in some monolithic and homogenous sense of the word. There are audiences. When an outlier comes around every now and then, offering novel gameplay and a unique sensibility, that's awesome. But it doesn't mean everyone else is somehow wrong. The only ones who will get it wrong, in this case, will be the legions of publishers rushing Flappy Bird clones to market in the hopes of catching some of its halo effect. (Upon last app store search, it seemed there are already many dozens of these in the market.)


I also think, with indie games, you get things like "heart" and "unique visual sensibility" simply because those are the most easily available ways for an indie developer to add value to their game.

And similarly with Zynga/facebook games- I don't think it's necessarily their opinion that they are making the "right" game, it's just that they are making the game most likely to draw in people from social networks and keep them.


I don't disagree with most of your post, but I still think the basic message of the blog post is valid.

Obviously, if developers in AAA or indie sector knew that this kind of huge success could be had with a game like this, they would have made it. But it's humbling to consider that no matter how long people make games, nobody knows the formula for the making next big hit. I don't think he's trying to say that AAA or indie developers are dumb.


AAA developers aren't trying to make games that earn $50K/day (while a game is getting 1MM+ installs per day). AAA developers can spend $100MM+ in development costs and are looking for titles that can make $200K/day or launch and make $75MM on day 1.

Indie developers would love to make this type of game, but the fact is that even with the monumental success the game has had from a download perspective (50MM downloads), it's still only making $50K/day. That's like winning the lottery. Most indie devs are going to make games that get downloaded fewer than 1 million times, which, for a title like this, isn't going to make more than 1-2 employee salaries (let alone the up-front cost of building the game for the first X months for free).


That's all true, but I still think that if anyone (indie, AAA, or otherwise) knew they could have the no 1 spot in the app store simply by making Flapper (a relatively small investment to develop), they would have done it. Even if the game is free, the publicity alone is worth a huge amount.

But nobody knew.


I feel like you're saying if indie, AAA knew the lottery numbers for next week they would have bought a ticket. Which of course they would have. But I don't see this game as something that is repeatable. It seems literally like winning the lottery, whether or not you can get a simple game in the app store to be such a success.

So I don't see the value in saying that nobody knew. In the same way saying someone didn't know next weeks lottery numbers doesn't make them incompetent or the person who won the lottery a genius (or have some special insight).


I didn't call the other game developers incompetent and I don't think the Flapper developer is a genius.

I'm just saying that art is pretty mysterious and despite the fact that people have been making video games for quite a while now, no one knows the formula for the next big hit and somehow the next hit always finds new and old ways to surprise us. But just my $0.02 ^_^


We know a lot of very effective formulas. Thats not to say all profit comes from games that follow formulas, but the formulas certainly make it more likely.


Exactly. Just the same way that every music label would make "Gangnam Style" and "Friday".


There's a huge difference between AAA developers and indie developers. To say that a AAA dev would make games like Flappy Bird if they knew it would work is like saying a teacher would have chosen a career in underwater welding if he knew how lucrative underwater welding is.


It's a fair point, and I don't mean to come across as overly dismissive of the article in general.


Flappy bird is already a clone itself so they were there even before. And there are also similar games that are really polished and beautiful (like Badland with its great story and graphics). Flappy bird is a fluke (regarding popularity), I think. Being free definitely helped them too.


Yup. In my previous job I wrote a UI framework for set top box developers in my company to be able to be able to create interfaces relatively easily. One of the exercises I used to give them during training was to write exactly this game (well, except artwork). It's ideal for a platform that has an RC remote control as its interface... So it's far from an original idea, you have to just assume that the developer got lucky.


i think you're point is a bit off-the-mark, so i'm going to add a qualifier to the title to put you in the right direction.

"Flappy Bird is proof that no one knows what the audience wants..."

...in order to fully maximize revenue per employee.


Exactly - There is no universal truth involving pretty much anything/


This story is incredibly reductionist to the point of being false.

Flappy Bird tells you nothing about what the 'People' want. Today they want a single button physics game, tomorrow they want hardcore shooters. Some people want RPGs, others want micropayment sandboxes.

They problem is that everyone is trying to copy the dumb luck of developers who happen upon the right mix of categories at the right moment in time. Once flappy bird is copied 100x times and becomes an expected mechanic it will no longer be what the people want.


It turns out that what the people really want, for the moment at least, is Flappy Bird.

The point of the story is not that people want Flappy Bird -- it's that despite numerous predictions and formulas used in the industry to determine which projects get funded, nobody was talking about doing a game like Flappy Bird. Prior to its success, it would have been dismissed out of hand to spend resources on a title like that. The author is making the point that predicting what people want is not formulaic, it appears to be quite random.


I'm not sure what you mean by nobody talking about doing a game like Flappy Bird. Of course, no one was talking about a game exactly like it - every game is different.

But there's loads of games quite a lot like it already - it's basically a very simple version of something like Jetpack Joyride with a subtly different input mechanism (repeated tap instead of holding down to fly). That's a game so common that there's even a tutorial (http://www.raywenderlich.com/9050/how-to-make-a-game-like-je...) on how to write your own version. There's a fair chance that the author of Flappy Bird used this as the source for the game.

I've no idea what actually made Flappy Bird successful, but whatever it was it's certainly not any huge gameplay innovation that others had failed to spot.


A few points to compare the two:

- Jetpack Joyride is way easier. I think something "unique" about Flappy Bird is how difficult it is.

- It's extremely easy to start a new round in Flappy Bird (and it happens quite often). Die on the first pipe? Tap again to jump right back in. You don't even need to hit a button, it's pretty much tap anywhere on the screen.

- Sharing high scores with friends is way easier. "I got a 22 the other day." is way easier than saying "I got 108,000".

- The high scores are more meaningful to other players because they will know exactly how Player1 got that score. The 108,000 in Jetpack Joyride is ambiguous because the score is a function of distance, coins, kills, etc. Remember back in the day, hearing about some dude's cousin that made it to level 55, and how seemingly impossible that was?


The two games clearly have some differences, but I'm not sure that I'd class any of those as being particularly unique.

Somehow, something about this game has grabbed people's interest, but it's not some brilliant gameplay innovation that the rest of the gaming world had overlooked.


Some thing tells me this dude spent way less on development. Justifying it is easier when there is no budget.


Not to mention a certain Youtuber with a bazillion subs put it in front of a lot of kids who love to share it with their friends.


Apparently it was already #1 on the App Store before that, though. Pewdiepie's video was 10 days afterwards: http://tabtimes.com/feature/tablet-game-business/2014/02/04/...

It's bizarre that the game has been out since May 2013, didn't do very well, and then suddenly went viral 8 months later. It'd be fascinating to see what exactly kicked it off.


Malcolm Gladwell would love to get his grubby little hands on that fact!


Then beat the crap out of the poor fact until not even its own mother could recognise it and prove that aliens once walked on Mars because, like, there's a carrot in New York and Flappy Bird and THEREFORE TRUE.

Several quintillion dollars later from the sales of his book "I think you'll find the plural of anecdote is actually my 12 figure bank account", he retires.


Which Youtuber was this?



absolutely. if the success of flappy birds teaches us anything it's certainly not a lesson about game design. the big players in the mobile space know very well how to generate long term revenues with their games. flappy birds is a lesson about virality (and how unpredictable it is).


It shows that people want birds, but they had grown tired of the anger of angry birds. This bird speaks to now.


Relevant:

Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce...


I haven't played Flappy Bird, but it seems really similar to a helicopter game that was inordinately popular in my middle school 10-12 years ago. It looks like it's still up. http://www.addictinggames.com/action-games/helicoptergame.js...


There are roughly eleventy kazillion mobile clones of that helicopter game. However, Flappy Bird is the first one I've seen that has a constant difficulty. Most things start easy, get increasingly hard, and arguably at some point become impossible. High scores become primarily a function of the RNG at the skill ceiling. In Flappy Bird if you die it's 100% your fault all the time which makes it quite compelling to try again.

Also it's a total Black Swan event and should be treated as such.


Not exactly a black swan (because afterwards you know of black swans and can anticipated them) but more a lottery ticket. There is no recipe or logic behind why Flappy Bird got immensely popular, just sheer luck.


I might be wrong on this one, but as far as I remember, the originator of this type of game is "The Infamous Worm Game": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OjeFYNq05k

Sadly, the original site that hosted it just has a "Java Applet" placeholder there now: http://www.liquidcode.org/worm.html

It had a very good balance between difficulty and frustration. Or in other words, I wasted a lot of time on it.


The flapping mechanic is very similar to that used in Joust (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joust_%28video_game%29), but without direction control, opponents or lava trolls.


And without anything like the level of control and finesse of the flapping in Joust.



I remember playing SFCave on my Palm IIIe. That was so much fun.


SFCave is availabt on Andoid, and it's very satisfying.


That's why Flappy Bird is so interesting. A lot of people have played the helicopter game or a variant of it. But despite its cheery exterior and familiarity, Flappy Bird is brutally difficult. That juxtaposition makes it surprising. The challenge makes it delightful.


Jetpack Joyride is a better example of the original helicopter game. Flappy bird is pretty much the Profit Bird in jetpack joyride but much more derpy, kind of like balloon fighter or joust.


"derpy" is a good way to put it. I think it meets the sensibilities of many young teens who find the game stupidly fun and it doesn't take itself very seriously.

There's probably an uncanny game design valley here. Abstract ideas that look stupid can be fun, as you iterate and add "polish" there comes a point when your polished game is just dumb and no-one will play it, so you need to add more game mechanics to it to give it more depth.


That helicopter game was originally created for BBC South Coast Diaries and was located here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20020604072320/http://www.seethr...

The main site is now spam, so don't visit it, but archive caught the original and most of the diary pages, which are an interesting read.


This reminds me of a couple of games I had on the Commodore-64. One had a helicopter, but the other was Lunar Lander, which has a very similar mechanic.

I can recall a few others with similar play style - Star paws and Zaxxon come to mind.


Zaxxon! That's a blast from the past, and the only reason I ever knew for someone to be jealous of a ColecoVision.


There were some decent ColecoVision games like some of the arcade ports. The joystick was murder on your hands though if you played long enough.


Fortunately that was back when I was very young, and had very small hands.


yea, you are right. Flappy Bird is exactly the same. I was addicted to the Copter game, prolly around 2007..

https://itunes.apple.com/de/app/copter-game/id433399893?mt=8


Similar, but even less forgiving.


I love Flappy Bird. I play a ton of games on my phone but FB is now my go-to casual game. My high score is 104 if that's any indicator of how much I like it.

Before Flappy Bird I was pretty into Clash of Clans and another similar build-and-wait-and-repeat game. I realized that there is no true progress in those games, and all you have to do to "win" is play more than the other guy.

Flappy Bird is exactly the opposite of Clash of Clans. Clash is all about incremental progress - do One More Thing and you'll get 1% more resources to do That Other One More Thing. Over and over. You inch towards a goal that's not there.

In Flappy Bird, you can't make progress. Every time you click start it might as well be the first time you opened the app. No power ups, no In App Purchases, no levels, just you and those pipes. I get 50 and 5 equally often. Something in my brain rebelled when I played Flappy Bird and made me delete Clash and my other slow-build games. I just want to play something that's over quickly, highly interactive, and uses actual skill.

I'm sure after a few weeks of Flapping i'll be as sick of it as I was of Clash, but I think it's worth nothing that FB is the exact opposite of all of the most popular games out there right now and I think that hits a subconscious note with some people like me.


The success of Flappy Bird is probably two factors:

1) Social Competition

I deleted Flappy Bird almost immediately after downloading it with the thought: "Seen it. Seen it done better." So, there is some level of social interaction that keeps people engaged with it if there are other people around also playing Flappy Bird.

2) Microtransaction fatigue

The success of Flappy Bird may actually be more of a reaction against all the microtransaction garbage than anything else. Flappy Bird REALLY stuck out for not having microtransactions. I was absolutely gobsmacked when I opened it, could play it, and didn't get hounded. That's pretty powerful.


#2 is partially what I was getting at. It's a rebellion against all of the dishonest games out there.


My kids had this game on their ipad. They asked me to have a go at it, I had a look, started playing... 30 minutes later "Dad can I have my my ipad back". Seriously I was hating that game, but the desire to beat my kids score outweighed my frustration at some of those issues (hitbox of the pipes etc). I HAD to beat my previous score, I HAD to master the delicate touch required to precisely navigate those pipes. It's not even a new mechanic. It's the same as Jet Pack Joyride, so it's a copy of existing games, and it completely flogged Mario world graphics, possibly stole them as is and the guy might even have to answer to Nintendo.

It isn't on my list of games I've loved, but it was fun, in a completely infuriating way.

It's better than other games my kids typically play, ice-cream manufacturing/construction type games


Actually, the game mechanic is deceptively different.

It looks and feels like those previous helicopter games where you hold to accelerate up. But it's very different, in that, you top to give the bird a sudden impulse. This is much harder to control with precision.

That's where it's addictive nature comes from... It's deceptive as in "oh I know how to play this kind of game, I can do this!" but in reality it's way more difficult that you estimate it to be.


Jetpack Joyride has the exact same control idea when you're controlling the "Profit Bird" vehicle. So it must be a bird thing.


Hey, I just looked at it, and Jetpack Joyride does not have the same control scheme. It is the "hold button to accelerate up at constant acceleration" controls like other previous games, not the Flappy Bird's "tap to give a sudden impulse" scheme.

Edit: Actually, it's a combination of many schemes. There's a gravity suit that inverts gravity. There's jumping from the ground, which is impulse-based. But the generic jetpack flying is acceleration-while-holding-based. Bottom line, I would not say it's "exactly the same idea" as flappy bird at all.


Interesting. It seems feasible that the cute graphics and memorable name play a role.


Badland, a very successful title [1], has the same game mechanics, along with beautiful graphics, a great physics system and well-designed puzzles. It's been around for a while, so why is 'Flappy Bird', with borrowed Super Mario graphics, overshadowing it?

Free vs $3.99.

[1] http://www.badlandgame.com/


Badland is free on Android. And in the Play Store it has 271,073 ratings https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.frogmind.b...

...so yeah.


Flappy Bird doesn't have any puzzles.


Just replace the gaming genres mentioned with musical ones and Flappy Bird with "Macarena" or "Who Let the Dogs Out?".

It doesn't really need 1000 words.


That's exactly the right comparison, just without the money that record labels use to push songs. Remember Draw Something? Huge for maybe a month, then completely gone.

Flappy Bird is sort of notable because it's probably the simplest "hit" game we've seen in recent memory. It's the sort of thing that appeals to people who aren't even casual gamers, people who wouldn't engage with something like the original Plants vs. Zombies.


If I remember correctly, the last time single-action games were hot topic was about three years ago. Back then it was the black-and-white iOS game, with character running through the city roofs, and your only control was a tap to jump. No idea what it was called.

The success spawned hundreds of imitations, and in about a year the craze had died.

The only surprising things here are, in my mind: A) that the full cycle has gone so quickly, and B) that the author of the article doesn't remember (or acknowledge) a fairly recent past.


Adam Atomic's canabalt, and it was a brilliant and polished game (even if it was created in a super short period of time). I'm sad to see Flappy Bird mentioned alongside it, yet the comparison is apt and I've spent nearly as much time in a marathon happy bird session as I ever did in a canabalt session.



You're thinking of Canabalt, which had a pixilated art style with a limited monochrome palette:

http://adamatomic.com/canabalt/


Didn't the name have quite a few capitalized As and Hs in it?


Are you thinking of Aaaa!: A Reckless Disregard for Gravity?

http://www.dejobaan.com/aaaaa/


This is an interesting point on the rise of Flappy Bird: http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/blog/flappy-birds-smoke-mi...

"When you release games in MAY (Shuriken Block) and JUNE (Flappy Birds) that have a non-existant launch, then magically lift off 6 months later, it looks weird. Especially when your other games coincidentally all do so at the exact same time as well."


I'm surprised he finds it so unbelievable that people would rate a really hard game five stars.


What's so strange about that? Sometimes games take a while to spread via word of mouth, and when a developer finally has a hit, people generally look for other games by the same developer.

For a similar example, look at PSY (Korean rapper/pop artist). He had an entire career and was completely anonymous to western audiences, even though he was very talented. Yet he eventually was recognized. He wasn't a brand new artist - rather an almost retired one who released a satirical song that went viral...


Yes exactly: the game doesn't try to sell you shit, just lets you play. That is refreshing and eerily quiet.

Other than that, it has some winning elements: it's difficult but not impossible. You can play it for 30 seconds or 30 minutes. It is simple. It has a goal you can endlessly pursue. It tickles the nostalgia of all those who grew up on games that this game "borrows" the visuals from.


It has interstitial ads and banner ads that refresh during the middle of gameplay. For most game developers this is an absolute non-starter and considered a terrible game experience. I absolutely would not call that a "refreshing" take on freemium game design.

Not to mention that it probably has horrific monetization and despite its high download titles it likely has poor revenues. Fine for a small development team, but terrible compared to industry norms.


He claims that the ads are making him $50,000 a day, which adds up to a few million dollars before the game dies. Totally fine for a solo dev in Vietnam. Sure the ads could be optimized, but given the game's simple pick-up-and-drop viral format, ads are definitely superior to making this kind of app paid or IAP instead.

http://www.polygon.com/2014/2/6/5385880/flappy-bird-collects...


Exactly. Fine for a solo game developer, but when compared to most top grossing titles which regularly eclipse $250K/day (and are also long-lasting, whereas I'd guess Flappy Bird falls off the radar within a month or two).

Ads never monetize close to the revenue that you can make from IAP - a typical ad installation will make between $0.005 and $0.01 per daily active user, whereas a decently monetizing free to play title can make between $0.03 and $0.20. Smaller userbase titles like card battlers can make upwards of $0.50.

Again, fine for one guy, but I wouldn't call this a raging success of a title and something that free-to-play game studios will use as a framework, by any means. If it takes 50 million installs to make $50K/day, that's a really bad thing.


"which adds up to a few million dollars before the game dies. Totally fine for a solo dev in Vietnam."

Totally fine? I would rate it quite a bit higher, especially in Vietnam, with a GDP per capita of $1755 per year (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD)


The only reason anyone plays Flappy Bird is because you can restart instantly. If you imagine another click between dying and restarting, it suddenly becomes incredibly harder to like the game, or get that fast twitch response.

Instant gratification in this case is instantly trying again.


I've said it before[1], you just don't know what the public wants or what will become popular. If you have an idea & the technical ability to execute, just do it. Doesn't matter if you think you're building a terrible app... just do it; especially if you have nothing else in particular to do.

Seriously, someone should just make this game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is12anYx2Qs ...it's meaningless. Don't bother with a story, or points, or anything. Just a Title screen that says "Disks in Funnels!" with a big start button. Then the game goes forever, maybe it starts to speed up or something. Sell it for 99 cents; you'll be a millionaire.

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7008449


I have been wondering if the developer has made much money from the app at all really. In spite of the overwhelmingly vast number of downloads, the adverts only show whilst you are playing the game. Aside from the momentary lag when they appear, most users probably don't even notice them because they are concentrating so hard. Users are almost guaranteed to pay the adverts no attention lest they risk the possibility of sacrificing their amazing score of 1.


Apparently they make $50k a day in ad revenue (http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/5/5383708/flappy-bird-revenue...). Seems like that would be 'much money'.


Good for them, it is always nice to see indie developers succeed. I didn't mean to come across negatively, if that's what your disparaging quote was inferring.


As someone who has a tendency to read negativity into neutral comments on the internet, allow me to point out that there's nothing in the GPs comment that suggest that it is disparaging. It is actually extremely matter of fact, and even helpful (even though it contradicted part of your original statement). Sure, the quotation could be read as snarky, but that's only because there are a lot of shitty, snarky people on the internet that use neutral language to be jerks. It kind of spoils the well for everyone when neutral direct language is transformed into mean, hateful sentiment, but this comment gives absolutely no outward indication that it is of that sort. Whether or not it was meant to be snarky, as people who communicate often on the internet, we would all be happier if we had the ability to take such comments at face value.

And to be clear, if I had made your original comment earnestly, and received the GPs reply, I am not at all certain that I wouldn't take it just the way you did. I'm just pointing out that it needn't be taken that way.


Thanks, I really didn't mean any snark by it. The comment asked if they made 'much money' and for me $50k a day would qualify. I used quotes since I was literally quoting the original comment.


I was just glad to play a game that doesn't require purchasing of gems or similar. In this sense, I think users are more likely to accommodate the ads but this of course doesn't translate to clicks.


I was thinking the same thing. The ads appear only on the Game Over screen. On my Droid, the ads appears to be cropped, so I don't even know what is being advertised to me. Finally, I don't even see it for more than a half second 'cause I just hit the Play button as soon as it appears.


I played the game momentarily this morning just to try to understand the craze, and on my Nexus 5 the ad at the top only glitched in every now and then. After I exited I discovered my browser on a link clearly opened by an ad: I've heard tales of the maker posting huge daily ad revenue, and congrats to them, but I wonder how much of that were errant clicks. Such revenue is extremely unsustainable.


First, they want games about birds.

What kind of conclusion is this? It's a 2-d side-scrolling game with basic sinking/gravity dynamics. There are only a few ways to make a game with those rules.

(1) use a flying object/animal

(2) put the level underwater (eg Super Mario Brothers, 1985)

(3) make the game entirely abstract.


I think he was joking.


Yeah I wondered that but since I didn't find the passage at all funny and thought it detracted considerably from his primary thesis (by suggesting that he wasn't taking the point seriously) it bothered me.


Who doesn't love birds? Add video games and you have a winner!

except Larry Bird vs Doctor J by EA. That one wasn't so good.


There is no "what the audience wants" there are markets and things that sell well in certain markets.

This sold well in a certain market for many reasons that are hard to predict and study.

Flappy bird is not displacing revenue from AAA studios and AAA studios still shouldn't be concerned what the next flappy bird is. They're too busy researching, analyzing, and developing the next multi-hundred-million-dollar videogame franchise that fits into the markets they understand.

Just because some game gets a lot of attention, doesn't mean that it's signalling a paradigm shift or that everyone else has it wrong.


I feel like we're reliving the late 80s and early 90s in gaming. I keep seeing new game ideas and getting a lot of nostalgia, like, "yeah, that's something that might have even been in an arcade, or on a PC back when SVGA was a thing."

I love that "the people" can immediately jump back through several generations of graphics or locked in gameplay tropes and still have fun. Jonnathanson's right, there's not a single audience out there, but it's good to see lots of people, whatever portion of the gaming population they are, getting some enjoyment from a lo fi experience and making a successful dev along the way.

Why is that exciting to me?

Because I lived through shooters killing adventure games.

And while I love a lot of shooters, and there's been an adventure game renaissance, it took a long time, and that was kind of a tragedy.

But this isn't just about adventure games, there just needs to be space for lots of genres to thrive. And tech limitations (currently on phones/tablets, then on everything) sometimes seem to help this along in a weird way, people pursuing lots of different ideas to package the most fun in a really constrained environment, without just jumping into a 3d environment because an engine is available for licensing.


Who really killed adventure games: http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html


That dude is a bit of an ass, but I'll make two concessions...

Bad adventure games are really bad, true. Pixel hunting and verb guessing and odd sequences...

So really I mourn the death of good writing in games, especially comedy. Adventure games aren't the only source of good writing though, nor were all adventure games well written.

But there is still a dichotomy, because you cant have an adventure game without at least trying to write a story, but an FPS can just be quake.


Everyone knows what the audience wants from a game: fun.

It's not easy to define fun nor to quantify and it plus it is extremely fragile in the face of money people and managers. Fun takes design, accidents and a lot of iteration.


The first title of this type I recall playing in the arcades was Scramble, but you had lasers and bombs. Of the non-increasingly difficult type, they're a dime a dozen. We did one at MTV with SpongeBob and I think AddictingGames did one for Potty Racers. Pretty common, still fun if the controls are done right.

And that's the hitch.

The controls in the Potty Racers version were poor, to give it a compliment. Getting things in any game exactly "right" is what makes one game better than another. Lots of physics games before Angry Birds, none got the physics exactly right.

I'm sure some of your remember Doodle Jump. There was a game before that, that was the exact same type. Same controls, same type of character. But the controls, and what was expected of the character were both off, so no huge hit.

In the game industry, we'll continue to learn this rule over and over as long as accountants tell us what is a good game and what isn't.


Flappy Bird does have viral appeal. I haven't downloaded an iOS game in over 6-12 months probably, but I got this one. I initially saw 'Mario knock off' screens on tumblr, but didn't bother to seek out what it was. I then randomly viewed the iOS top charts and saw the same bird in the icon so I thought I'd give it a shot.

The game is tough. It does remind me of iCopter that was a jailbreak game back for the original iPhone before there was an App Store. It's not nearly as complex, but in some ways more enjoyable once you figure out the ridiculously difficult way in which you have to navigate since the pace is slower and maybe more soothing in motion? (prob not...)

I think this games appeal is all looks.


What both game players and developers want is VIRAL. I admit to downloading it and playing for few minutes, but only because it was covered on so many news sources. That is the only thing is has going for it.


I think it's pretty much impossible to predict what little games like this will go viral. Flappy Bird definitely has all the ingredients, but so do so many other games that never exploded this big. I wonder if anybody has made a business out of "investing" in the development of a large number of such games (a single developer could probably make a game a week), in the hope that just one of them goes viral.

Regardless, I think there's an untapped market of people who want decent mobile games that don't have predatory schemes for monetization.


I don't think brainless game spamming is a viable tactic any more than buying lots of tickets is a smart lottery strategy. Each day there are tens of new "very small" games released on mobile, so you are still competing with a fraction of % chance to win.

That doesn't mean making many games is a bad idea. Rovio had made several dozen games before Angry Birds went viral. Halfbrick spent years barely scraping by before Fruit Ninja became a huge hit. Zynga of course had published many games before Farmville. NimbleBit were doing a game every two months for 3 years before Tiny Tower.

The difference is that each (or at least most) of the games in these companies was developed with the belief that is was a game worthy of being made. To paraphrase Picasso, luck must catch you hard at work.

As for the untapped market, I don't know. There's lots of excellent non-predatory games of any type imaginable in the $1-$4 bracket for anyone who doesn't mind paying for quality. The mass F2P market seems more tailored towards people who don't want to pay, therefore predatory tactics are the only thing that can 'coerce' money out of them.


Run and avoid games are nothing new at all. Jetpack Joyride is practically the same thing, and it also did very well. It has 50,000,000+ downloads just on google play. This is not a new genre. The helicopter game is one of the first flash games I ever played, and it certainly existed before that too. We already know these kinds of games do well, so what's the surprise here? I don't get it. It's a game mechanic that's done well before and it's doing well again.


For me, this signifies how much the mobile gaming interface sucks. Touch sucks when it comes to games. Only simple things like flicking a bird and solving puzzles[1] are enjoyable without a physical controller - for most people.

Also, this is basically a download and delete app. Are there any stats on that?

[1] candy crush, sudoku, dots, words with friends, even angry birds is a strategy more so than a skill and could be called a puzzle


Many folks in the mobile games industry believe that Flappy Bird is actually a triumph of gaming Apple's downloads and ratings system more than it is indicative of the game's actual success. We'll see whether it's able to keep a stronghold or if it falls off the map shortly.


I thought that it was popular only because Pewdiepie featured it on his Youtube channel.


What I am hearing is: - You can be successful, just make sure you don't get it by dumb luck. - You can be successful, just make sure you spent more than 2 days coding your app.

Otherwise, you suck and we hate you.


If you're trying to be successful from dumb luck, don't spend more than 2 days coding your app.

The payoff's the same, but you're wasting resources you could have used to make more attempts.

Plus, you suck, and we hate you, so you'll have to deal with it.


If I remember correctly, almost 10 years ago (or less?) Helicopter.swf, which was exactly (or even better imo) what Flappy Bird is now, was crazy popular.

Except we didn't have all the media around internet, we didn't have all those famous websites that talked about buzz, hype, memes...


What I'm most curious about these games is how do these games gain traction in the first place?


This was talked about in a reddit post about Flappy Bird, and one commenter pointed out that there was something of a youtube review landslide - and that some of their other games were already popular in Japan.


Reminds me of Line Birds, but Line Birds is actually playable. https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/line-birds/id438084823?mt=8

I can make it past 1 pine. :(


Eh, I played it for a bit to see what the hype is about, but I already played games like this before (and much more interesting ones, like Canabalt), and there's no way to disable sound, so I can't see myself spending much time on it.


Flappy Bird is not proof that no one knows what the audience wants, but it is proof that you can make a slight variation on SFCave and still keep its addictiveness. This type of game has been around forever and has been quite popular.


Dang it, me and buddy made a same very similar to this about 1-1,5 back for programming class and one of our peers told us multiple times to port it over to mobile, but we didn't believe that anyone wanted to play such a game.


I wouldn't feel too bad. Odds are it would have had a few dozen or hundred downloads, then quickly dropped off to 0 forever.

I don't know how this game became so popular. Did Justin Bieber tweet about it?


There are 100s of flash games that are the same as what this game looks to be (but with various different kinds of characters like a helicopter, a flying dude, ...). How can this game be noteworthy?


That's exactly the point (of the article - although it may in some weird sense also be the point of the game)


It's noteworthy because this one became popular. That's how the world works.


My son, who is 13, is playing Flappy Birds this week. At least in part, it is because all the other kids in middle school are playing it. It does have some viral buzz in that sense.


IMO Flappy Bird is a novelty. You play it a few times, you get pissed, you laugh about how hard it is, tell your friends to try, and then you never play it again.


And apparently Windows Phone will get this game weeks after it's everywhere else.

You laugh (not wrongly), but mind you that if MSFT pulls that off it would be a remarkable improvement from their track record from a year ago when they got Draw Something and Words with Friends months after they had ceased to matter (which in turn was still an improvement over a year before that when they just didn't get the games at all).

Of course, how much further they can improve this "WP game arrival latency" and how much it really matters remain open questions...


I played the game twice and deleted it. High score was 3. I guess I have more sensibility then a lot of my peers.


One very interesting thing about this game was its size. I was pleasantly surprised to see a game less than 1 MB.


I'm not saying the author is wrong, but I think generalizing from a single data point is a bad idea.


This is very similar to the helicopter game back in the day! What a simple idea, amazing! :)


> people want games that are bone-crushingly difficult, but not punishing

Yes, VVVVVV taught me that.


Super hexagon is pretty much the only game I play on my phone. Terry Cavanaugh is an evil genius.


Super hexagon is crushingly difficult, it's the one game I can keep returning to over and over on my commute.

Flappy bird also hits a similar spot, it's a game that's quick, each game lasts < 1 minute so you can play right up to the minute your train pulls into the station, and it has the anticipation of defeat in a similar manner.


Let's see how much cash he makes from the game, which will be a real proof.


People themselves don't know what they want, how can developers know.


no one "knows" what the audience wants. Not even the audience knows what it wants, that's one of the key principles of selling, make them believe they want it.


Welcome to the world of record labels and art dealers.


It's called a hits based business.


pretty sure the guy ripped the gfx straight from mario snes games...hes going to have fun with nintendo!


People want games with birds in them.


I thought Google+ was proof of that.


It's an SFCave ripoff!


Data from 1 app != proof.


I've just discovered that 'Another One Bites the Dust' provides a good rhythm for maintaining a roughly constant altitude. You're welcome.


I love Flappy Bird! Everyone finds it challenging too!


The audience is whatever flavor of the week all the sheeple are downloading to be cool and fit in with their friends. I have never played nor downloaded angry birds flappy bird or W/E


... not sure it's that simple. Angry Birds became popular in part because it's a fun game to play. The gameplay probably doesn't live up to the hype, but it's at least capable of living up to some amount of hype.

Flappy bird is just incredibly awful. It's like QWOP[1], but much simpler.

[1] http://www.foddy.net/Athletics.html


Good for you mr. grumpy monster.

There's nothing wrong with playing a game that others find interesting. Just like there's nothing wrong with reading HN because others find it interesting. :)


You're completely missing the point. Something has to be popular before you download it to "be cool and fit in with your friends."


Congratulations on being too cool to enjoy things.




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