Overpriced phones, clones and a new genre of video games - The legacy of Flappy Bird

Flappy Bird may be gone from mobile app stores, but its phenomenon lives on

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 1:54pm

The days following popular mobile game Flappy Bird’s removal from app stores have been filled with overpriced phones, clones and an outpouring of support from the video game development community.

A simple game where players must pilot a pixilated bird between rows of green pipes, Flappy Bird was originally created by 29-year-old Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen.

The game shot to superstardom in January thanks to its simplistic mechanics but maddening difficulty level. Downloaded by millions, Flappy Bird earned Dong US$50,000 (HK$390,000) in revenue per day from online advertising banners.

With this sudden jolt of viral fame, Flappy Bird also received a whirlwind of criticism. Analysts accused Dong of plagiarism and argued that the game’s graphics were too similar to assets from Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros series. Others said Dong had used illegal methods to promote Flappy Bird on the Apple iOS and Google Play app stores.

On February 8, Dong announced on his Twitter that he would be removing the game from all app stores, saying it had “ruined his simple life”.

Dong has shied away from interviews since his announcement, but clarified on Twitter that the constant negativity and international attention the game received had kept him from sleeping and made “[his] life not…as comfortable as [he] was before.”

While a computer version of the game remains playable, mobile phones that had Flappy Bird installed them instantly became a collector’s item.

Such phones appeared on online auction site eBay retailing for as much as US$100,000 (HK$780,000), but according to reports by CNET freelancer Eric Mack, most of these listings were eventually removed for violating the site’s policies.

“Smartphones and tablets must be restored to factory settings before they are allowed to be sold,” an email from eBay representatives read. “[Sellers must] remove all content from [their] device, including the game Flappy Bird, before [they] attempt to list [their] item again.”

Flappy Bird clones have also emerged on app stores, attempting to ride off the newfound popularity of Dong’s creation. Some, like Flappy Doge, are essentially the same as the original game with only small graphical alterations – such as replacing the titular bird with a canine.

Others, such as Ironpants and Amazing Cupid, apply varying degrees of change atop the Flappy Bird template. Ironpants replaces the playable character with a superhero, forcing players to navigate between rows of wooden crates instead of pipes. Amazing Cupid, programmed by Indonesian mobile app studio Touchten Games, introduces three difficulty levels and a messaging system to encourage high score competition.

In a blog post on the company’s website, Touchten Games publicly stated that Amazing Cupid is a tribute done in the style of Flappy Bird rather than a clone.

“We actually [received] permission to ‘copy’ Flappy Bird from [Dong Nguyen]…and we admit fully [that] we were inspired by Flappy Bird to create [our] game,” the post reads. “So the question at hand is did we CLONE the game? A clone is something that copies the stuff that can be copyrighted exactly…. For example, art assets, original songs…or source code.

“A…game experience, however, cannot be copyrighted. Games with…similar gameplay are considered to be in the same genre, not necessarily a clone or copycat of each other.”

And with this logic in mind, an entire new genre of video games has sprouted overnight. In response to the harsh public critique that Nguyen received over his brainchild, the independent game development community has decided to show their support for the Vietnamese developer with Flappy Jam – an event where programmers are encouraged to design their own game in the spirit of Flappy Bird.

Currently, over 120 Flappy Jam entries are displayed on the event’s website, which accepts creations until February 24. The games range from Ninjaflop - starring an agile ninja that bounces across the screen in a manner much faster than Nguyen’s bird – to Hahana Kingdom, a game that infuses the Flappy Bird formula with turtles, killer plants, and power-ups straight from a Nintendo game.

“[Flappy Jam’s goal is to] make a hard, almost unplayable game [with] assets inspired...from classic [games],” a description on the Flappy Jam site reads. “Have fun, be supportive. Hate must not win… Envy and teasing should not belong in the [game development] community.”

Ivano Palmentieri, the Italian developer who started Flappy Jam, told the Post that the event was “a humble way to give [Nguyen] love and support” from the video game creation community.

Nguyen himself has not publicly commented on Flappy Jam, nor has he said anything about the new genre he inspired. After an announcement on February 8 that he would “still make games”, the developer’s Twitter went strangely silent – leading some to believe a hoax that Nguyen had committed suicide.

On February 13, Nguyen finally reappeared, responding to a comment from a concerned fan.

It seems that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

To play a computer version of Flappy Bird, click here.