Is it really ‘game over’ for ‘Flappy Bird’?

Flappy Bird Game Over

I’m not much of a gamer these days. With so much work, one could not afford to spend hours and hours playing games. Except, of course, when reviewing games and apps is part of an assignment, in which case, I really appreciate the opportunity I get to play. And so with the latest buzz about Flappy Bird, I finally install the game on my phone and see what the hype is all about.

Of course, I learned about Flappy Bird when it first became a hit. The game is actually almost a year old, but only reached the top of the charts in January. True enough, it was a simple mix of tried-and-tested platform game ideas with a touch of 8-bit nostalgia (down to the sound). But even though it looks simple, Flappy Bird is actually extremely challenging. Trust me — my twiddly thumbs kept getting zero scores the first few times I tried playing. I guess arcade-type games are not for me. I prefer strategy games, and I was quite adept at first-person shooters in my youth.

What actually prompted me to actually install it from Google Play was the fact that the developer, Vietnam-based Dong Nguyen, had tweeted that he was taking down Flappy Bird from the app stores due to personal reasons.

Queried whether it was due to legal pressure, criticism regarding gameplay and design, or an acquisition offer, Nguyen denied these. “It’s not anything related to legal issues. I just can’t take it anymore.” He added that he is not selling the game, nor perhaps his independent development studio, GEARS Studio.

The best marketing move?

What makes it even more interesting is the fact that Flappy Birds is reportedly earning about $50,000 in revenue daily. Since the game is a free release, these revenues accrue via ads on Google’s and Apple’s mobile ad platforms. Even after the takedown, Flappy Bird will continue accruing revenues from ads.

And so one might wonder as to Nguyen’s motivation in taking down Flappy Bird.

If he does not want the attention, indeed, then he could have just let the game be, and let it live out its popularity. Is the developer pressured to launch another hit? Is he taking acquisition offers or employment offers? Flappy Bird is, by no means, Nguyen’s first game. It was reported that dotGears actually had other mildly successful releases before Flappy Bird.

Now, accessing the link to GEARS studio renders a “URL not found” error. The Flappy Bird page is also inaccessible from Google Play, unless you’ve previously installed the game on one of your devices. Thankfully, my kid installed the game on her smartphone using my account when it first gained popularity, and so I could still access it on Google Play.

If anything, the takedown could be one of the best marketing moves for Nguyen. Flappy Bird was popular enough, in its own endearing, annoying and time-consuming way. Announcing that it’s going to disappear from the official app stores soon only makes it all the more popular.

I can foresee the .APK being distributed and made available for download after the takedown. Perhaps even on iOS, someone will make the .IPA installer available through aftermarket/jailbreak app repositories. Other developers are probably working on launching games with similar gameplay. In fact, Flappy Bird took inspiration from other games — some of them decades old. It’s how it is in game development, after all.

Flappy Bird will live on — until the time it dies a natural death, that is.

Pressure to perform?

If we take other popular franchises into consideration, it does take some effort to maintain one’s popularity after launching a hit game. Angry Birds, Temple Run, Fruit Ninja, and other hit games were soon followed by sequels and successors that were met with varying levels of popularity. Perhaps it’s this pressure to build a follow-up hit that was too much for Nguyen, who said the popularity of the game is ruining his simple life.

Nguyen says he supports indie game development efforts, and being thrust in the limelight seems to have taken him well beyond being independent. “The PR will make me not an indie game maker anymore,” he tweeted.

It was a fun ride while it lasted. However, I do think (and hope) that it’s not the end for Flappy Bird and Dong Nguyen’s game development efforts. I have always had a fondness for indie games, and I am at awe whenever independent developers make it big — take Mojang and its Minecraft for example, or 2dBoy of World of Goo fame. App platforms like Google Play and the iTunes App Store somehow level the playing field among game makers. Whether you’re the bug guy or an indie developer building apps from your bedroom, you have a chance at making millions from great game ideas.

Now I’m still keen on learning Dong Nguyen’s motivations behind taking down Flappy Bird. I actually tried to get in touch, and I will post updates when I get a reply.