Creating a successful game is a finicky, uncertain process that not even the most illustrious of game developers get right every time. However, sometimes a game doesn’t need fancy graphics, unique features or even likeable gameplay to be a smash hit.
One such game recently reigned supreme at the top of the Google Play and App Store charts and quickly became an infectious cultural phenomenon. The story of this strange dark horse, called “Flappy Bird,” is one of the underdog rising to the top and how the top can quickly become too much to bear.
First making its debut in May 2013, “Flappy Bird” existed in relative obscurity for a long while. The game’s creator, Dong Nguyen, set out to create something simple with a sense of pick-up-and-play appeal. The basis of the game is easy enough: tap the screen to propel a tiny pixelated bird, that honestly more closely resembles a fish, onward to an undefined and perhaps infinitely far destination. Green pipes reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. stand in the way, and hitting them results in an instant game over.
However, it’s the extreme difficulty that gave this game its 15 minutes of fame. A simple score of 10 could take a player an hour to achieve. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, “Flappy Bird” received 50 million downloads and tens of thousands of reviews. At the height of its popularity, it brought in $50,000 a day in ad revenue. Painfully simple, as well as simply painful, “Flappy Bird” was the perfect storm of quick, challenging and tough to put down.
It was this massive surge of fame that brought “Flappy Bird” to its untimely end. “I cannot take this anymore,” tweeted Nguyen as he reported that “Flappy Bird” would be taken down. The game’s celebrity status became too much for the developer. In another tweet, Nguyen said “I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.” “Flappy Bird” left the App Store and Google Play on Feb. 9, never to return.
Dead, but not forgotten, the “Flappy Bird” legacy is almost as strange as its short life. Imitations, such as “Flappy Doge,” featuring the internet’s favorite Shiba Inu instead of a fish-bird and “FlapMMO,” an online version that lets players see the progess of others, now exist for desktop players.
On eBay, smartphones with “Flappy Bird” installed are selling for up to $100,000, though one would have to have a lot of money and very little sense to purchase one. More than anything, however, “Flappy Bird” lives on as a symbol of the internet’s penchant for totally losing its mind over really random things.