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AH Primetime: The Rise And Fall Of Flappy Bird

February 13, 2014 - Written By Patrick Northcraft

It’s the game that was so addictive that you loved to hate it.  You don’t even know why you downloaded it to begin with… a friend told you it was interesting, or you saw some friends rage-tweeting about it… but Flappy Bird is as much of an enigma to us as it is to you, since Dong Nguyen, has been very quiet about it all.  The game, which was racking in over $50,000 a day courtesy of ads, was removed from all app stores after its creator grew sick of all the attention it brought upon him.  For those of you who don’t know, Flappy Bird is an extremely simple game with 8-bit graphics, where you tap the screen to make your bird fly.  The goal is to fly in-between pipes that look awfully similar to the pipes from the old Super Mario Bros. games.  The game is notoriously difficult.  The highest score I ever got was 15, even with the developer releasing an update that made the game simpler.

Now let’s look at the history of the game.  Rewind to November 2012.  The creator released a picture of a game he was working on through Twitter, which contained an image of the original Flappy Bird bird.  Then, silence.  We heard nothing from Nguyen until 2013, when he uploaded an image of his new game called Flap Flap to the Twitter-verse.  The game had similar Nintendo style graphics to the Flappy Bird we know and love.  He said that he built and submitted the app to Apple’s App Store in only two days.  The issue that arose was that there was already an app called Flap Flap on the iOS store, so he had to rename it.  Thus, Flappy Bird was born.  On May 24, 2013, Flappy Bird became available on iOS, and Nguyen started tweeting his high scores to raise awareness for it, using the hashtag ‘#flapflap’.

After the game’s release, nothing really happened until the Fall.  Between May 25 and October 31, the game only received 13 reviews, and the number of downloads was minuscule.  In September, he released the first update to Flappy Bird, fixing a few bugs and adding a new icon for iOS 7.  Then, something interesting happened.  The app began to slowly gain traction as the calendar turned to November.  On November 4, the first tweet about Flappy Bird went out from someone other than Nguyen.  It read simply “F*** Flappy Bird.” By December 3, 2013, the app was ranked as the 1308th overall app in Apple’s App Store charts, ranking 74th in Family and 395th in U.S. Games.  On December 11, Nguyen stated on Twitter that the app would soon be available on the Google Play store, and by December 13, the app was in the top 250 free apps on the App Store.

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The app began to gain a much larger following, with people tweeting about its difficulty all the time.  As the new year rolled around, the app broke into the top ten.  It was the 8th most downloaded free app and the 6th most downloaded free game in the App Store.  Naturally, people began to get curious.  Other developers began to ask Nguyen how he managed to promote his game so successfully, to which he replied that he does not promote his games, and that it was pure luck that this was happening to him.  On January 13th, the app became the number one hit free app, a very impressive feat.

Now here is where the crap hit the fan.  On January 22 the app became available for the first time on Google Play,and within a week became the most downloaded app on the Play Store.  Three days later, the number of tweets that contained the phrase ‘Flappy Bird’ surpassed 500,000 a day.  As is to be expected, the media began to get interested.  Various publications began to write about how this simple game came out of nowhere to take the world by storm.  By February 1st, the app was the number one free game in 53 different countries in the App Store, and on February 5th Apple even sent out a tweet of their high score in the game, something that rarely, if ever, happens.

Unfortunately, all this success is what led to the removal of Flappy Bird.  Reporters and game developers alike began to pester Nguyen for what his secret was, and he continued to insist that it was pure luck.  Some people even accused him of leaving fake reviews for the app to draw attention, and others accused him of somehow faking the download statistics, which is, as Nguyen told them, extremely unlikely as Apple would have taken the game down if it had.  Then, when it was revealed that Nguyen was making $50,000 a day off ads, people became really angry, because God-forbid someone become successful.  We even saw Kotaku published an article originally entited ‘Flappy Bird is Making $50,000 a Day Off of Ripped-Off Art’ (the name and article have since been edited), which is a slam on the obvious inspiration Nintendo had on Nguyen’s artwork.  By February 7th, he was receiving requests from people for interviews, which he declined as he was sick of all the negative press.

Nguyen even admitted that he would not be able to finish a Windows Phone version of Flappy Bird, and that he was growing to hate his own creation due to all the attention that it brought upon him, which was “ruining his simple life”  Then, around 2PM on February 8th, he sent out a series of tweets that shocked us all.  They stated “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down.  I cannot take this anymore.”  “It is not anything related to legal issues.  I just cannot keep it anymore.”  “I also don’t sell ‘Flappy Bird’, please don’t ask.”  “And I still make games.”  And that was that.  By February 9th, Flappy Bird was taken off the market.  Of course, copycats have made similar games, but they are unlikely to receive the same good press, as the app was the perfect storm, mixing luck, viral drive, and circumstance.  People are even selling their phones with the game installed on it for stupid-high sums on eBay, which is absurd. Well, now that the game is gone, it certainly provided us with something to talk about.  Do you have any Flappy Bird stories to share, or any other thoughts about this?  Let us know down below!

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