The Flappy Bird Story and Business of Cloning Mobile Games
Back to April 2013, the Vietnamese 29-year-old indie game developer Dong Nguyen spent a holiday weekend making a mobile game. The character in the game was to fly a bug-eyed, big-lipped, bloated bird between a series of green vertical pipes.
The game had Nintendo-style graphics, and Nguyen called it Flap Flap, until he realized another app had the same title. However, he was able to quickly rename it Flappy Bird.
Flappy Bird went live on the iOS App Store on May 24, 2013. Nguyen kept it simple but challenging, and made it available for free. He hoped to get a few hundred dollars a month from in-game ads.
However, the game seemed to be lost in the crowd of 25,000 new apps that go online every month. It attracted just 13 reviews between May 25 and Oct. 31 — which means the app was practically invisible.
In September 2013, Flappy Bird got first update which fixed a few bugs, and added a new icon for iOS 7. And then just one month after that update something interesting happened — the game started to gain traction; Flappy Bird managed to earn 20 reviews in November, and entered the U.S. game charts, coming in at 1368, according to AppAnnie.
The game continued to rise in popularity. In January, Flappy Bird became a top-10 app in the United States. It was ranked the 8th most-downloaded free app in the U.S. and the 6th most-downloaded free game.
Nguyen was excited, as the app continued to climb higher in the App Store. On Jan. 22, Nguyen announced the Android version of the game being available in Google Play. Within a week, it became the most-download app on Google Play.
Flappy Bird was a bonafide hit. The game had gone viral, and it would only get bigger.
By February, Flappy Bird was the number-one free game in more than 100 countries and had been downloaded more than 50 million times.
Even Apple acknowledged the game’s success, tweeting its Flappy Bird score from its official App Store Twitter account.
— App Store (@AppStore) February 6, 2014
Flappy Bird was aggravating, but addictive. Players would tap the screen to fly up, release to dive down, and maneuver through gaps in a series of green pipes. The quicker a player tapped the screen, the higher the bird would flap.
Fans had gone crazy, claiming the game was ruining their lives. “I’m sitting in the bathtub writing this review, warning you NOT to download it,” one wrote. “My family doesn’t dare enter. My brother hasn’t taken a shower in a month.”
The Untimely Death of Flappy Bird
Yet as Flappy Bird peaked, Nguyen remained a mystery. He refused to be photographed, and did do only a couple of interviews. He attributed game’s success to pure luck. Nguyen also mentioned that he did nothing to help boost the ratings or download figures for Flappy Bird.
The Verge revealed that Nguyen was earning an estimated $50,000 a day in ads off of the game.
Nguyen wad accused of stealing art from Nintendo. The popular gaming site Kotaku was especially harsh on the game, writing: “Flappy Bird is Making $50,000 a Day Off of Ripped-Off Art.”
Some users started calling out Nguyen over Twitter. He was receiving hate tweets, death threats, and even called a con man and a thief.
Nguyen appeared overwhelmed by the app’s popularity, and it was impacting his life for the worse.
On February 9th, at 2:02 a.m. Hanoi time, Nguyen decided to take Flappy Bird offline.
I am sorry 'Flappy Bird' users, 22 hours from now, I will take 'Flappy Bird' down. I cannot take this anymore.
— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014
The message was retweeted more than 142,000. People weren’t ready to believe it. Many suggested that it was all a publicity stunt. Why would someone pull the plug off of his money-maker, especially when it’s at the peak?
But Nguyen did what he promised — the next evening, Flappy Bird was removed from the App Store and Google Play.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Nguyen revealed that he pulled the game because it was addictive: “‘Flappy Bird’ was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed, … [b]ut it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down ‘Flappy Bird.’ It’s gone forever.”
Flappy Bird Clones Still Exist
Since Flappy Bird was deleted from app stores, the game has hit the virtual black market, and users with the app already installed on their phones are currently selling it for thousands of dollars on eBay.
But the Flappy Bird gold rush is still alive. Since Dong Nguyen deleted his number one app, a plethora of carbon copies and clones have popped up in its place. App Store is being flooded with games where a figure is navigated through pipes or pipe-like objects, and this rate is continuously increasing.
According to the latest report, there are sixty Flappy Bird clones, which are uploaded to Apple’s app store per day. That’s accounted for one Flappy Bird clone every 24 minutes.
The reason behind this insane inclusion is because of how simplistic the code is for the game. Developers have to spend very little time and money to make their own Flappy Bird knock-off. If you get the chance to find yourself in the top 100, it means your game would be hugely profitable provided you monetize it correctly.
Flappy48 – It’s NOT Just Another Flappy Bird Clone
As it turns out, Dan Moran crossed the streams by combining two viral casual gaming sensations of 2014: Flappy Bird and 2048.
What he got is Flappy48 – the ultimate flapping/exponential growth crossover you haven’t been waiting for. This bizarro-world mashup takes the rules of 2048 and adds the gameplay of Flappy Bird.
In Flappy48, you get a number to guide through the gaps in the pipes by hitting the spacebar or left-clicking with your mouse.
While gliding the way through series of tubes, you collect more numbers. When two adjacent numbers of same value collide, they merge, and your score is predicated on those merges.
You must combine the numbers by powers of two, otherwise your flappy chain just gets longer, and you’ll find it difficult to manage.
Usually game mashups don’t turn out to be something of real value, but Flappy48 is a rare case where combining two great things does produce something of exponential greatness.
Give Flappy48 a try for yourself on itch.io if you don’t have it already.
Gohar is the lead editor at TechFrag. He has a wide range of interests when it comes to tech but he's currently spending a big chunk of his time writing about privacy, cyber security, and anything policy related.