with Huzaifah Jearally (idea contributor) & Arjun Shah (Flappy Bird fan/review assistant)
Flappy Bird is the new game that is causing a whole generation of phones to be dashed to pieces against walls as more and more people try to guide a tiny bird past pipes without causing a collision. Yet the developer behind the runaway success has admitted that he just got lucky, according to technology news site Tech Crunch.
The game, which is influenced by the 8-bit graphical technology associated with hit old-school games like the 1980s Super Mario series, was the brainchild of a Vietnamese ‘indie developer’ named Ha Dong Nguyen, who claims to be the one-man operation behind a small franchise named .GEARS Studios, the makers of Flappy Bird. He has coded games for the past four years.
.GEARS is one of a new breed of mobile games and app powerhouses that have come into their own since the development of smartphones took off post-2005. On its website, the company’s production policy states “mostly, we’re making arcade games that are bite-sized, take no more than a few minutes of playing right on smartphones and tablets.
Our work is heavily influenced by retro pixellated games in its golden age. Everything is pure, extremely hard and incredibly fun to play.”
While his popular game has stormed the Google Play and iTunes store charts, Nguyen much rather prefers to keep a low profile. He avoids requests for media interviews and when Tech Crunch journalists sent him a list of personal questions to answer, he commented “I’m not comfortable with being exposed.” Even on the internet, that haven of anonymity, Nguyen is virtually unknown and his name appears not be mentioned on the Flappy Bird game itself. Recently however, he has opened a Twitter account and has made appearances on a web forum for game developers. His wish for secrecy also extends to his company. .GEARS offers almost no information on its development team, such as staff bios and keeps its repertoire of gaming apps largely under wraps.
In the interview with Tech Crunch, Nguyen stated that it took him around two to three days to set up Flappy Bird with both influences and artwork borrowed from other games. It is not known however if he obtained permission from the other games’ manufacturers to do so. He keenly expects Flappy Bird’s rampant successes among gamers to translate to big opportunities for .GEARS. Though Nguyen insists his studios is not a company and he is the only one behind it, the game’s popularity has given him hope of further expansion in both the payroll and the bankroll. He added “Before ‘Flappy Bird’, none of my games have 1/100th of that popularity.”.
I don’t know how my games can be so popular. Most of my players are kids in schools. I would like to thanks them for playing my game and sharing it to other people.“
“It is hard to believe, I understand. I have no resources to do anything else beside uploading the game.”“The popularity could be my luck,”
Indeed, Nguyen’s almost impossible to play homage to the humble bird-in-the-sky has rapidly gone viral, with millions of fans and new downloads per week, challenging the dominance of more established multi-developer titles such as Candy Crush (King Inc.) and Roxio’s Angry Birds games. Thousands of players have given their take on Nguyen’s money-spinner with the hashtag #flappybird on Twitter, and fans have also set up social media accounts and hobby sites for Flappy Bird without Nguyen having to lift a finger. Both friends and foes of the game have competed to write zany or less-than-complimentary reviews and analyses. Already 300,000 reviews have been posted across the internet, according to figures by Tech Crunch, and the number is growing. Some observers in the industry have suspicions however, that a garden-shed game that only saw the light of day last year has already reached epidemic download proportions, despite no clear marketing strategy or support from advertisers.
Even with the controversies over Flappy Bird’s successes in the download charts, Nguyen has more in store for the future of the anger-inducing avian. He plans to update the game as well as a couple of others in the .GEARS Studios portfolio and intends to branch out into other gaming formats.
Flappy Bird was released by .GEARS Studios, a company based in the new technology hub of Hanoi in Vietnam, south-east Asia. The game was made available for download in May 2013. By January 2014, Flappy Bird was Number 1 in the Apple App store, with two other .GEARS Studios titles, Super Ball Juggling and Shuriken Block, riding pillion at second and sixth place respectively. The success of the two other titles has been put down to dripfeed popularity from the Bird, as Ha Dong Nguyen does not cross-promote his games outside of the website. In fact a quick visit to the site by this article’s author could not find any mention of Flappy Bird, which makes for a very confusing situation in understanding the game’s popularity. Nevertheless, Flappy Bird now gets 2-3 million downloads a day on iOS and Android. The game is graphically basic, using 8-bit retro games design, a major reversal from the current trend among major gaming app developers of making their offerings true-to-life, 3D or packed with features.
The objective of the game is simple. You are a small bird of species unknown. You are given a countdown and then while cutting through blue sky vertically, you need fly through the gaps between green pipes without touching them or the ground. There seems to be no power-ups or bonuses, the more pipes you pass through unscathed, the better your high score. Though it sounds easy, playing it is a different story. Tech Crunch journalists have expressed admiration for anyone who can make a double-digit score, referring to them as ‘gods’. TC have described Flappy Bird as a game that is irritatingly impossible and yet somehow so addictive.
“As you quickly die and die and die again, the urge to press “OK,” and “Start” seems impossible to resist, so you continue to re-spawn your stupid little bird and try to pass your best score. Overheard at TechCrunch, discussing the game: “Flappy Bird is the downfall of humanity”
One reviewer, also quoted by Tech Crunch, commented “The only reason why I have not yet deleted this horrid game is the overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment I feel when I finally beat a high score…“. Another said “I assume this feeling will soon consume you, too, but don’t say you were never warned.” “Let me start by saying DO NOT download flappy bird (sic)…People warned me about it, but I didn’t care,”. And a third dramatically stated “My life is over. Your life is over. The world is over,”
The author got a chance to experience the antics of the ‘stupid little bird’ for himself this past Friday, in an impromptu high score challenge with his younger brother. My little brother’s highest score was 32 as far as I can recollect, making him a ‘god’ in the eyes of Tech Crunch’s now frustrated hacks. My first impression of the game was that it looked somewhat cheesy, especially its silly sounding title, but as someone who has seen Super Mario in action eons ago, I did readily appreciate the look of Flappy. My first few attempts at making that little birdie fly were woefully pathetic, with the animal crashing into the first pipe. A distraction from my niece even caused Flappy to nosedive into the ground, making a spectacular thud of failure. After a couple more tries however, I managed to make a respectable score of eight. The game is frustrating (my brother admitted lugging his phone to the floor at one point in utter frustration) but the unearthly and powerful urge to top your previous best score keeps you hooked. I soon got a feel for the gameplay. Tap the screen slowly and keep your eyes peeled. Be ready for breaks in the pipes in unexpected locations. Make sure your phone insurance will cover any unexpected destruction of your handset. Flappy Bird is frustrating, even comically stupid, but it is great for training your attention span and dexterity. The graphics inspire nostalgia without wallowing in it and the gameplay keeps you hooked and focused.