Thursday, February 6, 2014

Would the real bird please stand up? The invasion of the Flappy Bird

So I am going to take a sharp pivot away from my usual expat content this week to talk about a "virus" that has recently invaded people's smart phones.  :)  This new game sensation is called "Flappy Bird" and has just recently taken over the #1 spot for downloads on the iTunes app store.  I just heard about it myself and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

So then I downloaded it for my iPhone from the iTunes app store.  The first thing I noticed right away is that it had more than 50,000,000 (estimated) downloads and supposedly has over 75,000 reviews.  One thing you notice about this game right away is that it is very retro with pixelated graphics and simple game play.  Think Mario Brothers from the mid 80s.  Essentially all you do with the game controls is move the bird up and down by pushing the screen to make the bird fly.  Seems easy, right?  Let me tell you, the controls are about as difficult as I have ever seen on any smart phone game; the bird barely flies and it is nearly impossible to get through the barriers (pipes) that the bird must fly through in order to keep the game going.  The pipes are very close together and there is barely enough space for the bird to fly through.  As soon as the bird hits a pipe, it comes down crashing and the game ends.  There is no "second chance" or "continue from this spot" option.  The game play is extremely annoying to say the least, but I guess there is some addictive nature to it to see if you can beat your previous high score.  The score is based on how many pipes you fly through. There is really nothing else to this game, no bosses, no creatures, nothing else to see on the screen other than pipe after pipe.

I am thinking to myself why is this game so popular all of a sudden?  I did a bit of research and it seems the game was released last May of 2013 and didn't get much attention or downloads at all from the statistics (App Annie).  Then came December 2013/January 2014 and the game downloads spiked dramatically as if the graph line was flying off the charts.  So, maybe then some people just caught on to it and they shared the game with their friends?  Could it be that simple, since the game company claims they didn't do any direct marketing and instead just got lucky?  I was checking the reviews on the iTunes store and it occurred to me that almost every review was written in the same way and/or with the same theme.  All the reviews were very long and talked about how this game is evil but addictive, blah, blah, blah.  Basically saying that they didn't really like the game, but then almost every review was a 4 or 5 star rating.  It definitely smells like something fishy is going on with this game.  A plain retro game with tiny amounts of downloads sits in the store for 7 months, then all of a sudden it rockets to the moon courtesy of thousands of downloads and reviews.  Seems that spam bot reviews were created by automated programs and automated downloads occurred to virtual devices.  I can't prove it, but it seems to be the reality of this little game.  If I was a betting man, I would place my money on this marketing being completely unauthentic.  Fake viral marketing in a nutshell, not organic growth.  This is not the way to promote yourself or your business.  I highly doubt this has any staying power for the longer term.  Videos like "Gangman Style" by PSY and "The Fox (what does the Fox say)" by Ylvis are creatively done and not forced virility.  The same would go for the game sensation from Finland, Angry Birds, which is actually a fun game that can be enjoyed and played by all ages for a long time. The game play on Angry Birds is impeccable in comparison to that silly poseur Flappy Bird.  So, would the real bird please stand up?

1 comment:

  1. Nah. I can see why it would be popular. It's extremely simple and it annoys the player to no end. In that way, it's just like the old school video games people still remember fondly.
    It's really no different from Jet Set Willy or Persian Gulf Inferno, which AFAICR have essentially an hour or two of continuous gameplay, but one mistake and you'll have to start the game from the beginning. The score is just there to track progress whereas the simple mechanics of the game prove that there's no reason why you couldn't do it in principle. The rest is just about presenting the challenge. I tested it and couldn't be bothered, but I see why people like it.