Flappy Bird: iPhone game explained, why was it removed from app store, who created it, why was it so addictive?

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Ten years on from the viral game's release, we take a look back at why it captured our attention

Every once in a while, a game comes along that gets so many people onboard for the ride, the very notion of what defines a video game is challenged.

People who would never have considered themselves gamers flock to it, it makes headline news, and becomes a cultural touchstone that will forever encapsulate a certain period of time, a certain world mood. But long before there was Wordle, there was Flappy Bird.

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Yes, it's a name that probably hasn't crossed your synapses in the decade since the game's unceremonious wiping from history. But hearing it has likely taken you straight back to early 2014, tapping away at your phone's screen before another infuriating collision with a Super Mario pipe. Gold.

But though the game gained its popularity in early 2014, it actually first made an appearance 10 years ago on 24 May 2013. So what better time to revisit an unsuspecting mobile game that captured the world's attention?

Tap, tap, tap again

(Image: .Gears)(Image: .Gears)
(Image: .Gears) | .Gears

Developed by Vietnamese programmer Dong Nguyen and released for iOS and Android devices, Flappy Bird's concept was simple yet challenging; navigate a small, pixelated bird through a series of obstacles consisting of green pipes that resembled those from the Super Mario Bros. games.

The controls were straightforward, requiring players to tap the screen to make the bird flap its wings and gain height, and the objective was to pass through the gaps between the pipes without colliding with them. Each successful passage awarded the player a point, and the goal was to achieve the highest score possible.

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Flappy Bird spread rapidly through word-of-mouth recommendations, with players introducing the game to their friends and family, challenging them to beat their scores or boasting about their achievements. Players only needed to tap the screen to control the bird's flight, making it accessible to a wide audience, including casual gamers.

But while the game was simple to grasp, it was incredibly difficult to master. The timing required to navigate the bird through the narrow gaps between the pipes was precise, resulting in frequent collisions and frustration, but that led players to share their high scores, screenshots and frustrations on social media.

This created a ripple effect, as people were curious to try the game for themselves and see if they could achieve similar or better results, and the addictive nature of the game kept new players engaged as they continuously tried to beat their high scores or compete with friends.

(Image: .Gears)(Image: .Gears)
(Image: .Gears) | (Image: .Gears)

Flappy Bird achieved unprecedented levels of mainstream success during its peak popularity, climbing the ranks on app stores and reaching the top of the charts in several countries, surpassing many well-established and heavily marketed games. It became one of the most downloaded and played games worldwide; at its height, it was downloaded millions of times a day.

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The game's explosive popularity caught the attention of various media outlets worldwide, and it became a topic of conversation, generating memes, parodies and discussions across social media as Flappy Bird and its creator, Dong Nguyen, were featured in numerous news articles, interviews and television segments.

The downfall

Despite the immense success and attention, Nguyen found the overwhelming response to be too much to handle, and he expressed concerns about the addictive nature of the game and the impact it was having on players.

Flappy Bird's popularity on social media platforms fostered a sense of competition among players, and the game's quick turnaround time - when the bird collided with a pipe, the game immediately restarted - reinforced the "one more try" mentality and contributed to the addictive nature of the game.

Some players spent excessive amounts of time playing, often neglecting other responsibilities and activities in their lives. The game's difficulty and frequent failures could also lead to frustration, stress and even anger, which began to draw criticism and scrutiny as the game's popularity soared.

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Some critics questioned the simplicity of the gameplay and the visual resemblance to Super Mario Bros., leading to discussions about potential copyright infringement and the ethics of the game design. The difficulty level of Flappy Bird, which frustrated many players, became a topic of debate, with some arguing that it was unfairly challenging and caused unnecessary stress.

This didn't sit well with Nguyen, and in February 2014, he unexpectedly removed the game from app stores, stating that he could no longer handle the fame and attention it brought him.

Splashy Fish, Flappy Wings and Clumsy Plane

Flappy Bird's popularity persisted, and after the addictive game was removed from app stores, some players even experienced withdrawal symptoms and a longing to play the game again.

There were even reports of devices with the game still installed being listed on online marketplaces, such as eBay, for prices ranging from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, with sellers attempting to capitalise on the game's scarcity and continued demand.

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The sudden absence of the game created a void for those who had become heavily invested and addicted to its gameplay, and inevitably, imitators and clones began flooding app stores. But while a multitude of Flappy Bird clones emerged attempting to replicate its success, they were often met with mixed reviews and failed to achieve the same level of widespread popularity.

Flappy Bird had a significant impact on the mobile gaming industry, showcasing the potential for simple, addictive gameplay to capture a massive audience and achieve viral success, and inspiring developers to create similar games with challenging mechanics while also sparking conversations about the addictive nature of games.

Alas, it's unlikely that Flappy Bird will make a comeback in its original form. Nguyen has previously expressed that he has no intention of re-releasing the game due to the overwhelming attention and the negative effects it had on his personal life, and while it is always possible for circumstances to change the mobile gaming landscape has evolved significantly in 10 years.

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