Flappy Bird's Dong Nguyen: 'My games are designed for offline competition'

This simple game has shot up the most downloaded charts in the US and the UK, but why is something so frustratingly difficult, so popular?

Flappy Bird is in danger of melting the internet. This minimalist (some say poorly designed) and addictive (some say brainless) smartphone game has shot to the top of the ‘Most Popular’ download charts for both Android and iPhone, and left trailing in its wake a small flotilla of articles asking everything from whether its creator faked the game's popularity to - 'is Flappy Bird art?'

Update: Flappy Bird taken down from App Store

The app was created by lone developer Dong Nguyen back in May 2013 and lingered  in relative obscurity until January this year. From the beginning of 2014 the game’s downloads of the game exploded (it now gets millions each day), indicating perhaps that smartphone owners  had collectively decided that the best way to ring in the New Year was with a stress-induced aneurism.

This is because Flappy Bird is obnoxiously difficult. Not difficult like learning to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu but difficult like threading a needle after a bottle of wine. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder what you're doing with your life in the first place.

You play as a cartoonishly cute bird, navigating your way through a never-ending stream of pipes, each with a single gap for you to pass through. The game’s ‘instructions’ give some idea of its simplicity, offering only three pieces of sage advice: “Tap to flap your wings to fly. Avoid pipes. Try to get 4 medals.”

The first time you play the game you will get a score of zero. The second time you play you’ll get a score of zero. The third time? Well, you can guess where this is going. Although seasoned players may boast of scores well into the hundreds, you’ll be lucky if you elbow your way past 5 after even an hour of play.

This has triggered an outpouring of online anguish (see the obligatory Buzzfeed article ‘12 Times "Flappy Bird" Drove Human Beings Into A Black Maw Of Existential Despair’) but it’s this difficulty that’s the key to the title's success. Each ‘game’ is over in seconds, and with the barrier to getting a ‘good’ score set so low it’s easy to convince yourself to have another go. Combine this with the social-media amplification of public schadenfreude and boom, viral gold. The Gangnam Style of the app store.

Prepare to see this screen a lot while playing Flappy Bird.

With anything that achieves this much success this quickly there’s always a desire to explain the appeal, and although this sort pop-culture opinionating can be fairly brainless, the masochistic, brain-numbing allure of a game like Flappy Bird is an interesting phenomenon – even if you don’t care to play it yourself.

“Playing Flappy Bird is like fixing an unfixable drawer pull, one that will never reattach correctly, one that you know will never do, but persisting in the face of such torpor nevertheless,” writes game theorist Ian Bogost for The Atlantic. “Because the game cares so little for your experience of it, you find yourself ever more devoted to it.”

Bogost reminds us that although we are beginning to think of games as an entertainment medium that might one day match the artistic depth of movies or literature, they also have a deeper appeal that is both primal and stupid, reminding us of some of the idiocy of daily life and perhaps ‘teaching us humility’.

All of this attention has perhaps been too much for the game’s creator, the 29-year old Nguyen. On his Twitter account he responds to comments from angry or confused gamers with gentle advice: “Take it easy and it should be easier. Don't push it too hard and too fast”; “Have a good night :-) Give my games a break too.”

Recently, as one app developer speculated that the game’s popularity might be down to bots, Nguyen said that he’d had enough, tweeting "Press people are overrating the success of my games. It is something I never want. Please give me peace."

Speaking to The Independent Nguyen clarified that he did not want to talk about his success simply because he did not feel that his English was up to the job. He denied that his success was artificial, saying that he makes games out of passion, not for profit, and agreed to answer the question of why his games are so popular:

"I think the most important reason that my games are so popular is the competition between players and the simplicity," said Nguyen over email. "They're designed for offline competition - something people forget these days."

"Also, each of my games has only one setting, one activity and one gameplay mechanism. They're dead simple, easy to learn and require only skill. People want real competition not 'pay to win'!"

For all its faults, with Flappy Bird, 'real competition' is certainly what you get.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

    Content Manager - Central London

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

    Java Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

    £475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on