Flappy Bird and the viral games phenomenon

Flappy1
The thing that interests me about Flappy Bird isn’t the game, or chasing a high score, or anything like that. It’s in demonstrating how utterly disposable games have become.
I really don’t like Flappy Bird much.
I mean, I’ve played it (just a bit), and I’ve read countless words by now about how it’s “distilled” gaming, and only for those who like a tough challenge and all that.
Logically speaking, it should be exactly what I’m looking for in a game, because I positively adore tough challenges. That’s partly my old-school game upbringing and partly my own innate stubborn convictions, I suspect. If a game grabs me, I don’t shy away from its challenge, or complain when the going gets tough.

I also never apologise for song links a good 25+ years past their sell-by date.
I am somewhat amused by Flappy Bird’s creator’s stated intention to pull the game from circulation — plenty of quips about the reported ad revenue and/or somewhat more serious discussion about corruption or threats in the Vietnamese games development scene nowithstanding — but after a handful of tries, I returned to other, slightly more gratifying (and significantly better designed) endless runner/score-attack games rather sharply.

Quickest Fat Duck review ever: It's junk. Don't bother. Play something else.
Quickest Fat Duck review ever: It’s junk. Don’t bother. Play something else.

For the record, right now my endless runner of choice remains Temple Run 2. Tastes can vary. That’s cool.
What really interests me, though, is how Flappy Bird demonstrates how absolutely disposable gaming has become. Here’s a game that costs (essentially) nothing to install or play, and it’s not even new, but simple word of mouth (in this case, apparently Internet-spread, although I’ve read a few wild theories about fixes on relative App store freebie charts too) has turned it into a game that’s been downloaded and played rather obsessively by millions of people.
In business terms, if Flappy Bird were for sale, you’d expect someone like EA to be scribbling out a number followed by lots of trailing zeroes onto a cheque. Apparently this isn’t so.
Whether or not it gets pulled from distribution (given this tweet I suspect hype hoax; Update: Nope, as of the 10th it is indeed gone… for now… ) , and ignoring the masses of clones that have already popped up — it turns out when your game design document is astonishingly tiny, copying it doesn’t take long — it’ll join a long list of games that were the absolute must-play titles.. of their fifteen minutes. In some cases less.
Remember when Doodle Jump was the be-all and end-all? Or Flight Control? Actually, they’re not great examples, because there was (and is; you can still play ’em, even if they’re not the hyped new thing) some serious design in those titles.
A better example, on all sorts of fronts, would be Draw Something, a game with such a minimal “game” segment that you quite literally had to make your own fun.
Draw Something sold for a staggering $180 million at the height of its success.
I don’t think that I’ve heard anyone besides my own brain, just then, mention Draw Something for at least a year. Checking around, I only just realised a sequel was released last year. Did anybody know that? I certainly didn’t.
$180 million doesn’t feel like money well spent, but then that’s the nature of virally promoted “games” with limited “game” bits. Somebody makes a lot of money rather quickly, and if they’re wise (or able to) sells out just as fast. Next week, it’ll be a game about sugar-frosted Hamsters on waterskis hurling otters at inflatable nurse dolls, or something similar.
As an aside, I’m totally willing to sell the sugar frosted Hamster game idea to any big gaming house with money to burn. Remember, bid big, because you don’t want me to sell such a hot idea to the other guy… do you?
"Game" Over? Remind me. Which bit was the game?
“Game” Over?
Remind me. Which bit was the game?

Anyway, Flappy Bird is just the latest virally promoted game in line, and if its “success” is any measure, the market is perfectly fine with the idea of absolutely disposable, barely-designed games.
In many ways that worries me; not that people aren’t entitled to be entertained by whatever grabs them, but simply that it’s the simple and derivative ideas — please, show me something, anything in Flappy Bird that’s unique — might become the only thing that makes money in gaming’s future.
Where does that leave those of us that actually want a bit of game in our games?

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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