Nobody Wins at Flappy Bird

Okay, so I can’t believe that after all this time, I’m updating this blog again to talk about Flappy Bird. In the interest of full disclosure, I never played Flappy Bird. It didn’t appeal to me. The borderline-stolen art made me uncomfortable to even try it out – on a personal level I don’t want to help contribute to the ad revenue of someone using stolen assets. But, now it’s gone, I do care. Personally, I think everyone should care. Not because Flappy Bird is gone, but because of the attitude that’s followed its removal.

To bring anyone up to speed who’s not been following the whole saga, here’s a brief history of Flappy Bird. A Korean developer developed a simple game in a few days where you help to navigate a bird through a series of pipes. Through a mixture of luck and viral marketing, the game became a huge hit, eventually earning the creator upwards of $50,000 a day in in-game advertisements.

Honestly, when I first saw Flappy Bird it looked so bad that I assumed it had been launched to the top of the charts through some kind of exploit. The Mario pipes, the bizarre reviews referring to the “devil bird”, and the fact that the game had more ratings numbering in the tens of thousands just helped to cement this, and I was waiting for it to vanish as fast as it appeared.

But it didn’t vanish, at least, not at first. Soon, Flappy Bird started to seep into everything. Usually serious Tumblr blogs were posting screenshots of their high scores and even the BBC started reporting on the game.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, the creator posted a warning that he’d be taking the game down in 22 hours, saying simply “I cannot take this anymore.” I didn’t think he’d follow through, but I was wrong. As of this morning, Flappy Bird is no more.

Twitter exploded with applause. This led me to a single, disturbing realisation that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

A game that someone created out of a love of making video games, that gave millions of people joy, is gone. And people are happy about it.

The reason for this is fairly standard. I’m going to pass over the (perfectly valid) argument about the originality of the artwork, as everyone makes mistakes and Flappy Bird was only a 30 minute sprite-swap and an apology away from coming out of that clean. Neopets rolled out with an unsourced photo of Bruce Forsyth as a pet and now that thing is a multi-million dollar enterprise. Hell, let’s not even get started on Ms. Pac-Man.

No, the main source of the criticism leveled at Flappy Bird was at its simplicity. It was the latest in a long line of popular mobile games to invoke the Angry Birds “It’s just a Flash game, I could have done that!” argument. An argument that I feel comes as much from an opposition to change as it does from jealousy.

This isn’t about Flappy Bird. This isn’t about Angry Birds, Farmville, Candy Crush or any of the other simple games that have found a loving audience on mobile platforms. This is about us – those of us who have been playing games for a long time, those of us who write about them, those of us who create them. I firmly believe that if a video game comes along that brings joy to people, we should be happy. We should be happy that video games as a medium are still enriching people’s lives, bringing friends together and brightening people’s days.

We should not, ever be happy that joy has been taken from people. Even if Flappy Bird was pretty stupid.