Flappy Bird : The 28 day story behind flappy bird
In just a few weeks, the mobile appÂ Flappy BirdÂ became a global phenomenon. It was a simple game, but frustrating and endless. Sharing many similarities with the famousÂ Helicopter Gameâ€” only with Super Nintendo-style graphics â€” it’s safe to sayÂ Flappy BirdÂ took over the web.Flappy birds deleted Forever! Â Â Alternatives to Flappy Bird Â Â Flappy Bird Alive Online Â Â Â Flappy bird loaded iPhone goes for $100,000
The story ofÂ Flappy BirdÂ â€” its sudden rise and equally sudden fall â€” is hard to pin down. That’s partially because Nguyen, overwhelmed by the popularity of the game, has declined press requests for interviews. [Update: Shortly after we posted this story,Â ForbesÂ tracked down Nguyen in Hanoi, whereÂ he revealedÂ that Flappy Bird is “gone forever’ because, essentially, it was addictive.]
Still, using Twitter data from Topsy, Nguyen’s Twitter stream and app-ranking data fromÂ App Annie, we’ve managed to put together a timeline of the game.
Much of the data surroundingÂ Flappy BirdÂ and its viral success came courtesy of Zach Williams, a developer whoÂ analyzed the numbersÂ behind the game.
Williams scraped all of the written app reviews fromÂ Flappy BirdÂ in iTunes before the game was removed; this yielded a database of more than 68,000 written reviews, and he was kind enough to share a CSV file of that data withÂ Mashable. Using it, we were able to look for trends around when the app started to gain traction, its ratings and the general user sentiment surrounding it.
The game’s sheer success has led some critics to accuse Nguyen of using shady practices â€” including buying traffic or paying for fake reviews â€” in order to helpÂ Flappy BirdÂ ascend the app charts. After looking at the data that corresponds to whenÂ Flappy BirdÂ started to build word-of-mouth buzz, however, we can’t find any signs of impropriety, or manipulation of reviews or ratings.
The fact thatÂ Flappy BirdÂ wasn’t a scam â€” but a naturally occurring spectacle that came out of nowhere â€” only makes its triumph that much more incredible and its removal from the App Store that much more bittersweet.
What follows is a strange story about a simple game calledÂ Flappy BirdÂ and the roller-coaster ride that followed.
The BeginningÂ of Flappy Bird
The digital origins ofÂ Flappy BirdÂ date back to November 2012. At the time, Nguyen shared an image of a game he was working on via Twitter:
Nothing more about the game was mentioned. Later, Nguyen would say that the character originated from a game he started working on, but scrapped.
Then, in April 2013, Nguyen shared the first splash screen for a new iOS game calledÂ Flap Flap
The game had Nintendo-style graphics, and looked inviting. Nguyen said he managed to buildFlap FlapÂ in just two days.Â A month goes by with no update onÂ Flap Flap. As it turns out, there was already another app with that name in the App Store. Nguyen renamed the gameÂ Flappy Bird.
Flappy BirdÂ made its App Store debut on May 24, 2013. Nguyen tweeted his high score from the game’s share screen. Note that the hashtag is #flapflap â€” the name of the original game.
He also shared a direct download link to the game.
The Calm Before the Storm
After releasingÂ Flappy Bird, Nguyen appeared to abandon both it and his Twitter account. According to app-review data pulled from the App Store (before the game was removed), the game attracted just 13 reviews between May 25 and Oct. 31. Written reviews aren’t a perfect measure of download figures â€” as far more users download a game than take the time to write a review â€” but the app was practically invisible.
In September 2013, Nguyen released his first update toÂ Flappy Bird. It fixed a few bugs, and he added a new icon for iOS 7.
The game continued to toil in obscurity for another six weeks. Then, something interesting happened.Â Flappy BirdÂ entered the “Family” category at 1469 on Oct. 29, 2013, which means it was the 1469th most popular Family game in the App Store, according toÂ App Annie.
A few days later,Â Flappy BirdÂ made its first appearance on Twitter aside from Nguyen’s initial tweets.
On Nov. 14,Â Flappy BirdÂ entered the U.S. game charts, coming in at 1368, according toAppAnnie. By this time, the game had climbed to 393 in the Family category.
The game started to gain traction in those two categories through the month of November. Reviews increased, too.Â Flappy BirdÂ managed to earn 20 reviews in November. Many of those reviews expressed a love-hate relationship with the game.
One review, entitled “Love/hate/live,” sums it up:
I have a love/hate relationship with this game and it’s so addicting
It’s a great game though. I can’t get past 15:(
On Dec. 3, 2013,Â Flappy BirdÂ officially entered the overall App Store charts, coming in at 1308 in the U.S. At this time, the game was ranked 74 in Family and 395 in U.S. games.
By Dec. 13, the game had cracked the top 250 for free apps in the U.S., the top 80 for U.S. games and ranked 14 in Family.
Twitter users started to tweet more about the game, creating rage graphics and memes related to their frustrations. Nguyen retweeted some of the more humorous images
Flappy BirdÂ also started gaining 20 reviews a day. The game proved polarizing, with most of the ratings either a full five stars or one star, with many expressing the “I hate this game, but cannot stop playing” sentiment.
Finding SuccessÂ of Flappy Bird
Flappy Bird‘s popularity continued to climb into January 2014. On Jan. 10, the app achieved a major milestone: It became a top-10 app in the United States. It was ranked the eighth-most-downloaded free app in the U.S. and the sixth-most-downloaded free game.
“Flappy Bird” breaks into the top 10 in the App Store.
IMAGE: APP ANNIE
Other game developers took notice, and asked Nguyen if he did anything to promoteÂ Flappy Birdto get it into the top 10. Nguyen replied that he “doesn’t do promotion.” He also expressed excitement, as the app continued to climb higher in the App Store.
Flappy BirdÂ download levels swelled on Jan. 13, increasing 136% day-over-day. On Jan. 17, the app became the number-one free app in the U.S. App Store, according to app-analytics company Distimo.
Flappy BirdÂ was a bonafide hit. And it would only get bigger.
On Jan. 22, Nguyen announced that an Android version of the game was available in Google Play.
Within a week, it became the most-download app on Google Play.
By Jan. 24, the media was finally starting to take notice ofÂ Flappy Bird.Â BuzzfeedÂ andÂ Kotakuwrote articles expressing surprise at the app’s level of success. Developers began dissecting the game, andÂ praising its virality.
It’s here thatÂ Flappy BirdÂ really started to take off on Twitter. Tweets with the phrase “Flappy Bird” passed the 500,000 a day mark as of Jan. 25, according to Topsy.
The flurry of media coverage intensified, with a significant uptick happening at the end of January. Publications such asÂ The Huffington Post,Â The TelegraphÂ all wrote about the game that appeared out of nowhere.
By Feb. 1,Â Flappy BirdÂ was the number-one free game in 53 countries in the App Store.
On Feb. 6, Apple even acknowledged the game’s success, tweeting about it from its official App Store Twitter account.
As January became February,Â Flappy BirdÂ was responsible for millions of downloads a day on iOS and Android. As it became a success, media outlets started to reach out to Nguyen to talk to him about the game.
Nguyen was fairly guarded with most press, but did do a few interviews, including with game blogChocolate Lab AppsÂ andÂ TechCrunch. In both interviews, Nguyen chalked up the game’s success to pure luck.
He toldÂ TechCrunch, “I don’t know how my games can be so popular. Most of my players are kids in schools. I would like to thanks them for playing my game and sharing it to other people.”
Reporters started looking into theÂ psychological reasonsÂ behindÂ Flappy Bird‘s success, and app developers also wanted to know its secret. Once the app reached the top 10 in the App Store, developers started asking Nguyen about his strategies for making it successful.
A common question was whether he bought traffic (i.e. paying for exposure that leads to downloads) forÂ Flappy Bird, or used cross-promotional techniques to raise the download counts on his other apps.
For his part, Nguyen maintained that he did nothing to help juice the ratings or download figures forÂ Flappy Bird.
However, some commentators were skeptical. On Feb. 1, app marketer Carter Thomas speculated thatÂ Flappy Bird‘s success was due in part toÂ reviews left by bots.
It’s not uncommon for some developers to try to juice rankings or ratings for an app by paying for bots to leave positive reviews. However, this pattern usually becomes obvious because the reviews all contain the same sentence, phrase or group of phrases.
When asked about Thomas’ post via Twitter, Nguyen responded diplomatically.
Nguyen refused to answer any questions about his methods, asking the press to leave him alone.
In one of his tweets to aÂ NewsweekÂ reporter, Nguyen made a valid point: If he was cheating, why would he still be in the App Store?
The Price of SuccessÂ of Flappy Bird
Questions over howÂ Flappy BirdÂ achieved such dizzying successÂ became even more frequent when it was revealed that Nguyen was making $50,000 a day in ads off of the game.
That figure was firstÂ revealed toÂ The Verge, and it immediately increased backlash against the game.
KotakuÂ wasÂ especially harsh on the game, writing an op-ed originally entitled “Flappy Bird is Making $50,000 a Day Off of Ripped-Off Art.” (KotakuÂ has since changed the headline and parts of the article.)
Some users began calling out Nguyen over Twitter. In the beginning, he seemed to take the attention with good humor.
By the time February rolled around, however, it was clear thatÂ Flappy Bird‘s success and the attention Nguyen got as a result, was impacting his life for the worse.
Nguyen said he was receiving hate tweets, death threats and repeated harassment over the game.
Nguyen appeared overwhelmed by the app’s popularity, which he expressed via Twitter on Feb. 7.
These tweets were mocked byÂ some outlets, which only exacerbated the negative attention toward Nguyen.
After originally promising to build a Windows Phone version of the game, Nguyen seemed ready to throw in the towel last week.
Nguyen hadÂ uploaded an updateÂ toÂ Flappy BirdÂ for iOS on Feb. 3. The update was approved on Feb. 8. It included graphical changes to the game, and actually made it a bit easier. Because the update was released whenÂ Flappy BirdÂ was at its peak popularity, feedback from some users was negative.
The EndÂ of Flappy Bird
A few hours after the 1.2 update forÂ Flappy BirdÂ for iOS was released, Nguyen seemed dejected on Twitter.
Then, at around 2:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 8, Nguyen made a stunning announcement:Â Flappy Birdwas going to go away.
Users on Twitter and other social-media sites were stunned that the game had disappeared. Some suggested that it was all a publicity stunt. It wasn’t. By Feb. 9,Â Flappy BirdÂ was removed from the App Store and Google Play.
In its place, a plethora of carbon copies and similar games popped up. Users are even selling phones with the game installed forÂ outrageous sums on eBay.
Nguyen remains silent, and hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment.
It’s now been 28 days sinceÂ Flappy BirdÂ hit the App Store’s top 10. The game has had at least 50 million downloads, and amassed nearly 16 million tweets.
It is the perfect example of how a mundane app with an addictive premise can go viral, thanks to social media and word of mouth. What’s more,Â Flappy BirdÂ was a success because it didn’t fit the mold. Anyone trying to create the nextÂ Flappy BirdÂ will likely fail â€” this was a perfect storm of circumstance, luck and viral drive.
It seems fitting that the app left the world with as much mystery as it entered.