Flappy Bird And The Power Of Simplicity Scaled

Feb 3 2014, 10:06am CST | by

Flappy Bird And The Power Of Simplicity Scaled

The casual games market is fickle and has a punishingly long tail for developers. Lately it has seemed that only large companies like Rovio, Zynga and King have the resources to promote games to the top of the app stores and create the deep, behavioral engineering required to keep them there.

Then, every once and a while, a surprise comes out of nowhere. The latest is from an independent developer in Hanoi, Vietnam named Nguyen Ha Dong. His .Gears game studio consists, up until now, of just him, and yet it now has three games in the Apple App Store’s top 10 rankings—a first for an indie developer. In the number one ranking is the winged flagship of his fleet is a maddeningly simple and challenging game called Flappy Bird (you can play it online here or download it from the App Store for iOS or Google Play for Android.) Currently in second position on the App Store rankings is Dong’s soccer game, Super Ball Juggling and in sixth position, his martial arts-themed splatter fest, Shuriken Block.

In contrast to other recent game successes like Candy Crush Saga which feature hundreds of levels and multiple play and social mechanisms, Flappy Bird is incredibly simple. Dong told TechCrunch that the game only took him 2-3 days to develop. And yet, it has all that is required to create a habit-forming, viral success. A look at the stripped-down components that make it tick is instructive for anyone approaching the minimum viable product question.

1. The Tap: Flappy Bird is an example of what is known as an “endless tapper.” Tadhg Kelly discusses in a separate TechCrunch post why it is dangerous for developers and game companies to extrapolate a pattern from this successful instance and flood the app stores with more games from this genre. Indisputably, however, the combination of simplicity and difficulty is a key to its success. The basic game action is to tap the screen, not “too hard and too fast,” according to Dong, to keep the Flappy Bird at the right level so it can pass through the openings between the sets of green pipes that act as the game’s only obstacles (see image above.) This is actually quite hard to do, and most players fail repeatedly before they even make it through the first “gate.”

2. The Flow: Once you master the action, the frustration has just begun. Your score is based on how many openings you can successfully navigate in a row. Hit a pipe and game over. So no matter how finely calibrated your tapping becomes, you need to maintain that focus for longer and longer durations in order to raise your score. Anyone who has ever studied or taught meditation knows that concentration is a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened. The primary payoff of Flappy Bird is what behavior designer Nir Eyal refers to as “Rewards of the Self” in his new book, Hooked. The achievement of sustained periods of focus become their own rewards. This is what Eyal refers to as an “internal trigger.” The game itself, on your phone, is an external trigger. You see the icon on your home screen and it reminds you to play. But once the internal reward cycle kicks in, once you are “hooked” in Eyal’s parlance, this external trigger is replaced by a far more powerful internal trigger. You now have an itch that needs to be scratched.

3. The Infinite Game: Unlike complex, multi-level games, Flappy Bird extends itself merely through duration. The top players on the leaderboard boast perfect scores of 9,999, so we know that the game is not truly infinite, but considering how difficult it is to crack double-digits, it might as well be. This is not infinite in the truly open-ended sense articulated by James Carse in his book Finite and Infinite Games, but rather durational, like performance art. How long can I tap? How long can I maintain my focus. How do I balance the satisfaction of endurance with the tug of everything else in my life demanding my attention? This is not exactly sacred, but it is gameplay expressed as a dimension out of the normal flow of time. (On a related note, have a look at this story on How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time.) The only variation as you endlessly scroll to the right is the height of the pipes. (I imagine Flappy Bird 2 could introduce a variable by changing the amount of space between the pipes in unexpected ways over time.)

4. The Social: Finally all of this frustration and hard-won success is exactly the kind of micro-content that people like to share via social media. When you (quickly) get to the “Game Over” screen, you can acknowledge defeat by tapping “OK” or you can tap to “Share” your score. The helpfully pre-formatted tweet reads “OMG! I scored pts in #flapflap!!! ->” followed by a download link. These social communications are actually a form of “investment” in the app. Once you have exposed yourself to your friends (and likely gotten them hooked as well) you will feel pressure to improve your score—and compete with your newly infected friends. This social dimension add what Eyal calls the “Rewards of the Tribe” to the motivational mix.

The lesson of Flappy Bird is that a game, or any product, really, does not need to be complex to command your attention and loyalty. Sometimes the most satisfying things are the simplest. The key is for them to be habit-forming enough for you to develop your own motivation to engage with them. Many large, emergent systems are built out of such simple components endowed with scaling mechanisms that allow for rapid growth and efficiency of flow. Flappy Bird is a trivial example of the power of simplicity scaled, but no conspiracy theory is required to see how it has become such a success. Dong admitted that “The popularity could be my luck,”  in a rare interview with Chocolate Lab Apps. There are some reports of a viral Twittter app review campaign that may have fueled the app’s downloads, but the fact that Dong has two other successful games with no built-in cross promotion between them indicates to me that it is his overall approach to games that is having its moment. It will be interesting to see how he scales this simplicity.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

To keep up with Quantum of Content, please subscribe to my updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and App.net or add me on Google+.

Source: Forbes Apple

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Monkey doesn't own his selfie: US regulator
New York, Aug 22 (IANS) The US Copyright Office has confirmed that a monkey - or any other animal - that takes a selfie does not own the copyright of the photo.
 
 
Early porn obsession damaging teenagers' brains: Study
London, Aug 21 (IANS) An early exposure to porn and explicit material online can damage teenagers' cognitive abilities, clarity about relationships and studies later in life.
 
 
City spiders getting bigger, multiplying faster
Sydney, Aug 21 (IANS) If you think that the spiders you see in your garden are getting bigger, you are probably right.
 
 
Teenage sleeplessness may lead to obesity
Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) Teenagers who do not get enough sleep may tend to become obese in course of time, says a new research.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Journalist beheading: US defends refusal to pay ransom to kidnappers
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Amid the shock and horror of American photojournalist James Foley's beheading and revelations that his captors had demanded a ransom of $132 million, the US has defended its policy of no...
Read more on Ad Balla
 
Monkey doesn't own his selfie: US regulator
New York, Aug 22 (IANS) The US Copyright Office has confirmed that a monkey - or any other animal - that takes a selfie does not own the copyright of the photo. A selfie taken by a black macaque on the Indonesian...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
33 killed in Egypt bus accident
Cairo, Aug 22 (IANS) At least 33 people were killed and 41 injured Friday as two buses collided in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, officials said. According to security officials, the injured included Russian, Yemeni and...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Ancelotti confirms Di Maria transfer request
Madrid, Aug 22 (IANS) Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that the club's Argentinean international winger Angel Di Maria had asked for a transfer. Ancelotti's comment confirmed the rumours that have been...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Indian, Asian businesses hit hard by unrest in US town
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Even as a semblance of order was restored in a small city in Missouri after nearly two weeks of unrest, Indian and other Asian-American-owned businesses were reported to be in a mess after...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Violence against Iraqis worst seen this century: UN
United Nations, Aug 22 (IANS) The violence against children, women and minority communities in Iraq in the past few weeks is one of the worst seen in this century, a UN spokesperson said Thursday, citing information...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Robin Williams to be honoured at Emmys
Los Angeles, Aug 22 (IANS) Actor-filmmaker Billy Crystal will pay a tribute to late actor Robin Williams at the forthcoming Emmy Awards event. The 66-year-old comedian will lead tributes to Williams, who was found...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Islamic terrorists must be defeated: US army official
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) It is possible to contain the Islamic State (IS) forces, but not in perpetuity, a senior US army official said Thursday. Martin Dempsey, chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Jessica Alba's 'super' imagination
Los Angeles, Aug 22 (IANS) The "Fantastic Four" star Jessica Alba used to imagine she was "super-human". As a child, the actress used to spend hours dreaming of having special powers that would take her ahead of her...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Uganda to face Niger ahead of Afcon qualifier
Kampala, Aug 22 (IANS) Head coach of Uganda Cranes Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic said Thursday that his team will play away to Niger in an international friendly Sep 2 ahead of a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon)...
Read more on Sport Balla