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

Apple Planning to Open 25 New Stores in China within Two Years
Apple Planning to Open 25 New Stores in China within Two Years
Tim Cook reveals that Apple is thinking to build 25 additional stores in the massive Chinese market
 
 
Nike CEO Indicates Cooperation with Apple to Build New Wearable Products
Nike CEO Indicates Cooperation with Apple to Build New Wearable Products
Mark Parker says that Nike and CEO can do those things together that would have been impossible working “independently.”
 
 
iPhone 6 Plus Affected with Crashing Issues
iPhone 6 Plus Affected with Crashing Issues
The largest version of the iPhone has been found to either crash or gets rebooted on a constant basis
 
 
Apple Ditches SSL 3.0
Apple Ditches SSL 3.0
Apple is switching to TLS encryption after new vulnerabilities
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Second MERS case reported in Qatar
Doha, Oct 23 (IANS) A 43-year-old man in Qatar has tested positive for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the second confirmed case of the deadly virus in 10 days, media reported Thursday. The patient had...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Two people die in Pakistan bomb blast
Islamabad, Oct 23 (IANS) At least two people were killed and 12 others injured in an explosion that took place in Pakistan's Balochistan province Thursday, media reported. The bomb was planted on a motorcycle, Dawn...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Trott extends contract with Warwickshire till 2017
London, Oct 23 (IANS) England batsman Jonathan Trott, whose mental issues led to his abrupt departure from last winter's Ashes tour, has confirmed his successful comeback to competitive cricket by signing a new three-...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Srikanth, Kashyap big movers in BWF rankings
Kuala Lumpur, Oct 23 (IANS) Indian men shuttlers Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap jumped seven places each in the latest Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings released Thursday while Olympic bronze medallist...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Alvin Stardust dead
London, Oct 23 (IANS) English singer Alvin Stardust died after a short illness. He was 72. Stardust's manager confirmed the news about his demise Thursday, reports mirror.co.uk. He was recently diagnosed with...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Indian man reunited with family after 40 years
Dubai, Oct 23 (IANS) An Indian man, who had disappeared from his hometown in Kerala nearly 40 years ago, has been found by his family at a hospital in Dubai in the UAE, a newspaper report said. Now in his 60s, Abdulla...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Srikanth, Kashyap, Saina rise in world rankings
Kala Lumpur, Oct 23 (IANS) Indian men shuttlers Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap jumped seven places each in the latest released Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings Thursday while Olympic bronze medallist...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Flintoff signs for Big Bash side Brisbane Heat
Brisbane, Oct 23 (IANS) Former England captain and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who retired from international cricket in 2009, Wednesday confirmed that he will play for Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League (BBL) this...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
OPEC daily basket price falls again
Vienna, Oct 23 (IANS/WAM) The basket of 12 crude oils of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) closed at $81.94 a barrel Wednesday compared to $82.09 Tuesday, the OPEC Secretariat said. The new OPEC...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Lopez to sign multi-million dollar deal?
Los Angeles, Oct 23 (IANS) Singer-actress Jennifer Lopez is reportedly in the final stages of securing a multi-million dollar deal to perform in Las Vegas. The 45-year-old is being offered $350,000 per show at The...
Read more on Celebrity Balla