AppBoard Tuesday – 12 Lessons From Flappy Bird

By | August 5, 2014
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It’s that day of the week again! Hello everyone – and welcome to yet another edition of AppBoard Tuesday (ABT). Today, we’ll deliberate on a few insights that every professional mobile app developer needs to keep in sight, at all times. But hey, this is not going to be a ‘oh-God-that’s-so-boring’ tutorial for all our dear readers. We will be making our points with reference to that mobile game that went viral in early 2014 – Flappy Bird! Interesting, right? Read on.

A bit on what Flappy Bird is all about to start off with, what say? The game was launched in May last year, and witnessed a massive spurt in popularity in the first couple of months of 2014. Developed by Don Nguyen (a Vietnam-based developer), the game topped the download charts at both iTunes and Google Play Store in February. And then, the unthinkable happened – it was pulled out of stores by Nguyen, and the officially cited reason was that it was ‘too addictive’. From last week, Flappy Bird has become available on Amazon Fire TV though – so that’s a bit of good news for hardcore gamers.

 

Anyhow, time to find what the entire hullabaloo over Flappy Bird teaches us. Quite a lot actually:

  1. You don’t need to spend months to create a successful app – Don Nguyen developed Flappy Bird in the matter of a few weeks, that too, working on a part-time basis. All that he needed was an idea about what would appeal to the end-users, and he was definitely not wrong in his estimates. Similarly, if you are working on a really ambitious Android or iPhone app development project – it is not necessary that you spend months on end on it. Concepts that come to you spontaneously are often the best ones.
  2. You need to make engaging apps – It’s one thing to generate a lot of pre-release hype about your app, and actually managing to retain the users’ interest levels over a long time. Flappy Bird does (at least, used to do!) this in a very simple manner – there was no finish to the game. People could play on and on, manoeuvring the improbable looking birds across pipes and tubes. There was no chance of anyone feeling: ‘Okay, Game Over. Now I can uninstall this app.’
  3. Being patient is important – Flappy Bird is often looked upon as an overnight success. The truth, however, is it took quite a few months for gamers to actually warm up to it. The game debuted in May 2013, and only after 8-9 months did it really start becoming popular. Take a cue from this – and don’t get disheartened if your new app does not get massive download figures initially. It is always possible that things will pick up over time.
  4. Don’t be too finicky about mobile app designing – Well, this is not to say that you should just release boringly designed mobile applications. The point is, not all of your projects require the same level of nuanced of UI/UX designing. Flappy Bird, arguably, has some of the most tacky interface designs and gameplay options. The colors are pixelated, the app development graphics are strictly ho-hum – and there is nothing really ‘new’ about it. And still, it became the apple of most gamers’ eyes!
  5. Pose a challenge to your targeted users – Flappy Bird, upon release – drew quite a bit of flak, simply because it was an extremely tough game. It was well nigh impossible for a regular player to frequently surpass his/her previous high scores. Bird-crashes were common. Few realized that this was a deliberate ploy on the part of Nguyen, to get people hooked to the game. A gaming enthusiast would hear about how difficult Flappy Bird was, and would immediately try his/her hand on it. As the weeks proceeded, the worldwide user base of Flappy Bird burgeoned. Your app needs to be intriguing, and word-of-mouth (provided that it’s not too negative) publicity always helps.
  6. Make your app user-friendly – We do not ‘learn’ this from Flappy Bird – but the game definitely reiterates the importance of keeping the mobile app controls user-friendly. All that people had to do was tap on the screen, to keep the ‘flappy’ birds happily flapping along. You tap at the right times – and you will keep clearing challenges and obstacles. If anything, it was even simpler than Angry Birds (which is almost the benchmark for all gaming apps). Flappy Bird could, hence, even serve as a fun mobile apps for kids/toddlers. A free app which is very, very easy to operate – why wouldn’t people fall in love with it?
  7. Successful apps can be ‘heavily inspired’ from earlier applications – There can hardly be a better example than Flappy Bird for this. We have already mentioned that its UI was tacky and average at best. It also needs to be mentioned that the game was considerably inspired from Super Mario Bros (remember that delightfully retro Nintendo offering?). The old-fashioned 8-bit graphics were nothing to write home about – except, perhaps, bringing in a feel of nostalgia among users. Flappy Bird wasn’t plagiarized on anything, but its appearance was definitely not built from scratch. If you are working on a new mobile app project, and there are already popular apps that offer similar services – there is nothing wrong in ‘borrowing’ a few design pointers from them. Just make sure that you do not submit a blatantly copy-pasted job!
  8. That little guy called Luck – Trust us, that guy really matters in all types of information technology and software development projects (some would say luck plays a key role in all walks of life). Flappy Bird was a tough game, it had old-fashioned display screens, the game had no endings – and let’s face it, not much of technical genius had gone into its development. But luck (in the form of gamers) decided that this was the game that would receive adulation all across the globe. Never dismiss any app idea as ‘impossible’ or ‘too far-fetched’. Even if a project is ‘remotely feasible’, try to make it work. It might turn out to be a big winner – like Don Nguyen’s brainchild.
  9. You need not have loads of financial resources to make a hit app – Flappy Bird, published by .Gears Studios, did not have the backing of a big mobile apps company, like Supercell or Rovio (the creator of Angry Birds). Even so, the former managed to trump all its potential competitors – including the ones which had required considerably more monetary investment.  Nguyen learnt from the market, from his potential clients, from repeated app iterations, and ultimately, produced a great app on a shoestring budget.
  10. A free app can help you earn big money – If iTunes and Play Store still had Flappy Bird, Mr. Nguyen would have become a multi-millionaire by now. He really aced the mobile app monetization game, by making it free to download and depending solely on in-app advertisements. According to reports, Flappy Bird brought in daily revenues in the vicinity of $52000 – laying to rest all doubts about the wisdom of the adopted policy. Don’t be in a tearing hurry to make a paid app if you wish to make money – a free app with a smart advertising strategy, can, in fact, help you earn more.
  11. Don’t worry too much if others release apps that look like yours – Instead, take this as a compliment – and a sureshot sign that your app has indeed become a roaring success. Flappy Bird is no longer available now, but it has spawned (and is still spawning!) games like Fatty Bird and Gooing Up – which are pretty close to being absolute rip-offs (there are subtle differences though). If someone plagiarizes completely from you, take steps – but if others are launching mobile apps that are ‘almost similar’ to yours, feel happy!
  12. You are as successful as how well or badly your last app does – Rovio had close to 60 mobile gaming apps, before it shot to prominence with Angry Birds. Don Nguyen himself released several game-based applications prior to Flappy Bird – none of which tasted any significant success. This brings to light the importance of perseverance, learning from previous mistakes, and staying focused. Willingness to stay in the game is always a virtue for app developers.

All things said, remember that Flappy Bird was a one-off case – and simply making and releasing a clone of that game is not likely to be rewarding. What’s more, if you are not into mobile application development on a professional basis, you would do well to stay away from making such ‘addictive’, ‘tough’ apps (Nguyen could not handle the often hostile feedback he received from Flappy Bird users). As we have here pointed out, there are things to learn from the unexpected rise and the sudden disappearance of Flappy Bird from the stores. They should serve as reference points for mobile app experts – but they do not assure sureshot success. It all boils down to whether people love what you have offered to them.

 

And that, readers, brings us to the end of this week’s AppBoard Tuesday. If you have played Flappy Bird (most people have, at least once!), do write in to let us know how your experience with the game was. We keep learning from your feedback, suggestions and helpful tips.

Story Time Monsoon Camp - Poster 3

As you are almost surely aware, the Story Time Monsoon Camp kicks off in 9 days from now. If you have not registered your kid for the camp yet – do so by visiting www.storytimeforkids.info, and leaving your contact details there. There’s a lot of fun waiting for your little one!

 

There will be a one-week gap before ABT returns (that’s right, no edition will be published on August 12). Until we are back on the 19th, stay zapped with….what else…apps!

 

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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