Experience Points: Flappy Bird Is So Simple, And Horrendously Addictive For Good Reason
Lately I’ve been playing Flappy Bird on my Android device to great distaste and infuriation. Challenging casual games tend to infuriate me, but Flappy Bird by .GEARS Studio (otherwise known as Dong Nguyen) does this by its very design. My experience with the game has led me down a Flappy path of addiction as I constantly attempt to best my score. The game has one simple mechanic you’re a stupid looking bird with flight-dysfunction that needs to progress through a series of Super Mario style pipes without hitting them. Flappy Bird requires the player to tap the screen in a rhythmic fashion to keep Flappy flying, and not bumping into Mario pipes or plummeting to the ground unceremoniously.
Flappy Bird is a simply designed game that hedges its bets on masochistic repetitive gameplay design, much like old school Arcade and NES games did, to breed a sense of achievement when you conquer a series of Mario pipes without fail. With that sense of accomplishment, Flappy Bird at the same time can infuriate and enrage players when they make the simplest of errors. I found myself loving the game when I easily made a new high score, and despising it when I continually failed to make any kind of progress. The game is unforgiving in its repetition and challenge, varying the layout of the pipes somewhat to keep things from becoming stale. However, even though the game has been leveled with criticisms that it rips of Super Mario World in relation to its visual aesthetic, the main drive of the game comes from its simple mechanic of flying by tapping the touchscreen, and the masochistic challenge pushes the player beyond reasoning into the territory of pure addiction. Game designer and critic Ian Bogost has much to say on Flappy Bird and masochistic game design in general, and provides deeper explanations than I may be able to.
Flappy Bird focuses on one core mechanic, like most casual indie games, and excels at what it sets out to do. Conversely, one could argue that the game is a prime example of effective game design decisions. It focuses on its core mechanic and doesn’t deviate too far from its core design. Many indie games do this without fail. We see loads of simple indie games flourishing with the recent trend of game jams and developers creating prototypes that focus on a few core game mechanics, instead of branching off into multiple game design choices. For instance, I’ve been playing Don’t Starve on PS4 recently. The game is highly challenging and asks you to continually pursue a number of repetitive tasks in order survive, including crafting survival tools, cooking food and maintaining your sanity. But Don’t Starve initiates all of its mechanics simply and everything blends seamlessly together without overwhelming the player. Although at its core the central point of the game’s design is to not starve, by any means necessary. The game keeps its ambitions simple, whilst for example bigger games with much greater budgets seem to squander simplicity in favour of overreaching and pushing too many mechanics into one game.
I remember when I reviewed Lost Planet 3 and I felt that the game was sorely lacking in the execution of all of its mechanics. The game wants to be a third-person shooter like Gears of War with cover-based shooting but executes said gameplay mechanic haphazardly at best. The game felt like it was trying to do too much having you operate a giant robot, deal with mass enemies in Gears style gameplay, on top of which you have to mine on the planet as well. This is truly a symptom of many AAA games, taking on too many gameplay mechanics, that although interesting, are not fully developed to the extent that they should be in the final product.
Flappy Bird, on the other hand, is obviously a much smaller game in comparison, but with a central focus on one core mechanic the game has exceeded expectations generating $50, 000 in profits a day. The game is not without its faults, it seems that the game may be similar to another game, called Piou Piou, and possibly a clone. Cloning is a huge problem that plagues Apple’s App store and the indie community in general. But nonetheless Flappy Bird is the most viral game at the moment, and warranted some type of discussion about the horrendous addiction it generates in its wake. What will happen in the game’s future is anybody’s guess, and whether Nintendo will take action against Flappy Bird for a likeness in the visual department is all up to their legal time. In the meantime, I’m going to be mindlessly addicted to Flappy Bird, despising it simultaneously.