Have you played Flappy Bird? No? Well, hard luck. On Sunday 9th February the game was pulled from both Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Nguyen Ha Dong, the Vietnamese developer behind the game, was earning $50,000 per day in advertising revenue before he took his own creation down.
In his announcement on Twitter he claimed, “I cannot take this anymore”. Users who have already installed the game can continue to play as usual however.
This move shocked many people and angry posts soon followed on Twitter aimed at the app’s creator.
Soon after the announcement, phones with Flappy Bird preinstalled were posted on auction sites, fetching up to $90,000. In reality, these sales are falling, but it still serves to show the popularity of the game that popped out of nowhere.
The success of Flappy Bird raises a more fundamental question – what makes a good app? This is a problem that has plagued the mobile market in particular, where an app becomes popular seemingly at random. ‘Plagued’ is perhaps a bit unfair, as app trends seem to be strongly linked with our tendency to procrastinate.
It is not hard to see why this would be the case. One only need remember the Tamagotchi craze of the late nineties (which incidentally is available as a free app) for an example of how we fritter away our time on such simple game mechanics.
The same is no less true today with Flappy Bird – the most recent popular example of a whole slew of similarly addictive apps (Temple Run, Doodle Jump and Angry Birds spring to mind).
When compared to its target audience, and what the app was trying to achieve, there is no doubt that Flappy Bird and others have succeeded. But does being popular necessarily make an app good?
Consider an app such as Circle of 6 which allows the user, in two taps, to send a distress message to up to six friends. This app has also achieved its goal, yet somehow Circle of 6 is a better app. It allows the user to do something truly useful and may even help in an emergency situation.
If we judge how good an app is solely on its popularity, we may miss genuinely useful and innovative creations such as Circle of 6. Furthermore, when we compare Flappy Bird and the like to such apps we find only one conclusion – Flappy Bird is not a good app.
This is a reason why more and more companies veer away from the vastly lucrative mobile market. People simply aren’t purchasing the useful apps they create and instead would choose a free game to whittle away their time.
Even games developed by major developers with high budgets do not succeed due to the volatile and unpredictable nature of the market. The result is that consumers have a massive impact on the quality and quantity of apps produced as these developers switch to accommodate their preferences.
The long and short of the situation is, the mobile market is dictated solely by the consumer, and so as long as we crave timewasting games, these will be the most popular on mobile devices – but not necessarily the best.
Photograph: Lisa Risager on Flickr