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Flappy Bird: A silly game that is so hard to master

Flappy Bird's developer has created a stir by pulling the popular game from app stores. What makes the simplistic game so addictive?

Published on Feb 10, 2014 6:35 PM
An employee plays the game Flappy Bird at a smartphone store in Hanoi on Feb 10, 2014. The game appeals to the masses because it is devilishly simple to learn to play it, but is so hard to master that people keep trying and trying. -- PHOTO: AFP

I flapped my hands in exasperation. This new game, Flappy Bird, had gone viral and every geek was talking about it at my table at the Dell lohei lunch last week. The one evangelising it was a tech journalist who had hit a score of 30. "Should be easy to beat," I thought to myself. I was dead wrong.

I immediately downloaded the game and started playing it, eager to prove to the other geeks that the gamer in me could easily beat such an uninspiring score.

Tap, tap, tap, crash! My first attempt at the game ended in complete disaster. I couldn’t even get the bird past the first post. After three tries, I hit a personal high score of 1. After eight tries, I finally managed to clear four posts before crashing and registering a new personal best.

If you haven’t played the game, the premise is very simple. You control a bird, and must guide it through openings in posts. Every post you pass earns you one point. To control the bird, simply tap on the screen. Every tap, sends the bird upwards for a short distance before it free falls to the ground. To succeed, you need to time the taps. It’s that simple in theory, but in real-life execution, it is very difficult. The game leaves very little room for error - you need to master the timing of your taps to succeed.

If I had kept going, I am sure my score would have improved. But I refused to waste my time after 15 minutes with the game. Why? Because it really is a very silly game. It appeals to the masses because it is devilishly simple to learn to play it. But it is so hard to master that people keep trying and trying. There are no mini bosses to fight, no new birds to unlock, no difference in the design of the posts. There are no objectives to achieve, no plot to enjoy, and the developer did not even bother to create background music. So why is everyone playing it?

There is only one simple reason for this - the desire to have the highest score among one's friends. And because the score seems so “low” to beat, beating your friends seems achievable. The game has a leaderboard to show who is the leader among your friends who are also playing it. In my circle, the leader has a grand high score of 39. You can also check the leaderboards for global leaders and something is clearly wrong with it because the top guy in the world has a mind-blowing score of 9,223,372,036,854,776,000. The leaderboard system is clearly broken, because it is simply impossible for anyone to be making so many taps non-stop.

There are many other better games that are available if the aim is to prove one’s prowess in gaming. I would recommend that folks  consider investing their time in trying out some of the amazing games that have come out from Singapore's own game studios, instead of wasting their time on this birdie fad, which I have no doubt will die off as quickly as it has started.

Try games like Pixel People, where you get to create your own city complete with buildings, trees and people with different jobs. Challenge other players in real-time combat in Heroes Of Honor, where only the smartest and the strongest will survive in this castle-building and raiding game. For some finger-swiping action, have a go at Monster Blade, which plays like Infinity Blade but with deeper gameplay.

On Feb 11, Digital Life will crown the winners of its inaugural Best Made-In-Singapore Games awards. Organised with the support and sponsorship of the Media Development Authority, the team shortlisted 10 of the best games that were developed on our very own shores last year. Local games have made an impact on the global stage in the last two years. At least four of them - Pixel People, Monster Blade, Puzzle Trooper and Brave Frontier - have surpassed the million-download mark.

Don't waste your time on Flappy Bird. It's time to check out the real gaming heroes.

Related stories:

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Scepticism, death threats as Flappy Bird developer pulls game from stores
Before Flappy Bird: 5 viral mobile device games