Deleting Flappy Bird: Crazy or Genius?

Flappy Bird
If you’ve been keeping up to date in the world of Apps and games, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Flappy Bird–the addicting game that seems simple, but will have you throwing your phone or tablet down in disgust and frustration after just a few seconds when your bird does the all-too-familiar faceplant. But then you have to pick it up and try just one more time. It seemed as if Flappy Bird’s creator–Nguyen Ha Dong–had made it big in the App world, but he surprised everyone when in the midst of the game’s massive popularity he decided to pull the plug. From a business and marketing standpoint, was discontinuing Flappy Bird the best decision? Or did he unnecessarily cost himself thousands (millions?) of dollars?

From the sound of it, the reason why he pulled the game is because he was afraid it was too addictive. Those don’t sound like the words of a marketer, since we tend to thrive on products that people can’t put down. Especially considering the game was making up to $50,000 PER DAY in ad revenue, who would give up all that opportunity? At first glance it seems like a stupid business decision (and to struggling companies it may even seem selfish). The point of any business venture at the core is to make money. So it seems counter intuitive to close shop as soon as you start seeing good profits.

It also opens the door for competitors. Seeing as the concept behind Flappy Bird is not all that difficult or complicated, it can’t be too hard for someone to whip up a close similarity to steal away all the money that Flappy Bird could have gotten. Just quickly browsing the App store I’ve seen that there’s already Splashy Fish, Flappy Bee, Flappy Jellyfish, and more spinoffs. I would bet that all the people who didn’t download Flappy Bird before it was discontinued are downloading these just to get something similar, and it’s money that Flappy Bird could have gotten. So thinking about it that way, it doesn’t make sense why he would decide to pull it–unless he really is more concerned with people’s overall well-being than earning a few more bucks.

But if we were to assume that the game’s addictive concept wasn’t the entire reason behind deleting it, we could turn our attention to the marketing behind his decision, and possibly why it was a very smart idea. As if hearing about Flappy Bird’s popularity from friends and peers wasn’t enough promotion, hearing that it would be discontinued within a day definitely was advertising gold. Because a few hours didn’t give people much time to decide whether they really wanted it or not, and because it’s free, anyone on the fence about downloading went ahead and did so. Even people who had no intention of playing it may have gotten it just in case they ever changed their mind. It’s the perfect impulse-buying scenario.

There’s also the small detail that Nguyen will still receive ad money from all the downloaded Flappy Birds. So he doesn’t have to do anything and will continue to make thousands of dollars per day as long as people keep playing the game. It seems as if the only difference from a scenario in which he didn’t decide to take it down is that it sped up the buying process. By now, anyone who wanted Flappy Bird probably already has it, because they didn’t have a chance to deliberate and forget or change their mind. And after hearing all this buzz about the game, people who would have never even considered trying it are playing just to see what everyone’s talking about.

Right now it’s hard to tell how this whole fiasco will play out for Flappy Bird. With its short lifespan, it may not reach the Angry Birds level (is there some deal with birds being popular?), but for now it’s the game on everyone’s mind. Maybe Nguyen expected the game’s popularity would just be a trend, and he would rather go out with a bang than fade away gradually. Or maybe he wanted to find a surefire way to get people to download his game. Or maybe he really was concerned about it being too addictive. Whatever happens, he’s well-off financially now and we’re all still crazy about that stupid little bird.

UPDATE:

Several weeks after Flappy Bird founder pulled the plug on the game, he may now be changing his mind. When asked about whether he would return the game to the App Store, it was tough to tell whether his response was positive or not. Perhaps another marketing ploy to gain more media attention?

However, the latest news is that he may not actually be able to let Flappy Bird spread its tiny wings again due to Apple’s terms of service. According to the App Store rules, once he pulled the Bird from the market he lost the rights to it. And, unsurprisingly, another company immediately pounced on the opportunity and took the Flappy Bird name and is in the process of trademarking it. But it’s ultimately up to Apple to decide if they should waive the regulations just this once for Nguyen or adhere to their strict policy no matter what.

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