Expert opinion: Something to get in a flap about? The rise and fall of Flappy Bird

Professor Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, on the recent 'Flappy Bird' craze - and why the game is so appealing.

Professor Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, on the recent 'Flappy Bird' craze - and why the game is so appealing.

Last week I was introduced to the game Flappy Bird by my kids while celebrating the eightieth birthday of their grandma. Within an hour, everyone – from the toddlers to the octogenarians – was playing it. Flappy Bird is another one of those free games that is very hard to put down once you start playing it. The game's premise is so simple, almost banal – just keeping a bird flying by tapping one finger on the touch screen of a phone or tablet and guiding the bird between a series of pipes with gaps.

For each gap in a pipe that the bird flies through, the player gets one point. Hitting or touching a pipe – or touching the ground – and it's game over. Embarrassingly, I have yet to get into double figures. As one commentator noted, it's a game you love to hate – but end up just loving it!

Do a quick Google search and the one phrase that keeps coming up is that the game is "infuriatingly addictive" – and I couldn't agree more. As soon as the game is over, the only way I can dissipate the feeling of frustration, annoyance, and anger of not doing very well is to play again immediately. For those that do well, they immediately want to play again to beat their high score.

Over the weekend, the game's creator, Dong Nguyen, withdrew Flappy Bird from online app stores – even though he was earning over $50,000 a day via in-app advertising revenue. He was quoted as saying:

"Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed. But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it's best to take down Flappy Bird. It's gone forever."

As someone that has spent over 25 years researching into video game play, Flappy Bird is the latest in a long line of fun and deceptively simple games that someone can end up playing for hours on end. The game is gender-neutral and has a 'moreish' quality (a bit like chocolate in that it's really hard just to eat one piece) and can fit in flexibly around what individuals do in their day-to-day life.

Most simple games like Flappy Bird take up all the player's cognitive ability because anyone playing on it has to totally concentrate on it. By being totally absorbed players can forget about everything else for a few minutes. This can be particularly appealing for players that want to use games as a way of temporarily forgetting about everything else that's going on in their lives. One video game review I came across said:

"Flappy Bird is the latest weirdly-addicting game to captivate mobile users. The reason is simple, if not straightforward. In the guise of a cartoonish time-waster, Flappy Bird offers some of the most punishing, hardcore gameplay you can imagine. And it's sucking in players by the millions".

Psychologically, the game relies on both positive and negative reinforcement over speedy gameplay. Physiologically, it's the kind of game where succeeding will increase dopamine levels and failure will increase noradrenaline. The interaction of two competing neurotransmitter systems is likely to keep players tapping on the screen. In short, the game is ingeniously simple, highly enjoyable, and (as one player described it) "emotionally intoxicating".

I've yet to come across anyone genuinely addicted to the game but all the ingredients are there to make it theoretically possible.

Dr Mark Griffiths
Professor of Gambling Studies
International Gaming Research Unit
Nottingham Trent University

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Media Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    .

Expert opinion: Something to get in a flap about? The rise and fall of Flappy Bird

Published on 13 February 2014
  • Category: Press

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418