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Flappy Bird - The Dangers of the Simplification of Gaming

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 2014 by Xerin

Flappy Bird

It’s rare I talk about mobile gaming, because mobile gaming is a difficult topic to talk about. The issue is quality control on the mobile gaming platform. In the olden days, when handhelds were the dominant mobile market, games had to go through strict quality testing to hit store shelves. By strict quality testing, I actually mean a company had to have enough money to produce the plastic to make the carts and companies like Nintendo had a little bit of say in what was and wasn’t on their console.

This didn’t mean that some horrible games were produced, but it made a great breeding ground for awesome projects like Pokemon and The World Ends with You. With the mobile platform, games became a bit more… less filtered. You just had to adhere to the App Store (and eventually Google Play) standards in order to have your game listed. At this point, things like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga with big money behind them became popular with advertising, taking preexisting concepts and porting them to mobile.

Just to sidetrack the discussion a second, it’s important to know that a lot of popular games are just rebranded flash games. Angry Birds is actually a port of “Crush the Castle” which is a similar physics based game with the exact same weapons, exact same principles, and everything. This isn’t rare, as Farmville is an iteration of Farm Town. It’s important sometimes to understand the history behind some games.

Continuing on, Flappy Bird has recently brought up a storm of attention to mobile gaming. The developer pulled the game after it made it to the #1 position on the app store market. The game, itself, is hilariously simple. It’s simply an iteration on keeping the helicopter in the cave, except you have to get a bird through some pipes. The difficulty is in the programming of the game, the bird doesn’t move correctly and the pipe hit boxes are hilariously big.

The viral nature of the game got a ton of attention from people wondering why it’s at the #1 and then some people who were actively addicted to the game. A game so simple that almost anyone could play it because of how absolutely simple it was. Now it’s gone, the developer wanting no more of the attention.

Rumors abound though that bots were used to build its popularity, while others argue that its popularity is 100% organic. I’m not specifically sure which way myself, but what I’m here to talk about is the risk that Flappy Bird poses to the gaming market.

We’re at sort of a crossroad here. Intellectual gameplay has fallen to the wayside for simpler and simpler gameplay. Even shooters have started dumbing themselves down for the mass market. MMOs hold your hand through every part of the game. Games are becoming more and more like interactive fiction instead of actual interactive gameplay.

Which is why we run the risk of reaching a point where games play themselves. Where we are content as a society pressing a single button and sticking to it. Gaming elitism could, as we know it, die and it’s all because of the viral nature of these simple games - proving to the market that simple sells. You can already see tons of Flappy Bird knockoffs in the top list on the App Store. Developers have rushed out to recreate the magic and as such, the store is populated with these crazy simple games.

From an MMO perspective, we have to be careful. Insanely careful really, that the market doesn’t crash down through the idea that “simple is good.” Because MMOs are a bit different then other games - players all want something different, but everyone wants to play. The mass market appeal of WoW isn’t the fact it was easy at launch, it was the fact that there was something for everyone (soloing, grouping, raiding, farming, etc.). It’s easy for us to forget these simple principles because the news has overtaken everything with “WoW’s mass market appeal is the ease of gameplay” and not “WoW’s mass market appeal is the diversity of activities for players of all skill levels.”

I’ll leave the discussion here, but I will say that we, as an MMO community, should make sure that developers understand that we want challenge. We want varying degrees of challenge. Games like Pantheon are awesome because they are showing that players want challenge, not just mindless questing breadcrumbing.

Just remember - developers listen and we must make sure that games provide a challenge, and not let the media push our opinion by exploiting viral trends.

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