In a world of zero downtime, hyper-available content, persistent identity, feature creep and engineered complexity, enters Flappy Bird. After zillions of iOS and Android downloads, many broken screens, rampant praise and hatred, mocking videos, a stunning $50K USD/day in ad revenue, and an onslaught of copycats, its sole creator, Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen, has made good on his promise and pulled the hit game from stores forever.
Though many have written about the zen of Flappy Bird’s simplicity, Dong’s exit should be a lesson to entrepreneurs. Going out on top is a choice all market leaders have. Nothing has more impact than hitting your high note when the world is watching, dropping the mic, and exiting stage left, never to return again. Most top dogs will never do this either out of greed or fear or some combination thereof. Dong’s unflappable indie hero cred is now the stuff of lore - he didn’t burn out, nor did he fade away.
He just left.
Now, what can we take away from this. The contrarian in me finds this fascinating as it will be a live version of a thought experiment I’ve had. What happens when something so coveted, so imprinted into the zeitgeist of “now”, is removed without a trace? Behavioral economics and gamification have played with the idea of scarcity within play schemes and games, but rather than gating on an intra-game meta level, this maneuver is a macro level of availability.
People are addicted to crack, and crack is no longer in production. Forever.
Before now, no one has turned an app into a limited availability event. Dong’s ability to kill his baby, for everyone to see, is remarkable, and will have ramifications.
Anyone newcomer who wants to play the game will now have to seek out someone who still has it installed, forcing real world interactions among mobile users. Within the next upgrade cycle for phones, the game will be stripped from existence, only a memory.
Is this the app version of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at Monterey Pop Festival - maybe, if that festival had no cameras present. Is he the app version of Banksy - maybe, but Dong’s arguably more enigmatic as he doesn’t want to sell it, doesn’t want to give it away. He just wants to stop it. Is this like the last episode of M.A.S.H. or Seinfeld - maybe, but those endings were planned and promoted well in advance. Dong is going out like Bo Jackson, just without the freak injury.
Will you tell your kids, “yeah, I played Flappy Bird and broke my damn phone!”, for them to be in awe that you were part of a moment? Maybe.
Anyone copying Dong Nguyen’s game play is a fool. Emulate his exit. Better yet, evolve his exit. Game scarcity can become part of the game. An example. Allow 100K downloads and you remove the game availability. Force players who own the game to progress past a certain point before availability continues and the game extends. Make players work to find and help each other to unlock more content. The game is killed not when the most engaged player churns out (normal life-support pattern), but when the least engaged player does. Everyone’s score matters in the fate of the game.
I look forward to seeing where brave developers take this unforgiving, ultimatum style of play. If you’re a crazy developer and want to see how deep the rabbit hole can go, hit me up. I’ve only scratched the surface here.
** Kudos to @jakeregal for pre-colon title.