The Rise of Flappy Bird Clones

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In 2013, a simple yet brutally difficult mobile game called Flappy Bird took the world by storm. Created by Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen, Flappy Bird featured endearingly retro pixel art graphics and gameplay that consisted only of tapping the screen to make a bird flap its wings and navigate between Mario-esque green pipes.

Despite – or perhaps because of – its cruelty and simplicity, Flappy Bird became a global phenomenon seemingly overnight. At one point, it was the most downloaded app on both the App Store and Google Play. But the tidal wave of attention soon overwhelmed Nguyen, who removed Flappy Bird from digital stores just weeks after its surge in popularity.

Yet the Flappy Bird craze was far from over. In the game’s absence, countless clones flooded both major mobile platforms to capitalize on the demand. From blatant reskins like Flappy Plane to more subtle homages like Splashy Fish, Flappy copycats offered familiar frustration to Flappy fans.

Far from condemnable, this flood of Flappy clones serves as a celebration of iteration within the app ecosystem. Though some decry clones are derivative, they have an underappreciated place in gaming history. Developers have long iterated on winning formulas, adding their own spins and inspiring new hybrid genres. The Flappy Frenzy is just part of this tradition.

The Appeal of Familiarity

Flappy Bird wasn’t the first hyper-popular mobile game to trigger a tidal wave of clones. Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Threes, Crossy Road – any major hit inevitably breeds lookalikes seeking to replicate its success. This is particularly common in the competitive world of mobile gaming, where countless new apps launch daily. Standing out from the noise is a monumental challenge, so creating something familiar makes good business sense.

Why spend resources devising unfamiliar mechanics when proven formulas exist? For small teams or solo developers, piggybacking on viral trends to quickly ship clones can be rewarding – with far less risk than an original and unfamiliar game. And on mobile, casual gamers appreciate quick play sessions with easily grasped mechanics. Simple Flappy clones check both boxes.

Iteration is Key

While some clones do feel like blatant reskins without even minor gameplay tweaks, others manage to meaningfully iterate within the basic Flappy formula. Many clones change background themes or art styles – think Flappy Spongebob or Crystal Flyer – granting the game a broader appeal. Others introduce new hazards, powerups, control schemes, or gameplay subversions to make their version distinct enough to warrant a download.

For example, in Fly Birdie – Jetpacking Wings, Flappypig adds jetpack physics for an extra gameplay wrinkle. Doggy Flappy incorporates tilting controls to simulate a flying dog’s fluttering ears. Flappy 48 subverts expectations by making pipes move towards the bird instead of vice versa. Splashy Fish exchanges a bird protagonist for a fish splashing uphill via its tail. Clones like Temple Fly and Rodeo Stampede integrate the core flapping mechanic into wildly different genres like endless runners and zoo simulators.

This iterative formula-tweaking fuels novelty through constraint. Clones must adhere to the fundamental one-touch Flappy style but can stretch their creativity or technical skills within that focused design space. The results enrich the broader mobile ecosystem with riffs on a theme – not unlike jazz musicians jamming within common chord changes. And most novel clones actually can surpass their inspiration, thanks to built-in familiarity allowing creators to focus less on explaining core mechanics.

The Genesis of Genres

More broadly, clones following viral hits have given rise to entirely new mobile genres over the years. Flappy Bird itself borrowed mechanics from the helicopter game Copter, which then spawned dozens of Copter clones back in its day. Eventually, the ubiquity of vertical scroller obstacle runners built upon those basic ideas until a distinct genre emerged.

The match-three puzzle genre traces its lineage back to Columns and Tetris clones. Endless runners originated from Canabalt copycats before blossoming into a category all their own. Battle Royale games exploded after cloning PUBG and Fortnite innovations. The hyper-casual genre lives and dies by cloning new formats like Slide the Shakes, then iterating onto the next viral mechanic.

So clones are far more than derivative cash grabs. They ensure game mechanics that resonate with audiences spread quickly across the gaming landscape. The best clones then tweak those verified formulas, experimentally searching for breakout new spins. Occasionally, fan mods even transform whole genres, as with DOTA birthing the entire MOBA category.

In this sense, clones act akin to genetic variants under selection pressure, rapidly evolving gaming genres to best adapt player preferences. The process looks messy in action, but the end result is a hearty ecosystem.

The Flappy Phenomenon

Few games have showcased this cloning trend as spectacularly as Flappy Bird. Its widespread imitation mirrored its meteoric rise from obscurity to ubiquity, yet like dinosaur media giants struggling to understand internet virality, cloners dove in quickly to serve this new Flappy audience while major studios mostly misunderstood the phenomenon.

So ironically, scrappy clones kept the minimalist Flappy gameplay and aesthetic alive – essentially rescuing it from extinction. Diehard fans could enjoy alternative Flappy universes, while developers could tinker within its constraints to produce novel new variants. Flappy Fish specifically gave Dong Nguyen his own endorsement for creatively iterating on his formula.

Far from tarnishing his legacy, the influx of Flappy clones essentially immortalized the underlying mechanics by securely ingraining them into gaming’s collective consciousness. The Flappy phenomenon will now live on eternally through gaming’s video arcade history. An outcome far better than abandoning those novel mechanics to fade into obscurity.

In conclusion, rather than dismiss mobile clones as shameless copies, it’s worth viewing them as crucial drivers of creativity through constraint. Viral phenomena produce focused design spaces ripe for iterative tweaking – pop songs inspire remixes, viral videos get parody treatments, and mobile games yield avid cloners. Flappy Bird merely proved the most viral mobile formula since Angry Birds, making clones inevitable.

By embracing constraints like Flap’s one-touch control, developers can rapidly build new games while focusing innovation efforts on new themes, hazards, and special moves. This cloning cycle serves as the app ecosystem’s engine for genre evolution, yielding hit new hybrid genres. And for hyper-competitive platforms desperate for proven formulas amid sky-high failure rates, Flappy clones provide low-risk opportunities ripe for fresh spins.

So rather than condemn clones as cheap cash-ins, it’s best to celebrate imitation as iteration in action. Cloning gives familiarity needed to spread new mechanics quickly, and tweaked clones help novel genres emerge – ensuring viral games like Flappy Bird live on and evolve rather than fade as brief fads. Far from soulless, clones represent the spirited spark of creativity under constraints – a core pillar of innovation. By standing on the shoulders of simplistic giants like Flappy Bird, clones push gaming forward through improvisation.

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