Jane Bradley: All in a flap over an app

Flappy Bird: Pulled from app stores. Picture: ContributedFlappy Bird: Pulled from app stores. Picture: Contributed
Flappy Bird: Pulled from app stores. Picture: Contributed
Before this week, I had never heard of a flappy bird. Now, the darn things are everywhere, waving their little yellow wings and nose-diving into concrete posts.

Ironic, really, that they’re suddenly such a prevalent part of society, given that this is the first time in almost a year that they’re not, actually, for sale.

Ah, that old chestnut of supply and demand.

When Vietnamese app developer Dong Nguyen last weekend announced his plans to axe the product on Twitter, saying he could not “take this anymore”, there was a global outcry.

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Forget the Winter Olympics. Put any thoughts of the atrocities in Syria on the back burner.

In fact, stop all of the clocks, cut off the telephone. Flappy Birds is dead. Talk about first world problems.

The world went crazy. Creator Dong began to receive death threats over Twitter off the back of his decision. Tech blogs rushed to run articles telling people how they could cheat the system to still be able to get their hands on a copy of the game.

Earlier this week, reports claimed that iPhones with the cult game pre-installed were selling for as much as $90,000 (£54,000) on eBay. Then, news sources said, the highest bidder withdrew their bid. Maybe their zero key just got stuck by accident – we’ll never know.

But there is no debate that anything boasting the game was suddenly at a premium.

Bear in mind that anyone who already has this game can continue to play it. It is only if they move to a new phone or tablet which does not support the game that it will disappear and they will be left in a lonely life, bereft of flapping birds.

The whole thing is madness: an emperor’s new clothes of the technological age.

I have to admit, I had never played the game. I asked the inhabitants of Scotsman Towers if anyone had it.

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“I have!” shouted a voice from the subs’ desk. “I downloaded it the night before he took it down. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”

Aha! Crafty. I bet my office mate wasn’t the only one who downloaded it within hours of Dong’s announcement.

Not that he would get any extra money from extra downloads of the the free game, of course. Or would he?

One new media expert I consulted told me that most games are paid by the advertiser per “impression” or download – or the number of “click-throughs” from adverts. So, if thousands of people, like my colleague, downloaded the game in a mad panic on Saturday night … ker-ching! It might seem like a short-term measure, but you can bet Dong has a new project up his sleeve – and it won’t hurt that everyone now knows who he is.

Some reports claimed that Dong, who was said to be receiving as much as $50,000 a day from advertising on the free game, was facing legal action from Super Mario Brothers creator Nintendo and had no option but to remove the app. However, Nintendo has since denied this.

It is astounding how quickly this market has exploded. People are now used to playing games which require them to be on call 24/7 to a virtual world. Log on to make sure your Sim goes to work at 7am – and is properly fed and toileted before he departs. Check in to The Simpsons: Tapped Out a few times a day or you’ll miss out on collecting regularly offered “experience points” and other rewards.

Reports on how much the app market is worth seem to range from the early billions of dollars to as much as $1 trillion, depending on who you speak to, but one thing is for sure: it is big.

Some games – such as the now free, app version of classic The Sims, where the player has to tend to the every need of virtual people – make money out of “in game purchases”, leading the player to a point where, without paying a few quid to buy extra points, or unlock certain levels, they essentially reach an impasse.

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One game, Balloon Pop 2, was banned late last year after it emerged it was stealing personal data and selling it on to third parties.

What they all are aiming for, however, is a cult status, one which is being talked about on social media networks.

My colleague let me have a go at playing Flappy Birds. It was an odd idea. You tap the screen of your phone or tablet to keep the bird flying at a height that means it will not crash into a series of vertical bollards which scroll across the screen.

Quite entertaining for a few minutes, I’ll give it that, but I cannot imagine becoming so dependent on it that I would need to fork out $90,000 to ensure my fix continued.

Now, if they cancelled The Sims, on the other hand …

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