If you haven’t heard, the latest bird game to hit the top of the App Store is Flappy Bird.  I saw this game at #1 for numerous days in a row and had to figure out what was going on.  One guy even goes as far as to say that the developer is using bots to fuel all the downloads for the app.  He just doesn’t understand the mechanism that is fueling this extremely rapid growth.

Here is one of the latest charts showing Flappy Bird’s crazy growth. After months of nearly no downloads, it jumped and out of nowhere surged to the top of the App Store.

Flappy Bird number downloads


What Flappy Bird is NOT doing

Ad Spend – According to the developer, he has spent no money on any advertising for Flappy Bird.  Many of the top games in the App Store such as Candy Crush or Clash of Clans have a 5 or 6 figure daily advertising budget.

Cross-Promotion – Flappy Bird is doing no cross-promotion with other successful apps in the App Store.  One technique of driving growth for apps is to link to other companies apps and they link back to you in turn growing both of your user bases. Flappy Bird doesn’t do this.

Social Sharing Buttons – Flappy bird does not employ any sharing features within the app itself.

Marketing of any kind – According to the developer, he just got “lucky”.  Well, lucky is good and all but it doesn’t help other developers to figure out how they can replicate these techniques and make more money.

So why is Flappy Bird #1 in the App Store??

Alright, so to explain how Flappy Bird has had such unbelievable growth in the past few months, you need to understand a bit about good game design. Sorry to anyone who actually likes Flappy Bird, but by conventional standards the game is really bad.  A good game creates an experience where the user’s skill matches the difficulty of the game. As your skills get better, the game gets progressively more difficult. When an individual’s skill matches the difficulty of the game, it creates an experience called Flow (optimal experience).

Ok, so how does that apply to Flappy Bird?

People have naturally come to expect a learning curve that eases them into video games. Flappy Bird, which looks like an easy casual game, instead of having a learning curve, just drops you head first into a learning wall. Take a look at this chart to see what I mean. The left chart comes from an article on the game design forum, I created the second.



Because people have come to expect a learning curve that eases them into a game, they think something must be wrong with them if they can’t play the game. They want to test this theory so they get one of their friends to download the game to see if it is the player or the games flaw.  At this point, the new player will also not be able to effectively play the game and will discuss how difficult it is with their friend and possibly share it with one or two of their own friends.  Whenever, one person shares an app with more than one person, this will lead to a viral coefficient greater than 1 AKA viral growth.

One of the ways people have been trying to figure out if the game is hard or if it is them is by tweeting about it on twitter and posting videos on Vine. Since social media is a One to Many form of communication, this has lead to millions of people hearing about the game extremely quickly.

Flappy Bird Tweets

Can Flappy Bird’s success be recreated?

The developer of Flappy Bird admits that he was “lucky” to have such extremely viral growth of his app. However, the question is can you take his luck to create your own strategy.

I would argue that Flappy Bird’s success can not be easily replicated due to the fact that it is exploiting a trained human belief that games should have a learning curve. The fact that this game is getting mass market attention and is shattering the trained belief that games have learning curves means this technique of causing viral sharing won’t be usable for at least a few years.