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Flappy Bird: A closer look at piracy issues surrounding the pulled iOS and Android app

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by Sebastian Anthony, 10 Feb 2014Features
Flappy Bird: A closer look at piracy issues surrounding the pulled iOS and Android app

Flappy Bird – over the last few weeks, this almost insultingly simple Helicopter clone with Mario-like graphics has experienced one of the craziest rollercoaster rides in the history of gaming.

At the beginning of January, despite the game originally being released way back in mid-2013, no one had even heard of Flappy Bird – and yet, for reasons no one yet understands, when the game peaked at the start of February, it was being downloaded millions of times per day, and accruing the developer, Dong Nguyen, hundreds of thousands of pounds in advertising revenue.

If its meteoric rise wasn’t weird enough, though, get this: Yesterday, citing the trials and tribulations that the game had brought down upon him – “Please give me peace… I cannot take this anymore… I just cannot keep it anymore” – Nguyen removed Flappy Bird from the iOS and Android app stores. If you already downloaded Flappy Bird, you’re free to keep playing it – but if you’re a late to the party, you’ll sadly never know the frustra-joy of repeatedly bashing your small avian brain into green pipes. Unless, of course, you pirate it.

At the time of writing, there are thousands of people downloading Flappy Bird from The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites, and direct download (DDL) sites are moving a lot of copies as well. Usually, of course, I am against depriving game developers of their income, but Flappy Bird is an odd edge case where piracy may actually be acceptable. At the very least, even if you flat-out disagree with piracy on ideological grounds, read the next few paragraphs – you might be surprised at how they challenge your ideals and worldview.

A case for piracy

Flappy Bird is a free game. It generates revenue by way of ads that pop up when you die. We haven’t exhaustively checked, but the pirated versions of Flappy Bird appear to still have ads. We haven’t confirmed if the ads are still linked to Nguyen’s advertising account, or if the pirates have switched them over to their own accounts. Let’s assume (perhaps a little optimistically) that Google and Apple would crack down on advertising accounts used by pirates, and that the ads are still paying money to Nguyen.

Most importantly, though, Nguyen has publicly abandoned Flappy Bird.

So, if Nguyen has abandoned the game, and has no intention of selling it, and pirated versions are still kicking back money to him… is there any reason not to pirate Flappy Bird?

You could argue that Nguyen, as creator of the game, should have final say over Flappy Bird’s distribution. If he doesn’t want it in the wild, perhaps we should honour that. Maybe he doesn’t know what to do with all the money? (He lives in Vietnam, so perhaps having that kind of money is dangerous?) But that could be solved by removing the advertising, or disabling his advertising account.

More likely, though, judging by his comments, it seems Nguyen’s main issue is trying to keep up with the storm of publicity and messages, and ultimately being overwhelmed. It’s kind of hard to imagine what it must be like, going from a handful of downloads per day for seven months – the game was originally uploaded to the Android and iOS app stores in May 2013 – to millions of downloads overnight. You can see from his Twitter feed that he’s tried to keep afloat, but it’s understandably been very hard. Another argument against piracy is that Nguyen, despite his protestations to the contrary, could always bring the app back. It may prove too hard to resist the vast amounts of money that he could be earning.

So, given all this, is it understandable that folks are downloading the pirated app? It’s a tough one – if the app has truly been abandoned, then it’s hard to argue against downloading it. Perhaps we should wait a little longer to see if Nguyen resurrects it, though.

In the meantime, while you decide if it’s morally acceptable to pirate Flappy Bird, I strongly encourage you to play the Flappy Bird Typing Tutor. It’s incredibly hard – but once you get into the rhythm of things, it’s actually surprisingly fun. (I got up to 7 before realising that I should probably be working instead).

Incidentally, if you’re a flapping addict, then you might want to check out our article on how to get a high score on Flappy Bird.

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