11 February 2014

Flappy Bird: Be careful what you wish for

As you battle floods and/or tube strikes on your way home tonight, spare a thought for Dong Nguyen.  

Mr Dong is the Vietnamese creator of the hit mobile app Flappy Bird, which was - excuse the pun - flying out of iTunes and Android app stores until he removed it last Sunday night.

Mr Dong was reportedly making $50,000 a day from in-game advertising revenue (the app itself was free). He probably still is, given that the millions of people who downloaded the app before it was withdrawn are still able to play the game.  

Explaining his reasons on Twitter, Mr Dong said: 
"I can call 'Flappy Bird' is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life.  So now I hate it." 
The indie developer presumably hoped for some degree of success when he started selling the app, but has clearly been overwhelmed by the publicity. 

Some may feel they wouldn't mind their simple life being ruined for $50,000 a day. And others have suggested that the untimely demise of the game is only temporary, and a cynical ploy by Mr Dong to up the asking price for an eventual outright sale of rights in the game to the highest bidder.

The developer denies this, stating on Twitter: 
"I also don't sell 'Flappy Bird', please don't ask."
He also denies that he was forced to remove the game following claims that he had copied the game from the earlier Piou Piou.  

Generally speaking copyright protects the expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. So the idea behind the game - frantically tapping the screen to make a bird fly - would not by itself be covered. And while there may be copyright in the appearance of the characters, backgrounds and obstacles, anyone alleging infringement would have to show that these had been copied, rather than created independently.

No doubt this is why other developers have felt uninhibited in creating the plethora of substitute games that have now sprung up in Flappy Bird's absence, such as Flappy Tiny Bird, Flappy Pig, Flappy Fish, Flappy Tappy, Flappy Flying, Flappy Flight, etcetera etcetera.

But the number of existing downloads of Flappy Bird, and the huge media interest since its take down, will ensure that the goodwill in the Flappy Bird brand is going to be worth a considerable amount of money to any would-be  buyers for quite some time to come. As at the time of writing, Paddy Power are giving odds of 5/2 that the app will be put back on sale this month. Excuse the pun - again - but it may be worth a flutter.

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