After Flappy Bird’s surprise success and stunning departure, it seems like a million developers want to make the next Flappy Bird; that next smash viral hit. But too many have taken it literally by making their own Flappy-style games. To make a fun viral hit, it requires many factors to come together perfectly – and not necessarily flapping. Threes is that next Flappy Bird because it nails many of those same factors that make it an effective and successful game.
While Threes comes from Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, developers far more established than Flappy Bird’s Dong Nguyen was, their game still succeeded in large part in spite of traditional ways of being successful. Threes didn’t have a big marketing campaign, and had a non-prominent feature by Apple. Despite this, the game has peaked in the paid games list at number one on iPhone and number two on iPad, having been sticky in the top five for the past two and a half weeks since its launch. It lost its top rank temporarily on iPhone with the release of Card Wars – Adventure Time, but regained it a few days later. Point is, it’s done enormously well despite it not having much in its favor marketing-wise.
Now, whether or not one considers Flappy Bird to be a ‘good’ game, it was a major hit because it was effective at what it did, and Threes is effective in much the same ways.
Both games are very hard to do exceptionally well at. Flappy Bird has punishing physics and little margin for error. Threes is a much more strategic game: there are a lot of systems in place with the cards all moving simultaneously that require a lot of practice – and a lot of patience – in order to master how they work, just like Flappy Bird’s physics.
Yet, despite the challenge these games present, they’re still exceptionally easy to play. Flappy Bird just requires one tap, and makes it easy to restart. Threes just requires swipes, and its addition-based rules are simple enough to glean once learned.
It’s that classic combination of “easy to learn, difficult to master” that makes them tick. As well, there’s just enough chaos involved in the design to make players feel like they have a shot. All it takes is a good card draw in Threes, or a set of pipes that’s manageable in Flappy Bird, and it’s one step closer to a high score. It’s that mix of “out of control” plus “I know I should be doing better” that makes both games so addictively fun.
But plenty of games can get that mix right. What makes them popular? Part of it is the personality: Flappy Bird‘s used a charming semi-flightless bird protagonist and art styles like the obstacle pipes that resembled retro gaming that were endearing in a specific way. Threes’ characters with their voices forge an emotional connection to the player, and it makes them more than just score objects. As well, it’s an accomplishment to unlock higher card values and new characters.
Also, scoring highly in each game feels like a milestone. Flappy Bird‘s scores are a rather literal representation of progress. Threes’ scores are effectively a bit fudged due to their four-or-five-digit nature, but they still represent a clear indicator of progress. Someone gets a higher score because they created more valuable cards. They did better, there was no fudging why they did better. All it takes is to look at the final board of a player to see how well they did and why they did better. This makes it so that players know just what they need to do in general to get better scores. This makes them very shareable.
And the ease of sharing in each game was a key factor in its virality too. Flappy Bird had a tweet button that was frequently used to share scores before it was removed. Still, it offers easy access to Game Center leaderboards, where friends’ scores can be seen. Threes not only tweets out scores, but it also tweets out the image that sums up the score, what the maximum card was, and the final board. It succinctly shows just what happened. And each high score and each tweet is a call to arms – it temps those with the game to try to beat it. And then they share their successes. And all this talk inevitably snags in more people to play, and it just takes off from there because the games are so effective at getting their hooks into the players.
It’s that mix of effectiveness and emotional connection that has made each game become so popular on their own scales. So while Threes might not involve flapping, it is inextricably linked to Flappy Bird regardless.