TIME Video Games

Popular Flappy Bird Game Mysteriously Grounded

After 50 million downloads and profits of $50,000 a day, its creator yanked the addictive game saying, "I just can't keep it anymore."

Before this weekend, it seemed like Dong Nguyen, creator of ultra-popular mobile game Flappy Bird, hit the jackpot. His game was skyrocketing, having been downloaded more than 50 million times and raking in a reported $50,000 in advertising revenue every day. The ultra-difficult game was enjoying the sort of popularity of which other gamemakers can only dream, being played by everyone from Internet tastemakers to, quite literally, their moms. Then, suddenly, there was a great disturbance in the mobile-gaming force: millions of gamers howled in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Nguyen deleted the game.

Why? Not much is known about Nguyen, who hasn’t yet returned requests for comment. We do know he’s an independent mobile-game designer based in Vietnam, working for a very small company called dotGears. He was a relative no-name before Flappy Bird took off several months after its initial release. Nguyen has a couple of other mobile games — Super Ball Juggling and Shuriken Block — that are doing well enough, but aren’t nearly as popular as Flappy Bird. All of his games, meanwhile, share some characteristics: they’re retro-styled, super-addictive and really hard.

The first time I saw Flappy Bird, I was immediately reminded of my childhood favorite, Super Mario Bros. Nguyen acknowledged drawing inspiration from Nintendo’s classic titles. Two friends told Reuters that the Japanese gaming company sent Nguyen a warning letter. Nintendo told Reuters that whispers of a lawsuit were nothing more than rumors. And Nguyen brushed aside the suggestion that he deleted the game to appease attorneys.

In an earlier interview with the Verge, Nguyen said the game — which only took off months after its initial release — “reached a state where anything added to the game will ruin it somehow.” For a creative person, what could possibly be more frightening than wanting to tinker with your creation, but knowing you risk inviting the ire of 50 million unhappy fans?

Then there’s the windfall — $50,000 is more than 200 times the average monthly salary in Vietnam. Flappy Bird was making that much every day. Nguyen basically won the lottery. That kind of unexpected wealth can drive all kinds of people not into prosperity but ruin. (Just think of all the actual lottery winners who can’t handle the sudden swell in their checking account.)

A Twitter feed is a poor map of someone’s mind, but there was certainly a noticeable change in Nguyen’s tone leading up to Saturday’s decision. Many of Nguyen’s earlier tweets were relaxed and friendly, thanking the game’s fans for their messages or politely declining requests to make a desktop version of the game. However, several of Nguyen’s recent missives show he was under pressure — or at least trying to give off that impression. He’s talked about “things happening” to him and repeatedly complained of people “overusing” Flappy Birds, which certainly had addictive qualities.

Why would Nguyen snap under the pressure of popularity when the makers of other hot games, like Candy Crush Saga, are thriving? There are thousands of mobile-game designers out there trying to strike it rich — but actually doing so means you’ve got to shift into high gear without much warning, dealing with a business model, income tax and all the other complications that come with business success.

Candy Crush was developed by King, a well-established global company that had the institutional knowledge needed to successfully grow after the game’s success. (It’s even wisely decided to hold off on going public to avoid the fate of flailing gamemaker Zynga.) Nguyen, meanwhile, built Flappy Bird with self-described “small, independent” Vietnamese game developer, dotGears, which doesn’t have King’s resources.

Who knows if Flappy Bird will ever fly again? For now, those of us with the game already installed on our phones can still enjoy the game — or try to make a quick buck on eBay. As for Nguyen, he promised he’ll still be making games — two of his other titles are still available in the app store. Maybe one of those will be the next big thing.

TIME Technologizer

Where to Get Flappy Bird: On eBay, for $900. Cheap!

As long as you've got incredibly deep pockets, it's not too late to catch up on mobile gaming's oddest fad.

I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to tell you that I’ve been playing Flappy Bird over the last few days and enjoying it. The suddenly, bizarrely popular smartphone game may be both crude and near-impossible to play, but it’s also fun. At least as a brief diversion.

So when word came down that Flappy creator Dong Nguyen — in an act of defiance with no parallel that I can remember — was snuffing out his golden goose by removing it from the Apple App Store and Google Play, I did check my iPhone to make sure that my copy still worked. It did. I played a few games, then got back to my weekend.

Flying-bird game, Flappy Bird, was developed was developed in 2013 and is currently topping the App Store's freebie's list.
.GEARS Studios

But what if you’re a tad behind on your Internet fads and never got around to installing Flappy Bird when you could? Are you doomed to go through the rest of your existence wondering what what you missed?

Nope. Over at the hotbed of offbeat entrepreneurialism known as eBay, lots of merchants have put up iPhones and Android phones with Flappy Bird pre-installed. The market is so new that nobody seems to agree on how much to charge, but the listing shown above is for a Flappy-ready used 16GB space gray Verizon iPhone 5s that’s $1499 as a Buy It Now.

A comparable second-hand iPhone without Flappy Bird can be easily be had on eBay for $500 to $600, so in this instance, the game — which was an ad-supported freebie — commands a premium of $900 or more.

Or doesn’t. Doing an eBay search for items which have actually sold, I can’t find any evidence that anybody has bought any of these Flappy-Bird phones. Maybe it’s a category without a customer. But I wonder if sales would heat up if the sellers charged, say, $50 over the cost of a phone sans Flappy? Naw, let’s make that $25.

In any event, I don’t see myself playing the game for all that much longer. I’ve resolved to call it quits as soon as I score a 5. But just in case, I’m going to leave Flappy Bird on my iPhone 5. There may be McCrackens yet unborn who’ll want to play it someday.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Final Fantasy VI for iOS Is Finally Available (and Updated)

Love the new look, or leave it.

Final Fantasy VI, probably the fan favorite in Square Enix’s (nee Squaresoft’s) long running Final Fantasy series, is now available for iOS. In fact it might have been available since January 29, which is what Square Enix lists as the “posted” date in Apple’s iTunes Store (though, confusingly, its “released” date is February 6 on the iTunes Preview page).

What unquestionably went live on February 6 is the game’s first update, version 1.01, about which Square Enix writes “A number of bugs have been addressed.” If you’re so moved to make a purchase, it’ll set you back $16, same as the current pricing for Final Fantasys III, IV and V.

I realize the game’s appearance won’t be welcome news to some of you, who’ve decided the cartoonish look of the V and VI remasters, despite their cleaner, clearer, significantly higher resolutions, is a deal-breaker. Not for me. I like the streamlined visuals, but then I’ve been a fan since the Final Fantasy I and II anniversary remasters on the PlayStation Portable.

But I get it. This is sacred ground, and who’s to say the games needed remastering? Detail formerly pixellated textures or refine the facial features of once-amorphous characters and you’re filling in visual information at odds with gamers’ imaginations. When you’re talking about a 20-year-old game (fully so, come this October), nostalgia holds sway.

To be fair, that’s why I’ve lost enthusiasm for a Final Fantasy VII remake. Advent Children was beautifully rendered and a welcome extension of FFVII‘s story, but a remaster that looked like the CGI film, with its grungy industry-scapes and lifelike characters, would feel nothing like the original. I’d rather see the original game future-proofed through emulators on newer platforms than try to recapture whatever I felt playing the original through a lens CGI-ly.

But now I’ve probably insulted those of you thinking, “No, no, no… It’s not that FFVI couldn’t have been incredible remastered, it’s that this remaster in particular stinks.” Fair enough, there’s no accounting for taste, etc.

In any event, Square Enix must be doing well by these remakes, because it keeps revisiting the same games, platform after platform. At this rate, we’ll be swinging Cloud’s Buster sword around wearing Oculus Rift goggles by the early 2020s.

TIME Web Video

FINALLY, a Goat Simulator Video Game

Immerse yourself in the wonderment of being a goat on the loose in a medium-density residential zone.

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Immerse yourself in the wonderment of being a goat on the loose in a medium-density residential zone.

Run around the streets, but look out for cars! They’re not used to seeing goats. Climb up really tall construction scaffolding (or whatever that is)! Use your head to knock buckets toward humans! Do flips! Enjoy realistic neck physics!

I don’t understand what’s going on here, but I don’t want to understand.

Unfortunately, this game might never be yours to play, as it’s Coffee Stain Studios “just playing around a bit with programming stuff,” according to the YouTube video’s description.

Understandably, there are several YouTube comments, Facebook comments and tweets asking for this to become publicly playable. Keep your hooves crossed that it’ll happen.

Goat Simulator 1st Alpha Gameplay [YouTube via Geekologie]

TIME Opinion

You Think Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes Is Short? Remember the Guys Who Finished Skyrim in 2 Hours, 16 Minutes?

Konami's Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes
Konami's Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes Konami

It's about play time, not clear time.

Somebody uses “two hours” and “complete game” in a sentence and it’s all over: the echo chamber engages missile lock and there’s blood on the street, mass hysteria and drive-by commentary that’d make a sailor blush.

So let’s all count backwards from five, and when it comes to Konami’s forthcoming Metal Gear Solid aperitif, not assume that the two hours some critic says it took to muscle through a prerelease version of the game is going to be our two hours, anymore than my time playing Flower is going equal yours nudging an entourage of skittering flower petals around bucolic vistas.

I have no idea how much play time I’ll get out of the game’s primary mission (and five side ones). Neither do you. The fellow at Game Informer who previewed it does, but only in the sense that he probably played through the main mission without dallying. I don’t know about you, but in sandbox-style games, I dally. I goof around and string things out. I admire the scenery and sound design and poke the game — and die/fail often — to see what it’ll do.

Is MGS: Ground Zeroes that sort of game? Creative lead Hideo Kojima says so, distinguishing between “play time” and “clear time.” Critics routinely conflate the two.

Remember, as well, that we’re talking $20 for the digital version on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and $10 more for a digital copy on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That’s not as cheap as, say, games like Journey or Flower, and we can certainly have a debate about the price ($15 or $20 for all versions might’ve been wiser from a PR standpoint). But the measure of a game can’t be taken from its clear time if it’s well-designed and interesting enough to encourage broader, more thoughtful engagement (whether MGS: Ground Zeroes falls into the latter category is another matter).

In other words, if your whole philosophy of gaming involves punching through gameplay choke points, quick as can be, then your problem isn’t Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.

Besides, you can finish Bethesda’s opus gigantus, Skyrim, in just two hours and 16 minutes if you really, really want to (and no, I’m not making that up).

TIME Amazon

Amazon Picks Up Double Helix, but That Doesn’t Tell Us Much About Its Gaming Plans

Double Helix

No, the company didn't just nab Killer Instinct.

As acquisitions go, 75-person games studio Double Helix seems a fair to middling purchase — a company with a catalog of hits and misses, the misses mostly junk movie tie-ins — but then a company like Amazon has its work cut out (and hung from here to the moon) if it wants to make a splash in the games biz, first-party style. And it’s not like anyone can afford Rockstar.

If you’ve never heard of Double Helix games, you’ve probably heard of the fighting series it just rejuvenated on Xbox One, Killer Instinct. That’s a game that probably has you thinking of Nintendo, specifically the Super Nintendo back in 1994, when the series belonged to developer Rare. Microsoft bought Rare in 2002, nabbing Killer Instinct in the process, but sat on the IP for years before handing it to Double Helix (created in 2007 when a movie/TV game-focused development house merged with Dave Perry’s old studio, Shiny Entertainment). Double Helix gave the series a well-received Xbox One-exclusive makeover, so it’s making the leap to Amazon, at least from a public standpoint, on a strong note.

No, Killer Instinct doesn’t go with Double Helix in the bargain, because it was never Double Helix’s IP to leverage (Joystiq reports that Microsoft’s about to announce a new development partner for the series). In fact, most of the games credited to Double Helix over the years belong to someone else. Other than Strider, an upcoming side-scroller for last- and next-gen platforms co-developed with Capcom, and a vampire-hunting game that’s been in limbo for half a decade, I’m seeing nada. Like any creative outfit, the studio doubtless has conceptual stuff kicking around, but it’s anyone’s guess what might have been impressive or interesting enough, from talent to content, for Amazon to pull the trigger on a buy.

Amazon’s not saying much, telling TechCrunch (blankly) that it “acquired Double Helix as part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers.” If that reads like a confession — that Amazon just copped to designing video games — don’t get too excited: it’s had a games studio wing for awhile now, though its only studio-listed title is a tower defense puzzler for iOS and Android.

If Amazon is building some sort of games console that’s more than another set-top proxy for a slew of casual shmups, platformers, puzzlers, tower defense games and so forth, seeding Amazon-owned talent could be a positive move. After all, content is king, and if you really want to own it, you have to cultivate it. The question is what Jeff Bezos (or whoever he’s listening to — Bezos himself sounds almost dismissive of gaming) wants to be to the games market. A Nintendo-esque, risk-taking, soup-to-nuts innovator? A safe, mainstream, triple-A workhorse? A bit player dishing up relatively cheap, low profile, platform-adjunct games content, Apple- or Roku-style? All of the above?

This Double Helix purchase’s import is opaque, potential-wise. It’s not enough to highlight the studio’s roots and say “Hey, Earthworm Jim!” You have to look at what the studio’s done as the studio it is now, and that means scrutinizing games like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Battleship and Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters — not awful, but not exactly frame-on-your-office-wall boast-worthy, either. If Amazon’s going to throw down with established players — and that’s still a monumental if — it needs something to boast about. And what that might be may still be a mystery to the company, too.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Xbox One Update to Bring Common Sense Back to the Console

Storage you can finally manage, batteries you can finally check and keyboards that finally work.

The first thing I did with my Xbox One, after peeling off the plastic shrink-wrap and tying down the cables, was download a bunch of games. Most of my Xbox One games are disc-less because most of my press copies came as QR codes. So after loading the system up, I did what any responsible console owner might do and went poking around for a storage management option to see how much space I’d used and had left.

Imagine my surprise — and if you own an Xbox One, you know how the words to this tune go — when I discovered there is no storage management option (not even a view). You can add games and apps or remove them, but that’s it.

Here’s Microsoft’s position on the matter:

Xbox One monitors your available hard drive space. When it starts to fill up, a message appears warning you that you’re low on space. These messages are stored in Notifications. You can check to see if you have any unread messages by saying “Xbox, go to notifications” or by selecting the notifications icon at the top of Home screen.

If you don’t have any notifications, it means you have plenty of free space. If you are running low on space, try deleting unused or seldom-used content.

Like an invisible and silent descendent of Clippy, the Xbox One is supposed to anticipate your needs on the sly instead of letting you behind the curtain to pull the knobs and levers yourself. Fussing about free gigabytes or megabytes (much less “blocks,” as in Nintendo’s goofy, confusing, pointlessly once-removed approach to storage management) is apparently last-gen, or at least that’s what the decision-path flowcharts must have read in the design rooms at Microsoft when the Xbox One’s interface was still in the kiln.

I don’t have a survey to back this up, but anecdotal evidence suggests this hasn’t been a popular feature. I’m pretty sure that gamers, especially the sort of early adopters buying PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones right now, expect to participate in the content curation process. Taking that option away (or nerfing it) sends the message that you’re pandering to a kind of “least competent demographic” (that is, not the sort of buyer forking over $400 to $500 for one of these things).

Mark February 11 (next Tuesday) on your calendars, because that’s when all this thinking-on-your-behalf business goes away. Microsoft just unveiled the details of a major Xbox One update, including the option to roll up your sleeves and get at your content directly. What’s more, Microsoft says the following are just a few of the new features gracing the download:

  • The ability to see and manage your storage space. With this update, you will find it easy to find how much space your content takes up and better manage your content. You can also control your install lineup and more easily manage your download queue. We’ve separated My Games and My Apps into separate lists, so you can easily create separate queues for both. Now you can pick the order in which you want your content to load and we’ve added a boot progress indicator so you can better track updates while they load.
  • The battery power indicator is back! You can see it right on the home screen, so you can easily track how much battery life is left on your controller.
  • And, you will be able to use your USB keyboard with your Xbox One.

Microsoft’s keeping the rest under wraps, writing:

These are just a few of the many updates we will be shipping on February 11. We’ll share more details on these and other upcoming features in the coming weeks. We have several surprises in store that we think you’ll love.

You have to give Microsoft credit for listening and acting. This isn’t Apple Knows Best, and it’s refreshing to see a company handing a modicum of control back over, instead of working to take more of it away.

Xbox One Keeps Getting Better – Product Updates Coming [Microsoft]

TIME

Rockstar: Grand Theft Auto V Was 2013’s Best-Selling Video Game

Rockstar Games

But that can't be right, because consoles are dead.

I’m pretty sure there’s a mistake here. Rockstar’s claiming Grand Theft Auto Vmy review is here — was the best-selling game of 2013, but that can’t be right, because consoles are dead: subverted by the smartphone-tablet tsunami.

I mean, the sandbox crime-spree for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 didn’t launch until September 2013, so we’re talking just three-and-a-half months to rack up 32.5 million copies sold. That’s impossible, right? I mean sure, we all knew it’d break launch sales records, and sure enough, it cleared over $1 billion in three days (the next-biggest seller, revenue-wise, is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which took over two weeks to hit that figure), claiming the sales record in that timeframe for any form of entertainment, video game or otherwise.

But clinching the hallowed “best-selling video game of 2013″ chalice, both by revenue and units sold? Wasn’t that Candy Crush Saga? Maybe Temple Run 2? No? Not Minecraft: Pocket Edition or Angry Birds: Star Wars?

What’s going on here? Did we sideslip in space-time? Is this some goofy alter-verse where prognosticators who keep predicting console atrophy are wildly off? Analysts cut from the same cloth as those now scolding Nintendo for its stubborn insistence on treating games as holistic experiences, design-wise?

In Rockstar’s just-released third quarter financial report, the company sources its “best-selling video game of 2013″ claim to retail sales tracker NPD. I haven’t double-checked that claim with NPD, so who knows — maybe Rockstar’s fibbing. If it knows what’s good for it — since we all know no one’s buying the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One — it’ll own up to any funny business, then get busy working on its first mobile Candy Crush clone.

TIME Video Games

8 Minutes of Ridiculously Beautiful The Elder Scrolls Online Cinematic Footage

Very bad things happening spectacularly.

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I’m cringing watching this easily Blizzard- or Square Enix-worthy new trailer for Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls Online. Not because it’s bad — it’s a deftly rendered slice of CGI. But it must have cost a fortune. It makes me want to say “Spend the money on knocking the game out of the park, please, not the frippery, Bethesda.” But oh what frippery.

The video’s subtitle, “The Arrival,” presumably refers to the game’s big bad, Molag Bal, who’s trying to suck the world into his demon realm, because I guess that’s what demon princes do. In the broody vignette, class-representative characters posture dourly while Cthulhuian whatchamacallits descend from on high and quaver in the background. There’s a “Me? You lookin’ at me? You wanna piece of this?” stare-down, followed by the good guys getting spectacularly owned (because demon prince).

We know how events turn out, of course, because TESO takes place eight centuries before Morrowind. But as they say, journey not destination. Fingers crossed the former measures up when the game rolls out on April 4 for Windows and OS X (followed by PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in June).

TIME Amazon

Amazon Needs Heavyweight Content if It’s Developing a Games Console

Amazon.com Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings
Andrew Harrer—Getty Images

You either have what people want to play or you don't.

Amazon’s mystery set-top we keep hearing about like an elusive whale that surfaces distantly for moments before plunging into unlit nether regions is making a few new ripples off reports — rumors, to be sure — that the company’s still toiling and troubling to develop a game console that might compete with, well, everything.

It’s an obvious (if too often glossed-over) point, but the one that matters most in the end: If Amazon (or anyone else, Roku to Apple to Android-based game box X) wants to compete with established industry players like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, it needs what so many have tried and failed, deleteriously, to secure — broad, mainstream, third-party developer support.

Without it, you could be the cheapest console on the planet and you might as well be selling snowblowers in equatorial Guinea. This is why, when it comes to hypothetical games platforms in particular, I could care less about stories that Amazon’s at work on a sub-$300 or sub-$100 game console, because the only news that matters, games-wise, is “Can I play Grand Theft Auto Whatever’s Next on the thing?”

Anyone can pull together competent hardware nowadays, but as we’re seeing with too many of these one-off game cubes and USB sticks and funky processor-laden gamepads, people won’t pay for promises, no matter how counterculture or cool-sounding. If you want to throw your hat in the new-platform ring, you’re either selling a first-party experience that’s so novel and compelling, soup to nuts, that it’s longterm sustainable enough to lure those third parties, or you’re paying those third parties prohibitive amounts of cash to be on your platform.

I’ve seen no evidence Amazon’s up to either. Like Apple and Google with their occasionally brilliant but mostly junk-riddled app store gaming catalogues, I predict we’ll see Amazon back gingerly into gaming as a supplemental component, not turn platform vanguard and launch a bona fide pace-setter. If the company’s elusive set-top exists, I’d wager we’ll see games on it as adjunct to more prominent Amazon Prime-related features, say streaming video and hypothetical TV-related services.

Down the road? Who knows, but at launch, your pivot point is content. If you have it, you’ve got a shot. If you don’t, you can prattle on about hundreds of thousands of apps and channels and future partnerships, but you either have Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty and Madden NFL and Assassin’s Creed — or something of your own vintage that’s at least as sought-after — or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re just a glorified shelf, however brand-gilded and media-storied, in search of a library.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

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