In Our Flappy Dystopia, Mattie Brice says that “indie creators are notoriously capitalizing on the nostalgia of the late 80s and 90s gaming culture” as they create. Flappy Bird, a hit mobile game from developer Dong Nguyen, boasts pixel visuals and sidescroller game play that call back to that specific gaming nostalgia. With the success of Flappy Bird has come a number of other similar games, such as Flappy Doge and Windy Ping. The games raise interesting questions about the nature of game creation: are games like these legitimate creations or intellectual theft, and does it matter?
Both Flappy Doge and Windy Ping play on knowledge of Flappy Bird. In Flappy Doge, players guide a pixel-animated dog through a series of pipes to gain points. Though the game has added its own elements in the form of spikes on the pipes and food that can be eaten, the inspiration from Flappy Bird is clear, down to a nearly identical interface. Even with Flappy Doge‘s added gameplay elements, it is the character of the game that sticks out as the most different, though internet-savvy players will recognize the titular ‘doge’ as a character from a popular online meme, not a new invention on the game developer’s part.
Windy Ping‘s interface is less overtly inspired by Flappy Bird, but the gameplay is modeled after the same principle–guide a bird through obstacles for points. Still, Windy Ping manages to add enough of its own features for the game to be even harder than the original Flappy Bird, making it play less like a copy than Flappy Doge can.
In Playing on the Digital Commons, Sarah Coleman and Nick Dyer-Witheford define commons as “resources that all in a specified community may use, but none can own,” acting in opposition to commodities, which are “exchanged for profit on the basis of privatized possession” (934-5). What does and does not belong to the commons resources can be a grey area; “the games industry often tolerates, and sometimes fosters, this alternative commons economy, but as often criminalizes its many breaches of intellectual property” (Coleman & Dyer-Witheford 936). Flappy Bird itself came under fire from members of the games community who saw its use of pipes as too similar to the Super Mario Bros. series–as Brice says, “it was making money off what was billed as theft.”
Where Flappy Doge and Windy Ping fall under this nebulous area of commons is a tricky debate. Given their inspiration has already been accused of theft, can they exist without also being accused of theft? Piracy and theft have been a fact of game creation since the beginning; Coleman and Dyer-Witheford say that “game culture was popularized, but also enclosed within a regime of intellectual property rights” and “games grew up with digital piracy and flourished despite it” (937-939).
Perhaps Flappy Doge and Windy Ping are not the most unique of games, but there is little reason why they should have to be in order to be considered worthwhile games. Online game culture is a place where “games circulate for free, content is shaped by voluntary collectives and virtual worlds depend on the creativity of their player-populations” (Coleman & Dyer-Witheford 934). As products of an industry that has grown not only in spite of but with and because of theft, piracy, and copying, Flappy Doge and Windy Ping are not a threat to any part of the industry. They are games that set out to explore and expand on the popularity of Flappy Bird, and they achieve this.
In the end, the question of theft or not is irrelevant. In the world of digital commons, all that matters, at least in some eyes, is creation.
Brice, Mattie. “Our Flappy Dystopia.” Alternate Ending. 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <http://www.mattiebrice.com/our-flappy-dystopia/>.
Coleman, Sarah, and Nick Dyer-Witheford. “Playing on the Digital Commons: Collectivities, Capital and Contestation in Videogame Culture.” Media, Culture & Society 29.6 (2007): 934-53. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Daconde Studios. Windy Ping. 2014. Browser. <http://windyping.clay.io/game/windyping#>
Flappy Doge. spilgames, n.d. Browser. <http://www.agame.com/game/flappy-doge>
Nguyen, Dong. Flappy Bird..GEARS Studios, 2013. Mobile.