First off, I’ve got nothing against the mobile platform or mobile games in general. I even made a mobile game once, and it was a pretty fun experience (sans Apple being an absolute donkey about the whole submission process).
I also have nothing against Flappy Bird. I think Dong Nguyen is awesome, assuming his story is true. He symbolizes an entire industry of one-man indie gamers, and his meteoric rise and fall should serve as a lesson to the rest of us. This post is not about Flappy Bird.
Rather, this post is about two other games I saw on the top charts this past week, and by association a plethora of other mobile games that are slowly destroying the values we indie developers hold dear. This post is about Flying Cyrus and Flappy Miley.
Okay, I get it. Flappy Bird becomes one of the most popular games of all time, not just on mobile devices but on any device period. There are bound to be people making parodies and tributes, even more so to fill the void following the game’s pull from app stores. I understand this need and even welcome it. I learned a lot about basic HTML5 game development from several of the open-source tribute/parody games on GitHub. Terry Cavanagh, creator of Super Hexagon, gave us his own creative spin with Maverick Bird: a game that has quickly become one of my favorites.
So somebody decides to take out the bird and put in a disembodied Miley Cyrus head? Sure, why not. It’s a kooky idea that’s almost guaranteed to stop app store browsers in their tracks. But then — and here’s the kicker — someone decides to rip off that game.
Neither game is particularly good, mind you. Like the original, they were probably created in the span of days. Their assets are horrendous. Their music tracks are thoughtless. Unlike the original, they seem to have been created solely to rake in money. They are shameless. Are they even games? Yes, I’m sad to say. But just barely.
Sadder still, they are not alone. I was mildly disgusted to see a commercial for Farm Heroes Saga the other day on TV — not because I hate Candy Crush Saga, but because this new game is such a blatant clone of it. So you have fruit instead of candy. Maybe it’s a healthier game? Is that what they’re going for? Or are they too busy being wholeheartedly greedy to invest time into making a better sequel?
Right now, we are at the dawn of a new age in gaming. The three giants of consoles have just released their new products and there has never been a better time for indie developers to get their feet wet. All around me, I see amazing and beautiful games being made. Some are AAA like Titanfall and Destiny. I can only hope these live up to the hype. But others are smaller, birthed by studios as small as Dong Nguyen’s, nevertheless having just as much potential to blow my mind.
At the same time, we are increasingly becoming shrouded in darkness, a darkness born out of the basest of human needs to make money, even if it means doing horrible things like churning out knockoffs or forcing consumers to pay to turn off ads. This isn’t what gaming is about. This isn’t why I dreamed of becoming a video game developer years ago.
So I see these things, and I can’t help but feel disillusioned by the whole matter. I spent the better part of 7 months making a mobile game, pouring my heart and soul into every asset and corner of every level. It was a flop. Then these heartless, soulless husks of games dominate the top charts. If you can’t beat them, join them, am I right?
Maybe I’ll make a game called Cyrus Crush Saga. See how King.com likes that.