Flappy Bird Is Making $50,000 A Day Off Ripped Art

Flappy Bird Is Making $50,000 A Day Off Ripped Art

Everybody’s talking about Flappy Bird. We’ve all kind of just accepted it as a mobile phenomenon — the type of “little guy strikes big” story that has endeared millions to the likes of Notch (Minecraft) and Dean Hall (DayZ).

In fact, Flappy Bird has gotten so big that its creator, Dong Nguyen, told The Verge he’s making $US50,000 a day on ad revenue. $US50,000 a day! That’s $US18 million a year, FYI.

Naturally, the Flappy Bird sensation has garnered a wide range of reactions from critics and pundits. Most people acknowledge that it’s a terrible game — which it is — and many have attempted to dissect its massive appeal. (Ian Bogost’s analysis at The Atlantic is the most compelling I’ve read so far.)

But people seem to be glossing over one important fact: nothing in Flappy Bird is original. The Verge points out that much of the art is “inspired” by Super Mario Bros., but this game goes beyond inspiration. We’re in ripoff territory here.

Look at the pipes, for example:

On the left is Flappy Bird; on the right is Super Mario World. Weird to think that some kids might grow up thinking these are “Flappy Bird pipes.” Even the twinkly sound effect when your bird flies between pipes is heavily inspired by Mario’s coin-collecting chime, to the point where they sound nearly identical.

And what about the bird itself? While the eponymous Flappy Bird isn’t a direct ripoff, it appears to be a cross between the Spike and Cheep Cheep enemies in Super Mario Bros. 3. See if you can spot the similarities:

(Left: Flappy Bird. Right/Top: Spike. Right/Bottom: Cheep-Cheep.)

The backgrounds also appear to be heavily inspired by Mario, perhaps as a subtle protest against Nintendo for not bringing their biggest games to iOS, or perhaps because Nguyen made the game in three days. (We’ve reached out to Nguyen for comment, and will update should he respond.)

Let this be a life lesson: if you want to make $US50,000 a day, put ripped art in a terrible game.


      • haha right? I was like, what planet is this guy living on. So sad. Art is tricky though – as most find it undeniably OK to be ‘inspired by’ something – but where that line ends is anyones guess.

  • if you want to make $US50,000 a day, put ripped art in a terrible game.

    I feel like this is an unecessary negative oversimplification. I mean, the ads in it aren’t obnoxious, there aren’t any in-app alerts, and I highly doubt this was some evil genius plan by the developer to strike big bucks.

    A guy created an app, and it went viral, kinda like a meme or video or news story. Only difference here is, he had the sense to put non-obtrusive in app advertising in it, and makes an assload of bucks from it…

    • Seriously, I would consider suing Kotaku over such a title. It implies, well states outright that he ‘ripped off’ the art. This would mean he was taking Nintendo sprites and using them as his own.
      Yes the pipes are a bit reminiscent of Mario, but I am from the pre-nintendo era, and we used to make pipes with that shading to look a bit 3D *all* the time.

      Claiming that the bird is a ripoff of any existing character is total bullshit. It looks nothing like the characters you have shown. I seriously think you should apologise to the guy for calling him a criminal. I’d be really pissed off if it was me.

      “Let this be a life lesson: if you want to make $US50,000 a day, put ripped art in a terrible game.”

      It isn’t a terrible game, people are enjoying it en-masse. It isn’t ripped off art. This is sensationalist bullshit reporting of the worst kind.

  • I’d say Nintendo would have a case for them using their artwork without their permission, but he’s racking in the cash so he probably doesn’t care

    Time to learn how to make a mobile game over the weekend

  • As Mario as that pipe looks, I can’t seem to find any pipes from a Mario game that look the same as them.

    • Exactly. Heavily inspired by and direct copy and paste are different things. I see nothing wrong here.

        • Copyright infringement is a funny thing… I read something once that explained it… my understanding is that it doesn’t have to be the EXACT same thing but if it so closely resembles it that a reasonable person would immediately think of the copywrited item then it is infringing UNLESS it is using it in a joking/mocking way and certainly not using it as your own for profit.

          Could be wrong but that’s my understanding.

          • The key thing for artistic works is there has to be a “creative step.” The pipes are similar, but it’s hard to draw a vertical pipe without the result resembling all the other vertical pipes around.

            As it is, the highlighting is noticeably different, the shape is less stretched, and the distinctly heavier linework on the bottom-right of the pipe is different. The main similarity is the pipe cap (which is present on many real pipes) and the fact that both are similar shades of green. They’re no more similar than if you were to look at the pipes in a game like PipeMania.

            The character similarity is also overblown given that both are such low resolution images. If you’re going to include an eye, beak and wing in an image with that few pixels there are only so many ways of doing so – and they’re just not that similar. The eyes are all different, the wings are shaped and positioned differently, and the beak in the Mario images lacks the complete black outline.

            It’s not going to be winning any awards for originality, but saying that it’s a straight Mario ripoff is just incorrect. The graphical style is similar, but if you’re going to cry plagiarism better examples are needed.

          • I see what you mean. IMO though the creator’s intent was to have the player immediately recognise the pipes. Intent is very difficult to prove but it’s clear to me this was done delibrately… surely it’s no accident to have pipes (and GREEN ones at that) in an 8-bit themed game…

          • That’s not really how copyright works – the ‘creative step’ is more in line with proving novelty for patents and designs. In copyright there’s the ‘substantial part’ test. You could say that the pipes don’t count as a substantial part of the Mario games, but I’d argue that ultimately when you think of Mario you think of mushrooms and you think of pipes.

            As for the design of the bird, I’d say it’s more in line with the iOS game Tiny Wings.

          • Some creativity is still required, which is why a dictionary is copyrightable but a telephone directory typically isn’t. But you’re right, creativity is more of an issue with patents… it does have some part in copyrights, but not as much of one.

            “Substantial part” isn’t necessarily important – you may recall the INXS court case where they were sued by the copyright holders for “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree.” Just a small part can comprise copyright violation. Intention counts to some degree.

            It’s worth mentioning that Australian copyright law is much, much tougher than US law. US law has an extraordinarily broad “fair use” provision which is largely absent from Australian copyright law.

          • The key finding of the Men at Work case (not INXS – c’mon, Land Down Under is like Australia 101!) was that the motif was in fact a substantial part of the Kookaburra song, the song itself being only a couple of bars long. But you’re right, it’s not really a quantitative measure, more the significance of the part that’s being reproduced. As I said, I’d argue that when you think of Mario you’re likely going to think of a 2D pipe in that shade of green.

            You’re right though that copyright is a massively complicated issue in this country (my IP lecturer always insisted it was because judges have such a hard time dealing with intangible property and generally just try to assign IP the same kinds of rights as other types of property). We do have the same very broad fair dealing provisions in our Copyright Act though.

    • While the pipe nor the bird look like exact replica’s of a Mario sprite they certainly instantly reminded me of Mario sprites. As in I thought they where taken directly from a game.

      They’re skating on thin ice, how thin well that’s Nintendo’s call.

  • Maybe the art has a little to do with it. But it’s definitely not the whole reason. haha, I feel like such an ass for double posting on this article, so i apologise, but it really got me thinking…

    Objectively taking an in-depth look at it, you can understand easier why its successful:

    1. It’s easy to pick up and play. Loads fast. You can restart quickly. Controls are simple. Scoring is simple. no required online connection. It plays in portrait mode so you can quickly tap in and out of other apps. Just play a game quickly in any situation when you have to wait in real life for something.

    2. The game is just as difficult at the beginning as it is 100 pipes in. Any failure is put on YOU and not on the game AI or mechanics. When you fail, you feel dumb cos it was your own fault, you could have avoided it, so you try again to prove yourself better. Coupled with the fact you can start again almost instantly, this is how it gets addictive. This is how you sink your time into it and then rant to other ppl how much you’ve wasted on it, so then they kinda wanna check it out too.

    3. The simplicity in the point scoring. It’s a simple tangible number score. You want to get as high a score as possible (duh). Plus without any online leaderboards (not that it can’t hurt to have one) it becomes more a matter of wanting to be better than your friends, so you get your friends to download it too, so you can be #1 in a small group rather than #12843 in the world, cos its much easier that way, and more fulfilling because you have bragging rights with people who actually matter, which in a way makes it appealing to people who are “non-gamers” as well. So now it’s kind of a social game: a competition between friends. and that’s also how it spreads to other phones.

    4. Yes, the art too. It’s familiar and may invoke a sense of nostalgia, so alot of people can identify with it, maybe even some morons would think its an official Nintendo app. The sprites are crisp, the animation is smooth, and it’s slightly comical as well, so it has its own, dare I say “charm”. Coupled with the stupid sound effects, it’s just silly enough to have people like it.

    Now, I’m not saying that EVERYONE is gonna be taken in by every one of these points, but all these things are relatively common denominator type things, which all contribute to the popularity of the app, especially amongst “casual” gamers. Who’s to say if the developer took all of these things into account or not it’s a little too easy to just say that the “ripped off” art is the reason why it’s so popular. there are HEAPS of apps which are actually ripoffs (in terms of art, perhaps even using game mechanics as well) in the app stores which are utter failures.

    Anyhooo, rant over. Feel free to downvote me if I rambled nonsensically too much…lol

    • agreed. The game is super quick to play, the mechanics are simple and tight, there are no cheap deaths.

  • Those screenshots ACTUALLY show that they are different artworks. I’ve been around digital works long enough to know what is allowed and what can be labelled as copied or stolen. Just because something looks or feels that it is copied or stolen, doesn’t immediately mean that it is.

    I can’t dis on the guy until someone clearly shows that he’s using stolen artwork. The screenshots above don’t show that they were copied/stolen.

    He made a game. It’s very popular. He’s making money off it. Those three things are not very easy to do. So, good on him.

  • Curious to know, how does he make that much money? Is it from people clicking on the ad’s? or the advertisers paying him to put up their ad’s? What sort of ad’s are they? I mean I never click on an ad within an app unless its by accident.

  • Small banner ads on the title screen. I assume he’s being paid for views, not just clicks, because these ads are reaching a LOT of eyeballs.

  • in his local currency, he’s making a billion a day, something that he might not have imagined.

    • Jetpack Joyride wasn’t the first game where you tap/click to ascend while the screen continuously scrolled to the right. I was playing flash games that had this sort of gameplay in my high school days in the early 2000s.

  • Ridiculous! 8 bit-esque pipes are all going to look alike, it’s the nature of the medium. Slow news day?

  • You guys realise that the game is a direct rip off of Piou Piou? All you people defending the creator are as bad as he is. Between the Mario “iinspired” font, sound effects and pipes, and the direct ripoff of the bird and the gameplay, you can’t seriously contend that it isn’t a shameless ploy.

    People saying “oh he didn’t charge for it, its only ads! He’s clearly not in it for the money!” – Are you really that naive? A game with an easy to pick up, hard to master and difficult to stay consistent playstyle, in which every death refreshes the advertisements (I checked), is the perfect way to make oodles of cash.


  • You guys comparing Flappy Bird to other games and calling it a complete rip-off are simply wrong. If you go with that approach with Flappy Bird, then you’ll have to say that all 3d first-person shooters are complete rip-offs of Id games Castle Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake.

    And the examples you use to justify your claims that Flappy Bird is a rip-off actually SHOWs that it is not a rip-off.

    Also I just noticed that the title of this article is simply wrong and libelous. It should be edited with an editorial note.

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