‘Swing Copters’ and the Danger of App Copycats

Swing Copters Clones

Game developer Dong Nguyen has launched Swing Copters, a follow-up to his blockbuster Flappy Bird.

Within a day of Copters hitting the iOS and Android app stores, rival developers released what seemed like dozens of clones, many of which made only the slightest alterations to Nguyen’s game—an altered color here, or a slightly different design there.

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The same thing happened with Flappy Bird once that game became a raging success, and developers realized they could earn hundreds or thousands of dollars by pushing out an imitation with similar art and game mechanics. Nguyen, who didn’t seem all that interested in shutting down the legions of knockoffs, eventually yanked Flappy Bird from app stores, complaining to reporters that the game had made his life too complicated for comfort.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 10.43.55 AMSix months later, Nguyen reappeared with Swing Copters, a game that echoes the vintage graphics and unexacting controls of Flappy Bird, but with the difficulty level jacked up even higher. Whereas in Bird, the player had to frantically tap the screen in order to guide the titular fowl between a series of pipes, Copters centers on an odd character with a propeller atop its head; tapping makes it levitate, and you must attempt to guide it through an ascending series of entryways guarded by swinging pendulums o’ death. The key word in that preceding sentence is “attempt,” as the character flies with all the stability of a drunken bumblebee—no matter how skillful your tapping, chances are good you’ll plow him/her/it into a wall within two seconds.

Given its extreme difficulty, it’s tempting to think that Swing Copters is Dong Nguyen’s attempt at a joke (You thought ‘Flappy Bird’ was hard? Check this out!), or maybe even a meta-comment on the emerging “masocore” gaming category. Or maybe he just wanted to make another game, and the idea of an ultra-difficult one appealed. Whatever the case, Nguyen can rely on the enduring popularity of Flappy Bird to propel Swing Copters to the top of the Google and iOS charts.

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Other app creators aren’t quite so fortunate. Although Google and Apple boast that their respective app stores feature hundreds of thousands of apps, sometimes it seems as if most of those apps are crude imitations of other apps. The perpetual fear among app developers is that they’ll score a modest hit—only to see their years of hard work undermined by someone who cobbles together a clone in a matter of weeks or days. If Apple and Google want to make things friendlier out there for developers, they might consider stricter enforcement policies for the blatant rip-offs filling their digital storefronts.

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Images: Apple/iTunes, Dong Nguyen

Comments

  1. BY JB says:

    “If Apple and Google want to make things friendlier out there for developers, they might consider stricter enforcement policies for the blatant rip-offs filling their digital storefronts.”

    Trademarks could easily rectify a large part of these issues. Branding is particularly important for developers, but they consistently ignore important business issues. If you’re releasing an app into the wild, then understanding something about business is extremely important because, really, you’re no long a developer, but a business at that point.

    Finally, it seems that very few people really know the history of computers (or history in general). All of our advancements in history have been from copying and iterating on existing ideas. Without the ability to do this, software innovation would have been severely hampered (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Computer,_Inc._v._Microsoft_Corp.).

    While copying Mr. Nugyen’s game probably isn’t moving innovation forward. If companies start policing this outside of normal IP boundaries, then real iterative advancement could be seriously hampered (think Linux). And, I for one, am not a fan of this possibility.

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