How did Flappy Bird — the mindless but infuriating iPhone game in which players must guide a small bird through gaps in a set of pipes — rise to the top of the App Store so quickly?
According to a review by Myron Chiu at Sensor Tower, the game’s reviews in the App Store contain some weird statistical anomalies. Most ominously, that the word “Satan” appears in the majority of the 1,200 or more reviews the game had received at the time the study sample was taken:
At the time of writing this article, 56% (704/1261) of all mentions of ‘Satan’ in the iOS app store are in Flappy Bird reviews. That seemed a little suspicious, so I took a closer look with our review analysis module.
What Chiu also found was that reviews for Flappy Bird were unusually long compared to those for the average app. And reviews contained certain key words or phrases that cropped up in multiple different reviews:
- “evil genius”
- “satan himself”
- “i was browsing the app store”
- “do not download this game”
- “normal day”
- “worst mistake”
- “it all started”
- “ruined my life”
- “throw my [iphone/ipad]”
This chart shows how Flappy Bird reviews are on average much longer than other apps’ reviews:
Chiu did the study to see whether it would produce any evidence that the author of Flappy Bird, Vietnamese indie game programmer Dong Nguyen, had in some way gamed the system to get Flappy to the top of the charts. No evidence emerged of that, although Chiu does speculate that some of his results look as if they were produced by a piece of spam malware that churns out automated fake reviews based on key phrases:
Someone has created a spintax system that is capable of creating a seemingly infinite combination of reasonably phrased, dire, and bleak stream of consciousness-esque reviews, ranging from simple phrases to 1000+ character stories.
It’s all moot, of course. Nguyen has grown so frustrated at the overwhelming reaction to his game that he says he will withdraw it from the App Store.