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Flappy Bird creator updates Swing Copters to make it less impossible

You know a video game is really, really difficult when a developer has to push out an update to make it playable.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read

Failure. How sweet it is? Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

Mobile game developer Dong Nguyen has learned the limits of difficulty.

Swing Copters, his follow-up to the maddening mobile game Flappy Bird, was just too hard. On Monday, Nguyen pushed out an update to tune the gameplay and make it far more accessible to players who, since its release Wednesday, have been trying to wrap their heads around a game designed around punishing failure.

The update now makes the character's previously near-uncontrollable movements far more subtle, reducing the chances of an early defeat. The game is still quite difficult, though achieving scores upward of 5 points can be done on a first or second play through this time around, whereas doing so in the initial Swing Copters release was an impossibly challenging feat.

"Most of people don't find the game entertaining because it was too difficult," Nguyen told CNET via email regarding why he tuned the gameplay of Swing Copters. "However, I believe the game is still challenging enough when people want the final medal or compete with their friends."

When Swing Copters launched on iOS and Android devices last week, the game was universally lauded not for its quality, but for being one of the most difficult mobile games ever created. Within its first few days, it rose to the top five of the iOS App Store rankings and earned scores of cheeky reviews from lamenting players. The challenge was not a matter of time consumption or puzzle solving. Rather, the singular task of flying Swing Copters' one and only character skyward was so constrained by the in-game physics -- and with a margin of error so slim -- that the game had a suffocated element that rendered players helpless.

Smartphone gamers were dumbfounded, many of whom found it challenging to score even a single point. Still, some persisted against all odds, achieving ungodly scores upwards of 75 points. The game's level of difficulty, built on the foundation Nguyen laid with Flappy Bird in February, gave it an instant boost in popularity.

"By making something really difficult of course people will go on online and say, 'This is really impossible, you have to go check it out,'" Joost van Dreunen, the co-founder and CEO of SuperData Research, told CNET last week. "That becomes the story around it. The difficulty level and the necessary level of masochism required to play this game becomes a topic of conversation -- and a vehicle to promote this game directly."

Van Dreunen thinks Nguyen doesn't do this on purpose, but that it has proved beneficial to his career as a mobile-gaming mad genius of sorts. Yet Nguyen, who pulled his first viral creation Flappy Bird from smartphone app stores in February because of how the phenomenon had affected his daily life, has expressed concern in the past about disrupting the lives of gamers. To this day, Flappy Bird exists officially only as a split-screen mobile game for Amazon's Fire TV set-top box, redesigned for family play.

Nguyen cares about players having fun -- and not feeling overwhelmed by his creations. "At first I thought they were just joking," Nguyen told Rolling Stone in March about players who blamed Flappy Bird for distractions. "But I realize they really hurt themselves," he added. Nguyen, in his high school years, was an obsessive player of the multiplayer first-person shooter Counter-Strike and understood what the heart of a love-hate relationship with games looks like.

That may be why, only five days after its release, Nguyen decided to bring Swing Copters down to earth.