Usability Matters – Even for Flappy Birds

Although the global madness that is Flappy Bird may be over, the update to the app from last Friday highlights that UX makes a difference no matter how big or small your app is.

The interesting UX change Mr. Nguyen made to the app is the streamlining of the game restart process. Previously, every time your bird died (which, as we all know, is a lot) there was a tiny ‘ok’ button which would take you to the main menu. From the main menu you could press another tiny ‘start’ button to get back in the game. Two taps, a few seconds to navigate the screens, plus a little time to find and tap the tiny buttons. But there’s also a slight mental barrier put up to the player when he is thrust back to the start screen… It forces the player to think “Do I really want to start again?” For a game based on punishing difficulty and continually restarting, the time and effort barrier to keep playing is significant.

You'll see this screen a lot, so the UX should be great.

You’ll see this screen a lot, so the UX should be great.

Now however, when you die you are presented with a big-fat ‘play’ button which puts you right back in the action. Just one tap, and much less time to play again. But again it’s the mental barrier this change removes that’s interesting. Now the game is saying “Sure you died, but you didn’t fail. That’s just the way the game is played, so why not try again?” With this simple change, the game’s nearly legendary difficulty is promoted as a game play mechanic and encourages the player to keep trying, rather than acting as friction that will turn more gamers off.

A small change indeed, but a clear improvement. To me it changed the game from being frustrating and annoying, to being merely frustrating (but obviously frustrating on purpose). That small change made it go from something I played once to see what the fuss was about, to a raging weekend-long high score competition in my house. This isn’t just important for games, but applying this type of thought process throughout your app can make the difference between something people try once and forget about or one they incorporate into their daily routine.

Now only if I can beat my wife’s high score before I throw my phone through a window…

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