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Why Did Flappy Bird Return on Amazon?

Flappy Bird app game.
Source: Flappy Bird
Flappy Bird app game.

Back by unpopular demand, it's Flappy Bird.

Flappy Birds Family, a multiplayer version of the inimitably infuriating game, debuted on the Amazon Appstore for the Fire TV set-top box on Friday. An Amazon representative confirmed to Re/code that yes, this Flappy game is from the same developer, Dong Nguyen, who in February yanked his own app from Apple's and Google's app stores.

Amazon, of course, declined to say whether or not it drove a truck full of money to Nguyen's door, or how big the truck was. It doesn't "share specific details on our deals," a company spokesperson said, but is "thrilled" that the game "is currently exclusive to Fire TV." Support for other Amazon devices is in the works, the spokesperson added.

The official description of the new app stresses, in all caps, that it's currently "FOR AMAZON FIRE TV ONLY." That disclaimer seems to have eluded a few reviewers, though:

These angry one-star reviews speak to one of the differences (some would say advantages, others would say disadvantages) of publishing through Amazon: Even though it's based on Android, Amazon's OS is an Apple-esque walled garden.

Overall, Android owns over 78 percent of the global smartphone market, but Amazon is trying to grow its slice of that massive pie with devices like the new Fire TV and Fire phone.

Those devices run its Android-based Fire OS, a "forked" version of Android that hides many of Google's default services in favor of Amazon's, including the normal app store Google Play. Sources with experience developing for the Amazon Appstore said their fortunes there were mixed.

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On one hand, the sources said, owners of Amazon devices make more in-game purchases on average than Android gamers as a whole. However hard it can beat its wings, though, the Appstore is currently a much smaller bird than the iOS App Store or Google Play.

(Although few developers are willing to share their numbers, the public data for the independent game Spaceteam are an interesting footnote here: Sure enough, the developer reports making about two cents per user on Amazon versus 1.4 cents and 1.2 cents on Google Play and iOS, respectively).

The monetization advantage, though, would appear to be a moot point here, since the first version of Flappy Bird only monetized through display ads, and the new version doesn't seem to have either ads or in-game purchases yet.

Apps on Google Play outnumber those on the Appstore by about 8:1 and the ratio of app publishers is greater than 11:1, according to app analytics firm App Annie. But then again, the Amazon ecosystem has had less time to gestate, with the company's first smartphone debuting just this summer, versus the first general Android phone six years ago. The Fire TV is only four months old.

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And that's just it: Scoring the Flappy Bird exclusive may be better for Amazon than it is for Nguyen, since it adds another buzzy game to the young Fire TV's arsenal. Though if it takes off as it did before, the casual phenom might undercut the company's stated goal of making the set-top box a destination for mid-core games.

For whatever it's worth: App Annie says Flappy Birds Family is currently performing well in Italy and Spain.

By Eric Johnson, Re/code.net.

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Re/code's parent Revere Digital, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.

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