The 4Chan community has made a name for itself in the past with their bizarre online stunts, ranging from harmless graffiti raids on Club Penguin to multiple dust-ups with the Department of Homeland Security over hosting child pornography. Its most recent foray into quasi-criminality involves a clone of the popular Flappy Birds iOS game and the construction of an elaborate online gambling ring.
Flappy Party, a browser-based MMO which tracks player’s scores over a series of 15 minute rounds, has been growing swiftly since Flappy Bird’s withdrawal from the iOS market. By allowing multiple users to compete against each other in the same private room, it stands out from a crowded field and has given birth to the world of competitive flapping: users are continuously stuffing themselves through a series of pipes as they vie against each other to emerge as the round’s top bird. Judging by the scores, it seems to be working – dedicated players regularly achieve over a hundred “pipes” in a round, which is no small accomplishment in a game where passing the first five obstacles can sometimes take hours of effort.
Nothing can exist on the internet without someone trying to make a buck off it, and that’s where 4Chan’s strange attempt to introduce competitive bird racing enters the picture. Using a method similar to Reddit’s Bitcoin tipbot, bookmakers offer odds on competing players within the first thirty seconds of a round, while punters rush to take them up on their offer. The funds from both parties are held in escrow until the end of the contest, then dolled out to the winners via a tip to their online wallet.
After having a few practice flaps and recognizing that betting on myself would be futile, I decided to try my luck on HitlerDidNothingWrong8, a user that had scored in the top four players in the last round and who seemed as good a pick as any. An anonymous user was offering 3 to 1 against him placing in the top 3 a second time, and for the princely sum of .01 Bitcoins (roughly 5 US dollars) I took him up on his offer.
While the concept of putting money on racing 8-bit birds borders on the absurd, the use of cryptocurrencies in unregulated online gambling has exploded in the last year. The Bitcoin wiki offers over 100 links to both legal and illicit gambling sites that accept cryptocurrency as payment, most of which use far more sophisticated methods of escrow than 4Chan’s hastily constructed Flappy Party ring. The use of BitCoin to circumvent US laws on acceptable online gambling practice is amongst the reasons cited by Senator Charles Schumer in his recent call for the complete banning of the currency, though he fails to elaborate on how the US could crack down on the highly decentralized network even in the event that such policies came into force.
As HitlerDidNothingWrong8 crossed the finish line in a respectable third, I checked my wallet to ensure this wasn’t some scam to ensnare people gullible enough to believe that betting on imaginary bird races was a good idea. Sure enough, .3 Bitcoins were deposited there – minus a small commission deducted by the bookmaking bot. Not a bad haul for watching animated birds struggle furiously through a pipe maze for 15 minutes.
The user’s apparent enthusiasm for the system was obvious in the chatroom, where bookmakers call out odds like mountebanks in a public square. Despite their eagerness, most users seem to recognize how easily the system could be gamed and kept their bets in the 5$ – 10$ range. “It only works so long as you trust the players to compete fairly”, one punter observed. When I asked the room what prevented them from offering a portion of the winnings to the competitors in order to “fix” the contest there was a long moment of silence. Finally, “TheAnalRapist” replied: “that would be unethical :(”
Edit: Less than 12 hours after this article went live, the 4Chan Flappy Party seems to be over.