It’s summer 2017 and the App Store is spilling over with fidget spinner apps. Their titles are largely uninspired, impossible to tell apart: Fidget Spinner, Fidget Spinner Toy, Fidget Hand Spinner, Fidget Spin. Most are lazy re-creations of the popular stress reliever. All are indicative of a larger trend in mobile gaming to identify and mass-produce the hot idea of the moment.
The fidget spinner — a cheap, easy-to-make object that you can pick up at your local bodega or gas station — exploded into popularity in late April. The toy, which comes in a variety of colors and shapes, has inspired techno music, phone cases, rocket-powered safety nightmares, and even the dry world of workplace art.
Fidget apps began to overflow in the App Store around mid-May. The rush to crank out clones and copies is a predictable aspect of the mobile ecosystem. Flappy Bird, Threes!, Pokémon Go: all of these games were followed by a surge of rushed rip-offs hoping to ride the wave of popularity and skim some cash in the process.
But fidget spinners are a strange take on this trend: a play off the popularity of a physical toy that serves very little purpose, translated into a digital app that does even less. The entire point of a fidget spinner is the tactile feel that no app can capture.
Earlier this month, Ketchapp’s Fidget Spinner was the top free app in the App Store; it’s since fallen to number six. The app isn’t a high-quality game or a good stress-releasing spinner toy. As my colleague Paul Miller explained, “The whole app is basically designed to minimize your time fidget spinning while maximizing ad impressions.”
Developer Ketchapp has a history of controversial apps. The company has been accused of cloning games like Sirvo’s Threes! and ustwo Games’ Monument Valley with 2048 and Skyward. Ketchapp disputes these claims. Last February, co-founder and co-director Antoine Morcos told Tech Insider that Skyward was a different type of game that didn’t fall into the same genre Monument Valley. His response to 2048’s similarities to Threes! Was that “all [car] racing games look the same.”
Today, Ketchapp exists under the umbrella of publisher Ubisoft. The company behind AAA franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs acquired Ketchapp last year.
Fidget Spinner looks and functions like many other fidget spinner games in the App Store, but it’s hard to tell who’s mimicking who. It seems all parties are equally looking to cash in on a hot, albeit undoubtedly short-lived, trend. In an email to The Verge, Morcos says the idea was inspired by the popularity of real-life spinners. “Seeing [people] playing the Fidget Spinner everywhere has given us the idea to create a game based on this trend, that would be as addictive as the real toy,” he says. “We came up with something interesting and unique, the idea of spinning the fidget to earn coins, which in return would let you unlock new crazy models. Also, there is a concept of ‘the more you are good in spinning, the better you will improve the stats of your spinner over time.’”