Flap, little bird! Flap like there’s no tomorrow! There are games like Getting Over It (2017) where the idea is to create a hyper-frustrating gaming environment.
Vietnamese video game developer Dong Nguyen created a fine example in the genre back in 2013. Making it with his company .Gears, Flappy Bird became a surprise sensation based purely on its capacity to be incredibly frustrating to play.
The game promptly ruined Nguyen’s life as he was besieged by unwanted global attention, ultimately pulling the game off the internet and clearing off into solitude. Quite the story! Let’s flap on in there.
Flappy Bird and the Joys of Infuriation
Flappy Bird is a very simple premise. You get a yellow bird with the goal being to tap the mobile screen and guide it through a series of pipes from Super Mario Bros. (1985).
But the way the player controls the bird is awkward and clumsy, often unfair.
And it’s that awkward mechanic that suddenly let to Flappy Bird’s notorious rise to stardom. The thing about the title was it wasn’t very good. But its frustrating qualities became highly addictive for people and they couldn’t give it up, kind of like when Tetris launched on the Game Boy in 1989.
Although Flappy Bird launched in May 2013, it wasn’t until 2014 that it gained serious traction.
By the end of January 2014, as word of mouth spread, it was the most popular title on the App Store. It was making $50,000 a day from in-game ads and download sales.
However, the explosion of interest in Flappy Bird didn’t sit well with Nguyen and his company .Gears, in Hanoi of Vietnam.
In fact, it was causing him considerable distress. He was chased by the press, but refused to be photographed and ducked out of all interview requests. He couldn’t sleep and began chain smoking.
He was also hounded online, accused of being a conman, thief, and a fraud. That was for his use of Nintendo art with the pipes, which were included as a loving homage.
In March 2014, Rolling Stone magazine caught up with him for an exclusive interview and reflected on those first two months of 2014:
“As news hit of how much money Nguyen was making, his face appeared in the Vietnamese papers and on TV, which was how his mom and dad first learned their son had made the game. The local paparazzi soon besieged his parents’ house, and he couldn’t go out unnoticed. While this might seem a small price to pay for such fame and fortune, for Nguyen the attention felt suffocating. ‘It is something I never want,’ he tweeted. ‘Please give me peace.'”
But it didn’t stop. Besieged by relentless global interest, Nguyen decided to take the game off the App store on February 10th 2014.
I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.
— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014
And that was it! Flappy Bird has officially been gone for good since then.
There are some copycat versions you can find online, but the official title from Nguyen remains buried for good.
Meanwhile, after it was removed, news stories covered the toll it had taken on its creator. Some false reports even stated Nguyen had committed suicide.
Nguyen is now into his mid-30s and still making games, as part of a small team of six (including him) in his Hanoi office.
He also seems to have happily shaken off the global press attention following on from Flappy Bird. He’s a self-proclaimed geek who grew up playing Nintendo games and just likes a quiet existence.
And the games he makes, whilst not as wildly successful as Flappy Bird, let him enjoy a nice life of it.
In February 2014, we found his decision interesting. In the hard right capitalist business world we live in, we’re taught to revel in success like this and escalate from there in the name of mindless and obscene wealth.
Many other developers would have exploited the success and milked it for all its worth.
Nguyen took a step back, realised his game was actually responsible for a lot of bother due to its addictiveness, and took a noble decision.
We think that’s a great thing. And whilst Flappy Bird may be no more, its legacy is a positive one on having strong morals. Innit.