I don’t think I’ve ever read more potent mainstream coverage of an indie game than what I’ve read from the controversy of Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen’s iOS game Flappy Bird. After shooting to the top spot in the iOS charts, the game has been scrutinized under the public eye for weeks. It started with the Verge’s article on how Flappy Bird is estimated to make $50,000 a day in ad revenue, which surprised almost everyone in the gaming community, but the real whirlwind came when he announced on Twitter that the game is being pulled from the app store, with no explicit reasoning other than “I cannot take this anymore.”
But what is Nguyen referring to when he says “this”? What would drive a person who is making more than the median US household income in two days to take down the source of their profits? Well, the first hypothesis is the negative reactions he gets from fans and media alike, which is a viable reason. After all, the tweets he gets from fans are pretty disgusting, and Kotaku even issued an official apology to him for a scathing article they published against Nguyen. We saw it happen with Phil Fish; there was nothing preventing it from happening again.
Maybe Nguyen felt guilty about the money he made from such a simple creation. The idea of a floating object dodging randomly generated structures has existed as a game since our generation was in grade school. And if those $50,000 a day reports are true, that’s quite a lot of money for a game concept that has existed for a while. Again, this is another point that some people make to attack Nguyen, saying that he doesn’t deserve the money since the concept isn’t original. Regardless of what one thinks, the money is in his pocket.
The other obvious option is that he took it down for fear of copyright infringement, or just to take the money and run. But Nintendo themselves said they will not pursue him. A spokesperson for Nintendo denied involvement with the take-down in an email to The Wall Street Journal: “While we usually do not comment on the rumors and speculations, we have already denied the speculation.” It’s clear from recent interviews and tweets (Nguyen: “I just wanted to create a game that people could enjoy for a few minutes”) that Nguyen wasn’t in it for the money, and that he takes a lot of pride in his work.
And that pride is the most important part of Flappy Bird.
I’m not going to take a side and delve into whether or not Flappy Bird is a good/bad game or a well/poorly designed game. The only thing we can say for sure is that people wanted to play Flappy Bird. It was insanely popular, and that’s really the only undeniable fact we can take from this.
Nguyen has been disconnected from the internet for a few days, giving himself a mental break and catching up on the sleep he missed from the stressful days leading up to the take-down. Amongst all these reasons, it was the guilt that really drove him to kill the app, the fact that his life had changed from such an unexpected turn of events. The options I listed above all contributed to that guilt. Sometimes a simple event in one’s life can turn into a monsoon of proportions one has never faced before. Nguyen just wanted to make something people would enjoy. He likes making games because games are entertaining, and he wants to improve the lives of other people. When those same people give him death threats because of his game, it’s not something Nguyen can brush off. That cuts deep.
The lesson is clear, and it doesn’t just apply to games: When you talk to a creator about something they created, that creator will take your words to heart. That creation is extremely precious to them. It’s as if you’re talking to a mother about their child. Even if you don’t like that creation, respect is not optional. Let’s give those who step forward and share their work with us a smile instead of a scowl. Dong Nguyen, I support you.