What We Should Learn From the Flappy Bird Fiasco
Posted on Friday, March 14 @ 17:15:18 PST by Nicholas Tan
The vicious cycle of celebrity can be disgusting. There's nothing worse to me than reality TV stars who become famous for almost nothing and are then propped up as a star for about a year, before they're written off as has-beens and someone else fills their place. It's this destructive, self-sustained expendibility that pervades entertainment and corporate news, and depresses me in the wee hours of a sleepless night.
And I can't help but feel this is how the video game industry treated Dong Nguyen, the 28-year-old Vietnamese programmer who created the infamous Flappy Bird. In some ways, I see a little of myself in Dong Nguyen as I do have a Computer Science degree, am Asian and 28 years old, and have a bit of a hermit streak. So his story, as explored and interviewed by Rolling Stone's David Kushner, is hard to swallow.
Nguyen never asked for global success, and when he created Flappy Bird as an homage to his love for Mario and made it available for free on the iOS store, he never expected the game to make $50,000 a day. In fact, he thought it would probably just fizzle out like most of the 25,000 online apps that appear every month and, well, it did. Hardly anyone cared. It was only eight months later that Flappy Bird went viral.
But having a quiet and stimulation-averse personality, Nguyen couldn't care less about publicity and didn't want to be photographed by the press and paparazzi, or really say much of anything at all. Meanwhile, he was being called a thief for ripping off Nintendo's pipes, and eventually Nguyen couldn't take it anymore. With but a short announcement in a Tweet on February 8th, Flappy Bird was taken down from the iOS store one day later, and that was the end of that.
Enjoying a simple life, Dong Nguyen grew up in Vietnam similar to how my dad was raised in Malaysia. His parents had fairly good jobs, but they weren't made of money and could only afford to purchase a clone Nintendo for him and his younger brother. From there, he learned how to program a computer chess game, placed well in programming competitions, and joined the mobile video game company Punch Entertainment at the age of 19. With his experience at the company and creating his own game Shuriken Block, another "easy to learn and difficult to master" title, he created Flappy Bird clearly inspired by Cheep Cheeps and Mario warp pipes.
When Flappy Bird reached the Top 10 and then Number One on the U.S. charts in mid-January, Nguyen "felt amazing," but then he appeared in Vietnamese papers and television, which is how his parents found out that he had made the game. Then the paparazzi happened, and the accusations of fraud happened, and the criticism of destroying the lives of people everywhere happened. The assault on him and his parents was something he never wanted, with him tweeting a plea: "Please give me peace." He felt like he was drowning, and so eventually he said to himself that he is a "master of [his] own fate" and pulled the game.
Since then, a torrent of Flappy Bird clones have flooded the iOS market, iOS phones with Flappy Bird installed have sprung up everywhere, Kotaku's Stephen Totilo apologized for the fiasco, and Nguyen is now hiding at his friend's apartment. On a better note, he's "thinking of buying a Mini Cooper and an apartment [and] just got his first passport" and he's working on several new games. And like a true indie, he will not sell the rights to his game for any reason. However, he is "considering" putting Flappy Bird back on the market, albeit perhaps with the following "warning":
"Please take a break."
Likewise, I think the video game machine does need to take a deep breath. Contemplate and reflect. Make sure that something like this doesn't happen again. Of course, I'm not so childish to believe that the anonymous internet will change and stop being both extremely supportive and extremely vicious. But we owe it to ourselves to take a step back and think about whether we're part of the problem.
At the end of day, I deeply respect Nguyen's decision to stop the madness and stay true to himself. Humility is in short supply these days, and he's got enough not to flap it around.
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