Flappy Bird and the Price of Fame

Published: February 13, 2014 9:00 AM /


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Taking down a hugely successful, and highly profitable, video game seems like an odd decision. Download figures showed that Flappy Bird was the biggest hit of the year and stories about the game's ad revenue confirmed that it was making its creator a lot of money. However, in spite of all this, Flappy Bird developer Dong Nguyen pulled the plug.

He claimed that he couldn't take it any more.


Straight away numerous twitter users asserted that this didn't make sense. The game was ridiculously popular and was making a lot of money, what couldn't he take?

Sadly, Nguyen's reaction actually makes a lot of sense and Flappy Bird serves as another reminder that fame isn't always a good thing.


Nguyen claims that what he couldn't take was the addictive nature of the game and how people were reacting to it. If you are putting out games you want an audience, but you want the right kind of audience. People reacting to your game even positively can negatively impact the creator. A perfect example of this can be found in the wonderful documentary 'Indie Game the Movie', where Jonathan Blow is saddened by Braid's overwhelmingly positive reaction because people weren't reacting to the game the way he wanted them to.

The same seems true with Flappy Bird. Yes Flappy Bird was a huge success, but the reaction it got wasn't what the developer wanted. In an interview with Forbes, Nguyen said that "Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed". He went on to state that, "it happened to become an addictive product" and that "it has become a problem". Here we see an example of the consumer treating the product in a way the creator didn't intend. Nguyen never wanted his game to be played like this and his extreme reaction is hardly surprising if you think about the implications of addiction.

Addiction is a bad thing and is something that can cause great harm. Though Flappy Bird may not have been causing great harm, it is understandable that Nguyen wouldn't want to be forever associated with an addictive product. After all, that's all there really was to Flappy Bird. The thing that kept people going was the high score element, not so much the game itself. If you take this into account you have a sensible reason why Nguyen would turn on his creation.

In his most recent tweet Nguyen states "I still make games". This can be read as another indication of what went wrong with Flappy Bird. It became the game everybody loved to hate, it wasn't taken seriously and was primarily valued because it had a leaderboard. It's the kind of game that people who take games seriously rebel against; casual fluff that they see as corroding their beloved industry. This viewpoint is of course misguided (casual and hardcore can  both exist), but it's still a common one. Nguyen views himself as a game developer, Flappy Bird outgrew him and became a novelty. Some would look down on him for it and others would judge him purely on it. It's a classic case of typecasting and it's not at all surprising that Nguyen would want to distance himself from this product. He is serious about making games and Flappy Bird creates the wrong kind of attention for any aspiring game developer that wants to be taken seriously as a creator.


The other important factor to take into account is Nguyen's references to his quiet life.


Money and fame have their advantages, but some people are just happy with their life style (or parts of it) and don't want to lose that. The fame of Flappy Bird forced Nguyen into the limelight. This by itself could have been too much for him, but if you combine this with the other factors you have a damaging combination. He's famous for a much maligned game and the game is popular in a way he never wanted it to be, this kind of reaction coupled with the destruction of his quiet life can't have been what he wanted.

At the centre of this story is somebody who just wants to make games. At some point things got out of hand and some people just can't handle that kind of attention, or just don't want to. There are numerous reasons why Nguyen's decision to axe such a popular game makes sense, and in the end he comes out as a pretty sympathetic figure. The reaction to Nguyen's announcement is yet another example  of Flappy Bird bringing him negative attention, and shows a consequence of fame that is very hard to take.


It's his game and he can do what he wants with it. The things people have said to him (or about him) are beyond appalling, they are the kind of things that make you ashamed to be part of the human race.

Simply put, fame isn't for everyone. This is especially true if it isn't the kind of fame you wanted in the first place. Just because somebody is successful doesn't mean they don't have reason to resent that success, and in the case of Flappy Bird there is ample reason for Nguyen to turn on his creation. In the end, the best thing to do is to put this all behind us and respect the developer's wishes. Here's hoping he continues to make games and that he can put out something that gets the right kind of attention, or at least just return to his nice quiet life.

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