The curious case of Flappy Bird: What the hell is going on?

Callum Tennent
February 10, 2014

This particular story is sure to evoke a mixed range of reactions from the people out there in smartphone-land: developer Dong Nguyen has decided to remove Flappy Bird from the iOS and Google Play app stores.

Flappy Bird has seen a staggering and, frankly, baffling rise to fame in recent weeks, with hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) downloading the endless runner. Its rampant success can most likely be attributed to its fundamental simplicity and cutesy art-design. Oh, and it was free.

But now, in a move as sudden and unexpected as the game’s success, creator Dong Nguyen has removed the game from all mobile app stores. It’s an almost poetic symmetry.

The question on everyone’s lips though is why? Nguyen explained on his personal Twitter account:

Further to that sentiment, he also stated that the virally successful game “ruins my simple life”, in a now deleted tweet.

He has assured that he will continue to create games and that Flappy Bird is not for sale, as if he were to sell it he would no longer consider himself to be an indie developer – a noble, if slightly perplexing, sentiment.

Its an interesting story, and one that’s certainly believable. Its rather sad to imagine Nguyen sat alone at his computer, solemnly scrolling through the unwarranted abuse on his Twitter timeline, watching himself transform into a social pariah when all he ever wanted to be was a creator and an entertainer.

However, Nguyen has done nothing wrong. His only crime is his rampant success, which of course comes with its downsides. Whilst free, the game entertained in-app advertisements and, contrary to what Nguyen may assert on his Twitter, there is no doubt he was making a sizeable amount of money from the game (in fact Nguyen confessed in one interview that the game was raking in a staggering $50,000 per day. EVERY SINGLE DAY).

Not only that, but no one really knows who Nguyen is. He’s an indie developer: he’s on no one’s payroll and has no official media representatives. For all we know he could simply be a piece of highly-sentient social media coding. He claims he cannot handle the pressures of his new found fame. Surely the more viable option would be to simply remove himself from social media? Flappy Bird is already out there on app stores, selling like digital hotcakes – why would he choose to dissolve such a lucrative asset?

It may be sceptical, and it may seem horribly unfeeling towards Nguyen, but something is simply off about the whole affair and it would be naive to turn a blind eye to it.

The most logical alternative suggestion for the sudden change of heart would be the very likely threat of incoming legal issues. For one, Flappy Bird’s stratospheric rocket-ride to the top of the App Store is suspicious in and of itself. It could well be that, like other developers before him, Nguyen found a loophole or hack in the system to help push his game to the top of the charts and he is now removing it before Apple and Google forcibly do so.

Or, if industrial foul-play isn’t your cup of tea, how about the rampant ‘inspiration’ to be found within Flappy Bird? The landscape and pipes which are identical to those seen in what is possibly the most famous videogame of all time? Or the staggering artistic and mechanical similarities to Piou Piou, another mobile endless runner (that also features a bird)?

Not to mention the fact that Flappy Bird is viral, and viral media is fleeting in nature. Flappy Bird is not Angry Birds. It is hard to imagine Nguyen creating a long-lasting, memorable brand out of such a shallow game. It’s almost bordering on arrogance for Nguyen to presume that Flappy Bird would maintain such a high level of attention for any longer than six months – and that’s being generous. Why not just weather the storm?

We may never know the truth, and if it really is as simple as emotional and mental strain on Mr Nguyen then we’ll apologise profusely for such a rigorous dissection of his character. But until then, it just might be best to err on the side of cynicism.

On the plus side, it makes our article on the top five (better) alternatives to Flappy Bird even more relevant, so feel free to fill the Flappy Bird-shaped hole in your life with a considerably better alternative.

About the Author

Callum Tennent

International playboy/tech journalist.

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