by Andrew Hendricks
You’ve probably heard about the crazy rise and dive of Flappy Bird, a mega-successful iOS and Android device lauded (and loathed) for its simplicity, difficulty, and addictiveness. After revealing to The Verge in an interview that went viral, Flappy bird creator Dong Nguyen revealed that his game at the time was doing an average of $50,000 in ad revenue a day.
This caused Nguyen to receive a flood of messages, many criticizing him for his game’s concept art having designs very similar to the Mario franchise (the green pipes bear a striking resemblance) as well as calls for him to make the extremely difficult game easier.
In an interview with Forbes, Nguyen tried to set his side of the story straight by explaining the sole impetus for removing the game was his distaste for the addictive quality of the game: “Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed.” Nguyen said. “But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”
Yet if this were entirely the case, one wonders why even after pulling Flappy Bird from the Google Play and Apple App Store, ads for previously downloaded games and services were still being updated. Remember that removing an app from the play store does not mean no one can play the game anymore. It simply means that you can't download a new official copy of it. Nguyen is still drawing in ad revenue based on these ads that are still playing on devices. And now that Flappy Bird is a manufactured rarity, the game has never been more popular, at least for now.
Popular video game commentator, podcaster, and content-producer Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth echoed this sentiment in a recent podcast: “Not only is Flappy Bird still running ads, I have a new ad, today. So while he is saying ‘I wanna go back to my simple life, this game has ruined me, and they’re overestimating my success [...], but he is still running ads on the installed base of 16 million copies. That he hasn’t turned off.”
Though Nguyen has stated explicitly there was no threat of litigation from Nintendo and that it did not factor into his decision to take down the app, some have speculated Nintendo might still have proved litigious down the road, and would only be more motivated to do so if the game were sold to an entity with deeper pockets.
Taking a look at Nguyen’s infamous twitter post does lend an air of credibility to Nguyen’s side of the story. From death threats, to requests to add an easier mode, and people begging for money, by revealing the monetary success of the game without a media team to help him, Nguyen realized he had made a big mistake. $50,000 a day (even if that is an inflated estimate) is definitely a windfall amount for a developer in Southeast Asia. One could see how the sudden spotlight and overwhelming amount of emails, messages, requests for interviews, and phone calls would be a little too much to handle. However, regardless of Nguyen’s real motivation, he has managed to separate himself at least somewhat from his brand (in a business move totally opposite of Angry Birds and Clash of Clans) and made himself the story, even if it was the exact opposite of his intention.
Very few mobile app developers are recognizable figures in the video game world. Tech journalists have speculated that whatever Nguyen puts out next will be the hot new download--and he hasn’t even hinted at designing anything yet! For someone who would be relying on downloads and ad revenue for whatever new game he puts out, Nguyen may have stumbled into the spotlight unwillingly, but by removing a product he thought was sub-par and/or harmful, Nguyen has done what countless publicists could only dream of.