The Mystery of Flappy Bird


“Flappy Bird,” a mobile game for Android and iOS, managed to flap its way to the dream in January, seizing top spots on the Apple and Google Play app stores. Its creator, Dong Nguyen, told The Verge that the free game earned him an average of $50,000 per day from in-app advertising.

“The reason ‘Flappy Bird’ is so popular is that it happens to be something different from mobile games today, and is a really good game to compete against each other,” Nguyen suggested in his Verge interview. “People in the same classroom can play and compete easily because [‘Flappy Bird’] is simple to learn, but you need skill to get a high score.”

But on the way to massive riches and Internet fame, something odd happened: Nguyen decided to yank “Flappy Bird” from the app stores. “It is not anything related to legal issues,” he wrote in a Tweet Feb. 8. “I just cannot keep it anymore.”

And poof—just like that, the game is now gone from the various app stores. A lot of people must have asked Nguyen whether they could still purchase the game from him directly, because he subsequently Tweeted: “I also don’t sell ‘Flappy Bird,’ please don’t ask.” In another Tweet, he suggested that he would continue to build games.

In “Flappy Bird,” the user controls a cute little bird that has some trouble staying airborne; tapping the screen will send it flapping upward for a second, but otherwise the comical creature does its best to nosedive to the ground. Handicapped by such cumbersome aerodynamics, the user must guide the bird through a complicated obstacle course of pipes; most make it past only a few before crashing.

From the beginning, critics have accused “Flappy Bird” of unoriginality. The pipes that constitute the obstacle course look very similar to the iconic ones littering the landscape of the various “Super Mario” games, as Kotaku and other gaming publications have pointed out; other developers, meanwhile, have hinted that the game’s rapid rise on the Google Play and iOS charts is due to ‘bot activity.

Did the pressure from such accusations—amplified by social media—drive Nguyen to pull down the game? It’s impossible to tell at this point, although one imagines that most people would submit to quite a bit of criticism before deleting something that could earn them more than a million dollars a month.

And that criticism, at least in the context of online games, can quickly go nuclear. NPR’s blog excerpted an interesting blog posting by indie game developer Mike Bithell, in which he lamented the viciousness of huge Internet backlashes. “This is the one where folk who’ve not been there always jump in with ‘haters gonna hate,’” he wrote. “Those people have not received 100 emails of bile in an hour. I got lucky in this regard, the internet decided I was ‘nice.’ I am aware of how arbitrary that decision was.”

Did Nguyen simply reach a breaking point? Or is there something else at work here? That’s the question consuming the indie-game world at the moment. Meanwhile, those with a serious “Flappy Bird” addiction can find some solid alternatives in the mobile-app store of their choice, provided by game developers more than happy to take the money and fly.


Image: Dong Nguyen