By early February, the simple, infuriating game, which involves tapping the screen to keep the titular bird aloft and navigate it between vertical green pipes, was soaring above the competition in the Apple App Store.
Its Vietnamese creator, 28-year-old Dong Nguyen, was said to be pocketing about $50,000 US a day from ad sales associated with the free game – a game which makes Angry Birds, the last avian-mobile-gaming (ahem) blockbuster, looks incredibly elborate. Nguyen had mastered the most basic tenets of the “masocore genre”, which describes “games that are masochistically hard”.
And then, all of a sudden, he said he he’d had enough. Downloads would be disabled imminently.
“I cannot take this any more,” he tweeted, triggering even greater “Flappymania”, as Rolling Stone’s David Kushner puts it.
Within days, numerous rip-offs replaced it in the charts (Flappy Wings, Splashy Fish, and so on), while dozens of phones with the game already loaded were listed at a handsome premium on online auction sites.
“In his wake, he left millions of jilted gamers, and one big question: Who was this dude, and WTF,” says, Kushner, with a vernacular swagger, “had he done?”
Part of it was the media attention he had attracted, Nguyen tells Kushner, who travelled to Hanoi to meet him, together with accusations of plagiarism (parts of the game were “homage” to rudimentary old Nintendo games).
For Nguyen, the attention felt suffocating … But the hardest thing of all, he says, was something else entirely … Nguyen tells me of emails from workers who had lost their jobs, a mother who had stopped talking to her kids. “At first I thought they were just joking,” he says, “but I realise they really hurt themselves.” Nguyen – who says he botched tests in high school because he was playing too much Counter-Strike – genuinely took them to heart.
By early February, the weight of everything – the scrutiny, the relentless criticism and accusations – felt crushing. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, didn’t want to go outdoors. His parents, he says, “worried about my well-being.” His tweets became darker and more cryptic. “I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine,” read one. “But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.” He realized there was one thing to do: Pull the game. After tweeting that he was taking it down, 10 million people downloaded it in 22 hours. Then he hit a button, and Flappy Bird disappeared. When I ask him why he did it, he answers with the same conviction that led him to create the game. “I’m master of my own fate,” he says. “Independent thinker.”
Lovers of Flappy Bird need not despair, however. Nguyen is working on a number of other games, which sound similarly capable of hoovering up your life.
Over tea, he shows me the three he’s working on simultaneously: an untitled cowboy-themed shooter, a vertical flying game called Kitty Jetpack and an “action chess game,” as he puts it, called Checkonaut, one of which he’ll release this month. Each sports his now-familiar style: simple play, retro graphics and hardcore difficulty.
And Flappy Bird itself may yet return.
Since taking Flappy Bird down, he says he’s felt “relief. I can’t go back to my life before, but I’m good now.” As for the future of his flapper, he’s still turning down offers to purchase the game. Nguyen refuses to compromise his independence. But will Flappy Bird ever fly again? “I’m considering it,” Nguyen says. He’s not working on a new version, but if he ever releases one it will come with a “warning,” he says: “Please take a break.”
Read more at Rolling Stone.