Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird in 2014: Be careful what you wish for

Dong Nguyen

Dong Nguyen, creator of Flappy Bird (on the right)


I just came back from the recent AppsWorld held at Moscone Center West in San Francisco. I played judge on a big Indie Pitch panel. Developers came up one by one and had three minutes to pitch their latest mobile app. Some came very prepared with a polished product. Others were entirely ill-prepared and came with nothing but the best of intentions. One of the winners our panel of judges selected was Revel, a social networking picture game app that integrates photos taken from your mobile phone. Instantly, every judge got the concept. It’s social, uses your mobile camera, and facilitates socializing between groups of people in any number of urban environments, like bars or clubs. Everyone loved it and quickly understood the branding and marketing opportunities for this game.

The judges listened carefully to each developer wanting to appreciate their hard work. But the final product must answer important questions.  Does your app capitalize on a new idea? Is it traveling down a road less traveled? Is there anything groundbreaking about it? Is the artwork original? Does it captivate?  Does it have that “fun” factor making you want to share it with others? Does it have a story worth telling? Does it feel like it’s not just a complete waste of your time?

Flappy Bird

Flappy Bird

It’s 2014 and fresh out of the mobile app gate is (was) Flappy Bird

Candy Crush took the mobile world by storm in 2013. Its got the fun factor; it’s social; it provides a comfortable escape from your nauseating reality, and it carefully lures you into wanting to purchase more In-app extensions. Now, in 2014, pushing the mobile game envelope even further, we get (got)…Flappy Bird; a Nintendo-era looking piece of mobile graphic garbage that  has surpassed anything its creator could have imagined. Flappy Bird was downloaded more than 50 million times from the iOS App  Store and Google Play Store. It received more than 600,000 reviews, helping it pile up four out of five star ratings. But questions were raised about the authenticity of some of those rankings due to bot activity.

Grinning all the way to the bank was Flappy Bird’s creator, Dong Nguyen, who in an interview let it be known he was hauling in a cool 50K a day from In-app ads. My goodness. I tell all of these mobile app developers that they need to focus on a mesmerizing or clever idea, something that captures the imagination, is fun, thoughtful, social, and what did Dong create?  A game depicting a bird that can only fly if you keep tapping on your mobile phone constantly as you guide it through a maze of pipes.

I tried playing it for about two minutes. I couldn’t take it. I wanted to toss my iPhone into the garbage. Everything I told these dream-filled developers came back with the image of Dong laughing at my face.  Flappy Bird is no more, however. Dong took the game down less than 24 hours ago.

Walk the fine line of game development

When it comes to mobile game virality, what did Dong’s success teach us? You don’t need great artwork. You don’t need a great idea. All you need is to know how to walk that fine line between being horribly obnoxious and addictive at the same time.

You see, Dong, I was both disgusted and in awe with what you created. Flappy Bird was a simple but difficult mobile game that unfortunately catered to the mundanity of everyday life. You made bank (while the game was still publicly available) and you threw back the droplets of insight shared with all those mobile app developers and their dreams of glory at AppsWorld.

Were you content with your preliminary success? Your final tweets (before you took Flappy Bird off the market) suggested otherwise.

I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.

— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014

Message? You reap what you sow.

I’m here to say you got lucky, Dong. You definitely proved there are always exceptions. The mobile millionaire might remain a myth but you are/were an example of reality. What did Flappy Bird’s success prove? It proves that you can never underestimate the desire for simplicity. And you can never underestimate the low barrier for entertainment mobile apps provide. Better yet, the rules for viral mobile gaming success may have just been forever changed because with Flappy Bird, who needed graphics? All you needed was annoying repetition.

Or maybe it’s all one big exercise in futility because there was no pattern here to replicate. If I were to go back and speak to every one of those mobile game app developers at AppsWorld, I would let them know that they should never give up on their dreams. If what matters to you is success at all costs than by all means keep pushing yourself to that finish line. If your game’s secret sauce is dependent on simplicity and poor quality graphics, then by all means continue.

You earned your success, Dong. Nothing to be ashamed about. You could not have known just how widely popular Flappy would become.  I just hope no other developer tries a repeat performance. Games that set the bar for mobile gaming entertainment as low as you did do not deserve to be emulated.

Meanwhile, even it it no longer applies because Dong has taken down Flappy Bird from the iTunes store, this remains a favorite Flappy Birds hack of mine on YouTube.



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