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Flappy Bird: What lessons can be learned?

We ask a number of developers about the game's success and what they can learn from Nguyen's reaction

Just last week, Vietnamese games developer Dong Nguyen pulled his mobile sensation Flappy Bird from both Android and iOS stores. While Nguyen later said he was worried about how addictive his game had become, he clearly had had enough of the vitriol and abuse being thrown his way from gamers around the world. The fame was ruining his life and he was overwhelmed. Flappy Bird likely hadn't even reached the height of its popularity yet, and the game was already banking $50,000 a day on ad revenues. Even so, you can't put a price on sanity, as Jeff Vogel points out.

In light of Nguyen's decision to remove Flappy Bird and seeing how he and other developers in the past have been crushed by a toxic internet environment, GamesIndustry International polled a number of mobile devs about the game's rise to fame and what they could learn from the whole situation. Here's how the panel responded...

GI: Considering how unremarkable a game Flappy Bird is, why do you think it became such a smash hit?

"I would argue that the experience of playing a game can be far better or worse than a list of features would suggest. Just because on paper the game is unremarkable doesn't mean that users don't find the experience remarkable. Simply put it's incredibly addictive in a way that can't be explained on paper but has to be experienced to understand." - Jeremy Rossmann, CEO, MakeGamesWithUs

"It's a great example of a viral breakout. Once it reached critical mass, everyone had to play it, because everyone else was playing it. It's also insanely difficult, which 1) differentiates from typical mainstream entertainment and 2) makes you more likely to share your achievements when you reach a good score." - Petri Järvilehto, co-founder and CCO, Seriously

"I think having people around you, that support what you do is important. They can talk you down from that emotional ledge"

Dustin Hendricks

"In our opinion, the features of the game that support this are 1) under 3MB download - the game downloads instantly even over crappy networks; 2) You are playing 3 seconds from clicking the icon - the game starts immediately and no matter how little time you have, you have enough to play a round or two; 3) Even a super successful session is only a few minutes long; 4) It seems that you should be able to play much better, which leads you to try again and again and again; 5) One number tells how epic you are - just say you got 200 in Flappy Bird and everyone knows that it's impressive. From the game discovery side, Twitter seem to have played a strong role in Flappy's viral rise with people suddenly competing to complain how the game had ruined their life. Even the App Store reviews seemed to spawn a competition in creating the longest, most verbal rant about how awful their life has become with Flappy Bird addiction. The rants always ended up giving the game a 5-star review." - Teemu Mäki-Patola, COO/CMO, Frogmind

"There's no formula for what makes games into hits.  Imagine if we did: every game would be the same - how tragic! That being said: there was probably a better way to handle his 'too addictive' problem than pull the game entirely. This sort of 'parenting' seems a bit melodramatic. It's either the worst decision of his life, or the best marketing campaign ever. Think about it: when a parent takes candy away from a baby, what does the baby want even more?" - Stephen Varga, COO and co-founder, ByteSized Studios

GI: The negativity and cynicism proved to be too much for Nguyen to handle - how can developers deal with this sort of situation?

"I think developers have to stay focused on what they are doing - which is building a game. There will always be critics and the more popular a game gets, the more people will have an opinion." - Ken Chiu, Gree's SVP of Product

"When strangers on the internet attack you en masse, it can be a surreal experience, and it can affect you in a very emotional way. Until it happens to you, you don't expect your reaction to be that way. I think having people around you, that support what you do is important. They can talk you down from that emotional ledge. They can assure you that the trolls don't represent people as a whole, and that you can and should ignore them." - Dustin Hendricks, Designer/Programmer, Last Life Games

"I appreciate the reminder that even in an age of factory-cloned apps and mega-franchise sequel factories, games are still made by humans, with all their quirks and vulnerabilities"

Adam Saltsman

"If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen! Or in other words don't let it go so far to ruin your life. Take a break now and then. If you want to hide, then don't create stuff. It will be held against you eventually. It's something you have to be aware of. Things get torn out of context when hype takes over and social media amplifies negative opinions faster than supportive ones. I hope that he settles down though because I know about the heartaches this causes and wish him the best recovery." - James Mearman, game artisan,

"Honestly I'm not sure. Part of being human is you kind of can't not read stuff like that. The best solution would be for game players to be less vicious and less entitled, but I'm not really sure how we achieve that." - Adam Saltsman, creator of Canabalt

"I'm not sure if there's any other way that just 'grow a thick skin.' Making games (or any entertainment that reaches a wide audience) often means putting yourself into the spotlight and with that come also the inevitable negative comments, especially if you're very active on social networks and want to interact with the fans. Many high profile devs (think Cliff Bleszinski, Adam Orth etc.) face their own version of negativity, but most of the time they grow into it over a longer timeframe and thus have easier time with learning to manage it." - Petri Järvilehto, co-founder and CCO, Seriously

"Game developers need to remember that historically there has always been a minority of gamers who are an incredibly vicious crowd. The best way to deal with it is to look back at how much hate other successful developers have gotten and as a result remember that it simply isn't deserved." - Jeremy Rossmann, CEO, MakeGamesWithUs

GI: What's your reaction to the game being pulled? And what lessons can be learned from this?

"I think it's a shame that it was such a negative thing, but at the same time I appreciate the reminder that even in an age of factory-cloned apps and mega-franchise sequel factories, games are still made by humans, with all their quirks and vulnerabilities. I think it would be good if we did a better job of remembering that stuff going forward." - Adam Saltsman, creator of Canabalt

"Not knowing any of the behind-the-scenes details and only what we have heard from the developer, I think it is unfortunate that he took the game down. I think the lesson is that when a game is launched, there is always the possibility of a lot of attention - good or bad - and there is no way to prepare for that ahead of time. But at the end of the day, stay focused on building a great game and a successful business." - Ken Chiu, Gree's SVP of Product

"Flappy Bird represents the average indie game developer's dream, which is why it is so sensational that the creator would want to take it down. It doesn't make sense to so many of us, who struggle every day to garner that kind of recognition, or monetary success with our games. The developer has told many, that he does not like how addicted to his game people have gotten, and perhaps that is why he took it down. Many players have sent him messages over Twitter saying things like, your game has ruined my life! If I got this message about a game of mine, I wouldn't take it too seriously, but Dong seems to have to some extent. Maybe it's a cultural difference? I also imagine becoming such a phenomenal success in such a short amount of time, and in such an unexpected way, has brought tons of unwanted attention, and can be quite overwhelming. We can speculate as much as we want, but whatever the reason, the guy's wish is to be left alone, so we should respect that." - Dustin Hendricks, Designer/Programmer, Last Life Games

"The developer doesn't owe anything to anyone. If pulling the game made him the most happy, then I'm happy he pulled the game. I couldn't tell you whether or not it was incidental or intentional that it served as incredible marketing for the game in its last hours." - Jeremy Rossmann, CEO, MakeGamesWithUs

"I think it's been a really interesting event to follow, and there's a lot we can learn from this. I believe that as the world gets more and more connected, we're going to see even bigger, even faster viral breakouts. If you look at Google Trends, Flappy Bird is right there with Gagnam Style and Harlem Shake. It does make me sad that Nguyen pulled the game. He had the possibility of building this into something really, really big and now he misses out on that opportunity." - Petri Järvilehto, co-founder and CCO, Seriously

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Latest comments (16)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development7 years ago
You missed me off this time around, and I had a lot to share too.

"A. Some things just can't be explained, so stop trying to milk a fad by using the title."
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Richard Vaught Studying B.A. in Game Design, University of Advancing Technology7 years ago
I think the absolute best lesson we can take from Flappy Birds is this; The developer realized that his product was not performing as intended, was causing what he considered harmful addictive behavior in players, and pulled the game from the shelf DESPITE the $50k/day the game was earning in sales.

The lesson here, don't put money over humanity. I applaud this man for having the moral fortitude and integrity to stand up for what he believed to be ethically right in the face of such blatant pressure.
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Persistent grind is unfun and a waste of human productivity. Thecreator is a hero!
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Show all comments (16)
Phil Williams freelance artist, Gobo Games7 years ago
People are stupid and will spend their hard earned cash on utter shite?

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Phil Williams on 18th February 2014 11:15am

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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises7 years ago
I would say there are two lessons here. One is that you can make any game addictive if you add MSG, just don't get caught. Two is that Vietnamese food is delicious, although not even close to Thai food - the king (trademark pending) of all food.
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Christophe Danguien games developer 7 years ago
There are 3 lessons :

1 - Don't create bots to take your app to the top charts. You'll get caught.
2 - Don't rip off games and deny you knew about the games, You'll get prosecuted and look like a pity liar.
3 - gamesindustry should make more research before publishing half of a story

(Although I agree that he probably didn't plan on it making so much money, but the counter-effect is he was probably threatened to be prosecuted for rip-off of bames and bots creation).
(The Death threaters should be prosecuted by justice as well)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Christophe Danguien on 18th February 2014 3:01pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago
Flappy Bird taught us that if humans can get addicted to this, it is worth reexamining every volcano on Earth, since it might exist due to an early digging hype during the stone age.

How long until a voice controlled game has players bleating like sheep in irregular intervals for some virtual benefit?
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Jason A Bentley Owner, Hemlock Games7 years ago
It's a pet rock not a concerto.

Fads defy explanation and attempting to recreate it is doomed to failure.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 7 years ago
Part of me wants to think that what he did was stupid...

Well if their is one thing I can agree on and I understand why Nguyen took the game down its that "nothing on earth is worth more than a persons tranquility and peace of mind."

And I can get behind a guy who puts his morals before all the $$$money$$$ in the world. I find his actions very difficult to understand, yet his reasons for taking the game down are very personal. In a sense its for no one else to understand but himself.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 18th February 2014 6:01pm

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This is an inevitable consequence of stuffing the appstore with half finished copycat trash from games that look like they were designed for an early 80s arcade machine... eventually one will come up trumps... but then again if it is free why does this guy need to do any more? He has hit on and repackaged an old winning formula by using incredibly ugly chart busting techniques to achieve success..... but these days that is THE DREAM so hats off to him.
That he chose to pull the game is because he is inexperienced in business.... this game is his cash cow and he will probably never get a better opportunity in his life to make money... that he is sensitive about badmouthing... tough luck.
In my opinion it has got to the point that anything is justified in terms of getting a game to the top of the mobile charts... quality and artistic endeavor have receded so far down the line ... due to the army of cultureless freebie hoovering cretins that we sell too... that there are now no rules as to the right way to go about things and whatsmore, even if there are, does it really matter??
Our artform has temporarily been sabotaged by too many greedy, low creative ambition, copycats....
And Dong if you don't want the game and the money... I will happily take it off your hands :)
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development7 years ago
Yeah, but what do you really think... :)
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Maybe, just maybe the creator didn't want to be stuck with flappy bird as his crowning achievement in gaming...
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend7 years ago
Lol Jon, I guess you won't be buying the upcoming King title 'Candy Bird Saga' then?

You would do something far more sensible of course. :D
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Marianne Monaghan Director of Project Management 7 years ago
Within my circle (mostly game developers, some non-gamers), this spread quickly because we could just hand our pad or phone to someone and that person could start playing immediately. No tutorial, no explanation, just get right into the game. That's increasingly rare, even in mobile games. As for why it was fun, I think it was a combination of the cute & familiar graphical style and the difficulty. It was hard, and I wanted to get better. My friends wanted to taunt me when they beat my score. Everyone said "just one more try..."
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up7 years ago
Lesson 1: Twitter can be a nasty place.
Lesson 2: The only guaranteed winner in gambling is the house.
Lesson 3: People like birds.
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@ Darren... actually I really like Candy Crush.... it is my game of the year for 2013... the candy feeding mechanic is evil but the polish and level design is brilliant.
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