The creator of Flappy Bird is doing quite well since he decided to pull the smartphone game from the iOS App and Google Play Stores last month. Dong Nguyen, the 28-year-old Hanoi, Vietnam-based game designer, is still making tens of thousands of dollars off the addictive mobile hit that pushed smartphone users to a game-playing fever pitch, as well as his other titles, Shuriken Block and Super Ball Juggling, that earned success by association.
The clones are countless; a new one was sprouting up on the App Store an average of every 24 minutes in the immediate wake of Flappy Bird’s demise. Even now, three knockoffs currently sit in the top 10 of free iOS games. And announcing via Twitter that he was pulling Flappy Bird with one day’s notice earned the game more than 10 million downloads in 22 hours alone.
“I can’t go back to my life before, but I’m good now,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview published Tuesday, accompanied by a picture of the chain-smoking Nguyen with his now-trademark look: clean-cut with minimalistic dress and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. But despite finally finding peace from the torrent of online abuse, criticism, and allegations of fraud, Nguyen reasserted that the decision to yank Flappy Bird from the spotlight was as much for his own mental well-being as it was for those who played his creation.
Nguyen detailed some of the more personal interactions with those who fell prey to the kind of addictive tendencies that game makers like King now purposefully target with Candy Crush and other top-grossing mobile hits. For instance, Nguyen was told of people who had lost their jobs, mothers who had stopped speaking with their children, and school children who had smashed their phones, all apparently because of Flappy Bird and its addictive design. It was something Nguyen never intended or asked for, and yet had no control over.
“At first I thought they were just joking,” he said. “But I realize they really hurt themselves.” Nguyen pointed out that, as an avid Counter Strike fan whose grades suffered from his over-playing, he knows how games can be as addictive and destructive as any other vice, and that he hated the fact that he was putting people through that. “Please take a break,” a suggestion Nguyen began tweeting to obsessive Flappy Bird players in the waning days of his sparse online presence, will now accompany any future games Nguyen releases in the form of a warning message.
Rolling Stone’s David Kushner also got Nguyen to open up about his upbringing and design influences. Nguyen revealed that he first fell in love with games by playing Super Mario Bros. on a knockoff Nintendo his parents bought for him and his brother because of the expensive nature of imported electronics, especially early GameBoys.
A hand-drawn picture of Mario even sat above his desk throughout the course of the holiday weekend celebrating Reunification Day, marking the end of the Vietnam War, that Nguyen spent creating Flappy Bird. The intention was simple: Make a game that could be played with one hand on the subway, and could process the simplest input — a single tap — anywhere on the screen, yet make it simple and incredibly difficult to get good at, like a paddle ball toy. Throwing in some nostalgic Nintendo love from his childhood, Nguyen pushed out Flappy Bird and watched as it lay dormant for months.
Screenshots by Nick Statt/CNET)
Years earlier, Nguyen spent time honing his programming, building a chess game at age 16 and, at age 19, joining Punch Entertainment, a Hanoi game studio that was a rarity for the Vietnam capital back in the early ’00s. There he earned a reputation for independent thinking and coding proficiency. Nguyen echoed that assessment when asked for the defining reason he pulled Flappy Bird: “I’m master of my own fate,” he said. “Independent thinker.”
It was originally reported last month that Nguyen lived with his parents in a modest home. Now, thanks to his wealth, he’s thinking of buying his own apartment and a Mini Cooper while he stays with a friend. With a newfound passport and the financial cushion to quit his job, Nguyen is back to designing games, including a jetpack endless-runner variant called Kitty Jetpack and a chess game called Checkonaut.
As for an official Flappy Bird rebirth, “I’m considering it,” Nguyen said. Beyond that, he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about the game’s rise, the aftermath of its popularity explosion, or the numerous clones it’s still now generating, though he sees frequent offers from interested buyers. “People can clone the app because of its simplicity,” he said, “but they will never make another Flappy Bird.”
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