In defense of Flappy Bird creator's decision to shut his mobile game down

Shane Schick

The only thing that seemed to happen more suddenly and quickly than the success of Flappy Bird was the vilification of its creator after he shut it down. 

We ultimately will never know the real reason why Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen removed Flappy Birds from the Apple App Store, causing tributes from Fallout Boy and pastiches from Sesame Street, among other things. There were questions about whether Nguyen used bots or other nefarious techniques to boost traffic to Flappy Bird, and whether some of the reviews might have been less than genuine. The abrupt end of the game was questioned even more given Nguyen's tweets about Flappy Bird being "too addictive," that he hated it and that it was ruining his "simple life." The collective response I saw across Twitter and through other channels was, basically, how could anyone not enjoy a phenomenon like Flappy Bird?

I think you have to remember that consumer apps and mobile games are entertainment, and there is a long history in the entertainment industry of superstars who have tried to walk away from their greatest success. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes in an attempt to move on to more "literary" historical fiction. Cat Stevens stopped making music for years and changed his name following a conversion to Islam. Don't even try getting Sean Connery to watch one of his early James Bond films. As crazy as it might sound, why shouldn't someone like Don Nguyen be any less weirded out by his near-overnight blockbuster?

Perhaps the difference is that all those mentioned above would have been considered some form of "artist," while the creator of Flappy Birds is an app developer. As such, he's not merely using creative skills to develop something entertaining. He's also an entrepreneur, far more involved with aspects of sales, marketing and other areas in which traditional artists are thought (often incorrectly) to rarely participate. As a business owner, the app industry might expect Nguyen to be far more bottom-line driven, even though we've seen plenty of studies to suggest that a large chunk of developers are only in this for the love. 

The Flappy Birds story may be just one example of where we'll see the idiosyncrasies of a creative profession brush up against the sometimes-challenging realities of a competitive market. Yes, you could wonder why someone like Nguyen wouldn't want to see people glued to his mobile game, or you could chalk it up to a case of being careful about what you wish for.

I'm far less interested in the future of Flappy Birds than I am in what developers like him will do instead. If viral engagement isn't a worthy goal for some app developers, what will motivate them instead? The industry talks a lot about monetization but perhaps not as much on what constitutes true value in an app or mobile gaming experience. I hope that's what the talent behind Flappy Birds will focus on--and that he's not just playing us.--Shane