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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Flappy Bird

‘Flappy Bird’ shutdown exposes the losing side of indie game development

"Flappy Bird” is dead. The simplistic app that dominated the cultural zeitgeist this past week seems to have perished more quickly than most of my pitiful attempts at its egregiously difficult gameplay. Countless articles were published chronicling the insightful commentary “Flappy Bird’s” success provided for an industry that generally succeeds on stagnation.

I think the debate surrounding the game’s merits in a perplexing mobile field are valid, but the latest events are entirely distressing. After continual harassment, creator Dong Nguyen took down the app, which prompted hundreds of death threats directed at him. The worst part is that this is nothing but another incident indicative of a larger, toxic problem in the industry.

Game designers constantly burn out during development crunches that oftentimes force work weeks of up to 90 hours. Yet as developers become disenchanted, they sometimes incorrectly figure that going indie will be a safe, viable way to escape the everyday grind accompanying AAA major platform development.

It’s an appealing prospect to be your own boss. However, that freedom comes at a cost: a level of responsibility and openness where the onus is placed purely on your shoulders. Indie developers can create their own projects in secrecy, but many times opening up to the public is an integral part of the process.

Getting the word out about your game is a constant struggle for indie developers. Maintaining an active role on Twitter or other social networking sites in an attempt to open up to fans or press is a commonly suggested method for publicity. Anonymity is a right few can have or afford. When a product blows up like “Flappy Bird,” any semblance of privacy can be difficult to attain unless you wipe yourself off the face of the earth.

Still, Nguyen’s plight is particularly striking. On Saturday alone, after he announced “Flappy Bird’s” expiration date, he proceeded to gain over 100,000 followers. It’s analogous to the leap Katherine Webb received after Brent Musburger drooled all over her at the nationally televised 2013 BCS Championship Game.

The onslaught of death threats, suicide threats and other disgusting comments is horrific. If you read through “Flappy Bird’s” reviews, however, you could almost sense a perverse fanaticism that seemed to go beyond something that might spur a typical bar brawl over rival sports teams.

Thousands of reviews all seemed to return to the same sentiment: anger, fury and death. Browsing through them, it was alarming how many of them referenced the game making you want to kill yourself.

They were satirical—that much was apparent—but it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a sliver of truth within their hyperbolic opinions. “Flappy Bird” is designed to provoke frustration—is the game so crazy that people translated such sickening fanaticism into a series of distressing messages directed at a single man they could blame for creating those emotions?

The answer should be no, but gaming culture is so insular that it’s difficult to direct ourselves outside the purview of this ingratiated world somehow fostering these reprehensible actions. We’re biting the hand that feeds us.

It’s hard to understand why gaming can create such a toxic culture. Fostering talent is difficult enough without players constantly harassing developers for their design choices. Dong Nguyen made “Flappy Bird” as a way to blow off steam when he came home from work. His life is irreparably altered now, his name is forever tied to a particularly ugly bird and some familiar green pipes.

Of all the lessons “Flappy Bird” taught us, I don’t think anyone thought the tale of “Flappy Bird” would end up as a Greek tragedy. We were all in on the joke. We knew the game sucked. We laughed along at the inept bird’s hilarity, but we knew the story would eventually end.

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We have no satisfying conclusion, just an introverted man who wanted to make indie games. Now we’re making a game jam in honor of “Flappy Bird.” I guess that’s supposed to be some consolation for Nguyen, a man who is now forced to hide from the public that simultaneously made him a virtual martyr and a once-future millionaire.

Think you beat Adam’s “Flappy Bird” high score? Let him know at

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