Exclusive: Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Says App ‘Gone Forever’ Because It Was ‘An Addictive Product’
The mysterious developer of the world’s most popular free app, who drew global attention this past weekend with his sudden decision to remove it, tells Forbes that Flappy Bird is dead. Permanently.
“Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed,” says Dong Nguyen, in an exclusive interview, his first since he pulled the plug on the app. “But it happened to become an addictiveproduct. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”
In killing Flappy Bird for what he maintains are altruistic reasons, Nguyen is walking away from a jackpot. An article in the Verge last week estimated his daily take from in-app advertising at $50,000. Nguyen declined to confirm that number. “I don’t know the exact figure, but I do know it’s a lot.”
The circumstances surrounding the interview, conducted in Vietnamese, were as much of a soap opera as his public ruminations about whether to take down the app. The interview with Forbes took place in a hotel in Hanoi, with a strict condition that Forbes not reveal Nguyen’s face. It was delayed several hours, in part because Nguyen had a sudden meeting with Vietnam’s deputy prime minister Vu Duc Dam – a remarkable turn of events for someone unknown a week ago. Nguyen says his parents didn’t even know that Flappy Bird existed, much less his role in it, until media coverage spun out of control in the past few days.
The 29-year-old, who sports a close-cropped haircut, appeared stressed. He smoked several cigarettes over the course of the 45-minute interview, and doodled monkey heads on a pad of paper.
Flappy Bird was released for free on May 24, 2013 first for iOS with little fanfare by a Vietnam-based developer called .GEARS. Nguyen says he coded the game over two or three days. The game mechanics were simple yet irritatingly difficult. Tapping on your smartphone screen, players navigated a pixilated bird through narrow corridors of green pipes that looked suspiciously like the pipes found in Nintendo ’s Super Mario Bros.—something that Nguyen says that was coincidental. (He also denied reports that Nintendo had sent him a legal threat, or that it had anything to do with him killing the app.) Striking any surface resulted in instant death. Your chance of death multiplied exponentially with each gate you passed.
Nguyen has several other top app store games, including Super Ball Juggling and Shuriken Block, which are currently #6 and #18 on the iOS store, respectively. Nguyen says that he has no plans to remove those games, which he termed “harmless.” If he thought users were getting addicted, however, he said he would not hesitate to also take them down.
In mulling whether to pull Flappy Bird, Nguyen said that it was guilt – atop the fact that “my life has not been as comfortable as I was before” – that motivated him. “I couldn’t sleep,” he said. He added that his conscience is relieved; he spent the past few days, Internet-free, catching up on slumber.
“I don’t think it’s a mistake,” he says. “I have thought it through.”
We haven’t heard the last of Nguyen. He says he will continue to develop games. “After the success of Flappy Bird, I feel more confident, and I have freedom to do what I want to do.”
And Flappy Bird addicts should have nothing to worry about, as there are certainly no shortages of Flappy Bird replacements. Clones have stormed the App store with names like Flappy Plane, Flappy Whale, Flappy Penguin and Flappy Angry Bird. Nguyen said he probably won’t take legal action against any copycats. “I have tried playing Ironpants,” he added. “It’s a good game.”
When asked if there’s anything he wanted to tell disappointed users of the authentic Flappy Bird, Nguyen was concise: “Thank you very much for playing my game.”