Why I am not bitter over Flappy Bird
Little did I know that it would become such a hit a week later. That very same student (Mariel Barsales) even got this score:
Then came the articles about how the author has suddenly found himself making $50,000/day. An army of clones suddenly made their appearances on download sites and hoo boy…
Amidst all this, I was frequently asked about what I thought of the game and its burgeoning popularity. (So popular in fact that the author has been declining interviews. I actually feel sorry for the guy who has been invaded this way.) As both a game developer and a game production educator, I suppose there are two things that people are curious about:
1. How it feels to have produced multiple games that take months, even years, to ship and still not have your games stay long in the top 100 in terms of sales. (Artsy-fartsy awards rarely have monetary value. Unless you’re Jonathan Blow.)
2. What this means for game development education: when you know you’ve been training your students to produce concepts that are more innovative than money-making. (Because academics, by nature, are idealists and we always want to do things that our own industry don’t allow us to do because they don’t always translate to money. Thing is, many innovations will build up over time and will eventually translate to money. That’s what scientists do.)
Basically what Vietnamese Dong Nguyen did, when he created Flappy Bird, is similar to what we could have done in a game jam.
Above photo: Manila Game Jam 2014 photo at Globe Labs, a 48-hour game development challenge.
It could also most probably be a very small part of an experiment (R&D). We devs sometimes either get bored or are working on new technologies and we make quick games just to test things out. Quite possibly he was playing with his code, inadvertently created Flappy Bird, got fond of it and decided to upload it online.
What about Game Dev students?
To address the second item stated above, this doesn’t take away from the academe’s need to innovate. For me, it actually encourages people to be more productive. When you’re bored or trying out something, create a game. It’s so much better than spending so much time on Facebook (even though I actually created a quick, super ugly game yesterday while still posting on Facebook).
If you’re going to question why they need video game education when they can actually make a game in three hours and still make money, well. That’s a good question. Thing is, our industry, like all entertainment industries, don’t always depend on market research. Sometimes it’s just really…topak. Try explaining why 50 Shades of Grey and Gangnam Style became popular and the explanations still wouldn’t be able to predict the success of other similar projects.
(OMG, yeah, Gangnamn Style has an app!)
But you know…one time hits are not very stable. And that’s what you need education for.
How did I feel as a dev?
Ok, I’m not going to mince with words: I really hate this game. It’s not fun. But chee, I spent months and years in seemingly endless production cycles and have even seen many of my games get cancelled. If I had known that the stuff I played with on my free time (creating nonsense games) could possibly sell like Flappy Bird, then I wouldn’t be a hypocrite and say I wouldn’t do what he did. Just as I don’t begrudge Anita Sarkeesian for getting into Kickstarter to fund her research (when I had to dig through my own pockets for my research funding), I would not feel bitter about this Dong Nguyen dude hitting the jackpot. I could whine all I want about how crappy Flappy Bird is, but at the end of the day, he’s $50,000/day richer and I’m not even close to earning that amount in a year. The way I see it, he has the last laugh.
(Did you know that sometime last year, I contemplated writing something similar to 50 Shades and hide under a pseudonym so that I could use the profits in funding my research and my studio? That’s why I don’t feel like casting stones. Hehe.)
Besides, who’s to say that he will not do anything good with that money? For all we know, he’s now building a studio and creating jobs for people who want to get into game development. Heck, with that money, I could probably buy an entire Fully Booked building, fund my own research/books, and hire expensive artists for the games I create.
Ok, while I’m on a high note, I will end this blog entry by wishing Dong Nguyen luck and hope that he creates innovative Triple A level games with the money he earned.