Why I am not bitter over Flappy Bird

During the break period in my Game Design class (around two weeks ago), one of my students asked me to try out Flappy Bird on her phone. Within 2 seconds, I handed back her phone, totally pissed with the gameplay, and not bothering to look at it again.

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.


  1. animetric

    February 8, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Same reaction to Flappy Bird. I found it frustrating and I hated it. Deleted it after 2 tries. Nothing addictive about it, I don't get how it became such a hit.

  2. skysenshi

    February 8, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Hahaha, onga. But I noticed it kind of ticked something off from people na naturally gigil about things. My student being one of them.

    I'm happy he made a lot of money, though. I hope he can build a studio with better games out of it. Even Lino Brocka made mainstream films to fund his artistic ones. Haha!

  3. skysenshi

    February 8, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Hahaha, naalala ko when I tried reading 50 shades. Muntik ko na ihagis ang tablet ko. Pero shet, mayaman na siya. Hahaha!

  4. Felix Palabrica

    February 8, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I like what what you said about the instability of one-hit-wonders and the role of education to address this instability. IMO, creating more innovative games that will bring your name to the spotlight rather than the game itself will be more effective as an investment. That's why we're trying to follow the path to media darling right? :))

  5. Tristan Ansel T. Angeles

    February 8, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    The same feeling I get when I die in Flappy Birds is the same feeling I get when I die in Super Meat Boy so I agree with the 'naturally gigil' part.I also try to curse as much as I can and imagine stepping on my device when I'm playing alone. All part of the experience.lol

  6. forsakinghalfloves

    February 9, 2014 at 3:09 am

    “(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.)”

    Hahaha, I remember this lovely conversation.

  7. Karina Ysabel Nario

    February 9, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Now there's news that he's considering deleting the game due to all the press attention. Poor dude. 🙁

  8. skysenshi

    February 9, 2014 at 6:22 am

    It's going to be a cycle. There are times when things will have this bubble tea popularity and many people will imitate it. But that one time thing gives people a chance to innovate after. Once in a while we need things like Flappy Bird to shake things up a bit.

  9. ©hix

    February 10, 2014 at 2:28 am

    I love that bit about how sometimes, it's just really topak. The first time I played it, I just dropped the phone and screamed P.I. Then I was ranting to my friends that it's an abomination to gaming and it just sucks. Ironically, it's that frustration over the game that just kept me playing.

  10. skysenshi

    February 10, 2014 at 4:18 am

    Wow. Haha! My cousin had this status on FB where she said this game is dangerous to your marriage. (She screamed at her husband and almost got physical with him because he talked to her and she got “game over.”) Haha!

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