Trigger warning: harassment.
Hanoi-based developer Dong Nyugen has elected to remove the tremendously successful, tremendously difficult Flappy Bird from the App Store and Google Play. Nyugen’s free reflex game has been at the center of a media firestorm, characterized by unjust allegations of plagiarism, inflation of online popularity, and undeserved profit from ad revenue.
Perhaps the most egregious example comes from Kotaku. Jason Schreier’s article claimed that Flappy Bird was “making $50,000 a day off ripped art”, citing its use of green pipes and pixellated cartoon characters. Despite the inflammatory headline, edits and graphical comparisons made it clear that this was not the case - Nguyen’s designs may have been inspired by Nintendo’s 8-bit ethic, but they were not "ripped".
The fact is that lots of games are inspired by their forebears, and they’re not accused of outright theft. AAA development houses churn out shooters with near-identical game mechanics; titles similar to Minecraft abound on Greenlight; there’s an entire genre of games descended from Rogue. Nobody bats an eye, but somehow, gamers think that using green pipes constitutes a mortal sin. (Nintendo didn’t seem perturbed by any similarities - spokesperson Yasuhiro Minagawa denied all rumors of litigation.)
Flappy Bird was not plagiarized. It wasn’t supported by a legion of upvoting bots. It wasn’t taking advantage of its users. Though Kotaku editor Stephen Totilo has posted an explanation of the events (taking care to bury any apologies for wrongdoing in the middle of the essay), the damage has already been done. Before taking the game down, Nguyen received hundreds of death threats every day. When he said he would be removing Flappy Bird from marketplaces, the abuse only continued. Why all the hate, over such a simple thing? Why all the accusations, when similar projects come and go without incident? Well, to quote Robert Yang:
I suspect that if Nguyen were a white American, this would’ve been the story of a scrappy indie who managed to best Zynga with his loving homage to Nintendo’s apparent patent on green pixel pipes and the classic “helicopter cave” game genre.
Instead, Dong Nguyen committed the crime of being from Vietnam, where Electronic Arts or Valve or Nintendo do not have a development office. The reasoning is that no one “outside of games” can become so successful, except through deceit. The derivative nature of Flappy Bird’s assets and mechanics was taken as confirmation that technologically-backward Southeast Asians were “at it again” — stealing and cloning hard-won “innovation in games” invented by more-beloved developers.
Flappy Bird was targeted because people thought Nyugen didn’t deserve his success, despite all evidence that he was on the level. It’s no surprise that he decided to bow out of the App Store. We can only hope that this fiasco hasn’t scared him off forever - and that as promised on Twitter, Nyugen will still make games.
"An alternate history of Flappy Bird" - Robert Yang describes the harassment leveled at Nyugen, and the bias behind it.
"Our Flappy Dystopia" - Mattie Brice discusses the capitalist structure of the game industry, and how Flappy Bird was perceived as cheating the system.
“Flappy Bird Is Making $50,000 A Day With Mario-Like Art [UPDATE].” (Jason Schreier, Kotaku) 6 February 2014. (Linked without pagerank.)
“Nintendo: No Complaints About ‘Flappy Bird’”. (Newley Purnell, The Wall Street Journal) 10 February 2014.
“The Flappy Bird Fiasco." (Stephen Totilo, Kotaku) 10 February 2014. (Linked without pagerank.)
“The Word ‘Satan’ Played A Curious Role In The Rise Of Flappy Bird, The Mindless But Infuriating iPhone Game." (Jim Edwards, Business Insider) 9 February 2014.
Excerpted death threats against Nyugen.