At noon on Sunday, February 10th, 2014, mind-numbingly popular iOS game Flappy Bird mysteriously disappeared from the App Store. Strangely enough, the game was one of the top-selling titles at the time and generated around 50,000 dollars a day for Vietnamese game designer Dong Nguyen. Why did such a successful game suddenly die out?
As it turns out, at 1:00 PM the afternoon before the disappearance, Nguyen posted the following on Twitter:
I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.
Soon after his famous app became a success, Nguyen had received many hate emails and even death threats regarding the game. Others hated him for ripping off Internet Flash game Helicopter, even though Angry Birds itself is a rip-off of Internet Flash game Castle Crushers and plenty of other apps are reskins of previous games.
But I have an inkling that 99% of the criticism came from jealousy. After all, anything famous is bound to have a little negative reception. For Dong himself, he was an extreme case. I feel sorry for him. As his Twitter profile description says, he is a “passionate indie game maker” who programmed games for fun. Should a dreamer be ridiculed for doing what he wants to do in life? I don’t think so.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. Too many times have video game designers been oppressed by the same people they’re trying to serve, causing many to leave the industry altogether. I can name a few instances off the top of my head.
Phil Fish, creator of computer game Fez, is a particularly interesting example. Despite generally positive reviews from critics, Fish was horrified by even the slightest insult against his game to the point where he cancelled its sequel. On his website, he wrote:
“Fez 2 is cancelled. I am done. I take the money and I run. This is as much as I can stomach. This isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. You win.”
Well, that’s depressing. But what Phil needed to understand is that part of being an artist is being able to take constructive criticism, and that goes for all forms of media, not just game design.
Furthermore, upon the release of highly-anticipated Mass Effect 3, many gamers were, to say the least, not too thrilled over the game’s ending. One actually marched straight to the Federal Trade Commission to complain over false advertising. Bioware managed to keep a reasonable stance and stated publicly: “We would like to clarify that we are actively and seriously taking all player feedback into consideration and have ruled nothing out.”
In a fairly distressing case of fan overreaction, John Riccitiello, former CEO of Electronic Arts, a video game publisher, resigned from his position last year after a series of financial issues. It also happened to be the same year the new Sim City installment hit the shelves. Despite selling well, the game was panned almost unanimously by fans for both its lack of substance and its use of online-only DRM, a type of copy protection that requires players to be connected to the Internet continuously when the game is running. In under a few hours, Sim City became the lowest-rated item on Amazon with around 3,322 one-star reviews.
Even Markus Persson, better known as Notch, original programmer for Minecraft, isn’t safe. What happens when he adds new features to Minecraft? An militia of fans complain that the game is “ruined forever” by anything new. What happens when there isn’t an update for a while? People accuse him for neglecting his job. He possibly started focusing his attention on other games for this reason.
Nonetheless, there are still some strong-willed developers out there. These kinds of people take criticism as an opportunity to do better rather than a blow to their self-esteem. That’s why I’m a fan of Hideo Kojima and Gabe Newell, makers of Metal Gear Solid and Half-Life 2 respectively.
I’m not trying to preach a moral lesson here, but this is the bottom line. No matter what media industry a creator is apart of, no matter what kind of entertainment he contributes to, no matter the quality of the work he produces, negative reception can be found anywhere. But it’s the creator’s reaction to these kinds of setbacks that sets him apart from the woodwork.
Dong Nguyen’s biggest mistake up to this point was to give into his critics’ demands. By taking down the app, he accepted defeat in a rather shameful manner. However, as he said in a later tweet: “…I still make games.” Good for him. His perseverance will pay off in the long run. I’m sure of it.