Flappy Bird’s Creator Should Be Admired

Let me start off strong.

I really admire the creator of Flappy Bird, Dong Nguyen, for pulling his Gangnam Style level of popular game out of mobile app stores.

I admire him not because I think it’s masterful marketing. I don’t think the dude is pulling a “McRib Sandwich” and is going to re-release his game sporadically to drive up demand.

Rather, I think the self-styled “indie game developer” is genuinely troubled by the attention he’s gotten from the app, and doesn’t want the burden that comes along with his sudden internet fame. Yes, burden. He’s turning the game off because the money and all the attention he got was affecting his life in a way he was unwilling to accept.

Look at the number of re-tweets and favorites. When I wrote this post, re-tweets were over 8,000, and favs were over 4,000. That’s absurd engagement most marketers would kill for. What in the wide world of tech startups would drive someone to walk away from that?

I think the answer is integrity. I think Dong is serious about living a simple life as an indie game developer, and he’s unwilling to sell out his life to get internet famous.

As an aside, that’s not to say that the folks starting tech companies are out of integrity. Far from it. Most of the founders I have the opportunity to know and connect with are some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, and I look up to them.

I’m just saying that it doesn’t look like Dong ever aspired to that life, and now that it is being offered him, he’s turning it down.

It would probably be pretty easy for someone like Dong to get caught up in the insta-fame of a smash hit game that he’d created.

Take the money, and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Try and make your next game as much of a moonshot.

Lose sight of why you got into this whole line of work in the first place as you try and maintain the same level of success.

I admire Dong because I think he represents a narrative that I don’t see much in Silicon Valley: that of the sustainable business. He’s not trying to make a dent in the universe, he’s trying to live a simple life. He’s a master craftsman, and small business owner. He’s living his life through the games he designs.

Dong possesses such a clear sense of who he is and what he wants out of life (a calling, maybe?) that he was willing to walk away from an estimated $50k daily revenue from his wildly successful game.

In a recent conversation with my friend Alex King, he talked about moving from the Bay Area to Denver so that he could build a successful dev agency and get out of the startup pattern he was in: Build something for 1-2 years >> sell it off for cash >> watch those two years of work (two years of your life) get iced inside of a larger organization.

Get paid, but never make a lasting impact.

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Dong isn’t just walking away from the money. He’s also happily walking away from thousands of folks tweeting at him when they find themselves suddenly addicted to playing Flappy Bird. Dong was too successful with Flappy Bird, and unwittingly made it addictive. This brought him a lot of attention he didn’t want, and the attention got in the way of game creation.

Rather than turn up the addiction volume (Ahem, Facebook), he pulled the game.

The dude has earned the attention of the entire planet, now addicted to playing Flappy Bird, along with a game that is printing cash, and all he wants is to get back to his simple life. He creates small games that generate enough revenue to keep the lights on. In Vietnam, the cost of living must pale in comparison to what it is for the same folks who live in San Francisco and are eagerly observing and writing blog posts about this enigmatic game developer.

No doubt, there is a subset of founders in the Bay Area are screaming that Dong is a f*cking idiot for turning off a magical spigot that every day rains down $50k to his bank account.

I don’t think he’s an idiot. I think Dong knows what he wants out of life far more than most people. And he’s also giving himself the permission to live his life out on his own terms, particularly when it comes to making big sacrifices to live that life.

Dong knows what he wanted out of life, and was willing to walk away from riches and world-renown because those two things would interfere with that dream.

Here’s hoping we can all find the same clarity Dong has.

Props to you man. Keep living your life.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Austin Gunter

I’m Austin. I live in San Francisco, practice Tai Chi, have rheumatoid arthritis, listen to a lot of loud music, and host a lot of dinner parties. Want more? Start here.


  • Excellent post Austin, thank you and I couldn’t agree more. Dong is sticking to a set of principles and the life he wants to lead.

    How many of us, myself included, would have that kind of strength if we were faced with that level of pressure in a direction opposite from what we said we wanted? (I’m guessing it’s a low %)

  • I totally agree with you Austin. Dong is justified in his decision and he just sacrificed money for his dream life. That is something we have never seen and heard but now we have a example.

    I admire him for taking such a bold decision.

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