The Brief Wondrous Life Of “Flappy Bird”

Leonid Bershidsky chronicles the rise and fall of the touchscreen sensation:

[Dong] Nguyen, who claimed he was making $50,000 a day from in-game ads, appears to have taken the game down for ethical reasons. On Feb. 10, the 29-year-old developer explained what exactly it was he “couldn’t take” to a Forbes reporter in Hanoi who spoke to him in Vietnamese. He was smoking nervously and had to put off the interview because of a meeting with a deputy prime minister.

“Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed,” Nguyen said. “But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem.”

The American Psychiatric Association has so far declined to include computer game addiction to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Still, some studies have shown that game addiction and substance dependence may share the same neurobiological mechanism. In effect, Nguyen felt he was selling the equivalent of drugs, and that bothered him. Some people appear to have reacted adversely to withdrawal: When Nguyen took the game down, he started receiving death threats that looked only half-facetious.

Yannick LeJacq explores the murky concept of videogame addiction:

“Addiction” might not be a physiological phenomenon in video games the same way it is for coffee, cigarettes, or heroin. But the word, perhaps for want of a better descriptor, has a special meaning for many game developers.

While talented and charismatic entrepreneurs like King’s Tommy Palm don’t exactly go around encouraging people to mainline Candy Crush, they speak openly and enthusiastically about the most artless sounding parts of their games—user acquisition, retention, and spending—all with the focus of how to increase those values.

And that’s fine. But there’s another camp of people who think that people like Tommy Palm are out to destroy video games as an art form. We’re finally able to create majestic, cinematic works like Journey and The Last of Us, the reasoning goes, but now smartphone games are trying to plunge games as we know them back into the muck and mire of slot machines.

Suddenly, artistic concerns become ethical ones.

Of course, the Flappy Bird clones have already arrived, including some that scam players:

According to researchers at Trend Micro, Android-based Flappy Bird clones are “especially rampant in app markets in Russia and Vietnam,” and look exactly like the original. The scam they run is pretty straightforward: the new apps require permission to send text messages—something the real Flappy Bird didn’t require—and use that newfound power to send texts to premium numbers that charge the subscriber a fee.