Why I respect the maker of Flappy Bird

Dong Nguyen claims he never meant to take the app world by storm with his free game Flappy Bird. Since his app rose to the top of the charts, and since he suddenly decided to remove it from distribution, he has received a lot of attention, and a lot of people have wondered, why did he take down a successful app that was bringing him significant ad revenue?

One explanation he has given earns significant respect from me. The Wall Street Journal reported:

“It was just too addictive,” Mr. Dong said. He said he didn’t intend for people to play the game for hours at a time, as many gamers appear to have done.

“That was the main negative. So I decided to take it down,” he said.

Is that the real reason he decided to stop distributing Flappy Bird? I don’t know, but I’ll take his word for it, and I like that reason.

I have never liked it when people describe anything as “addictive” as though that were a good quality. Unfortunately, that seems to be a prevailing quality people look for in electronic games, and, even more unfortunately, it seems that people are serious: We want games that will pull us in, divert us for hours, and keep us coming back for more. Game developers seem happy to oblige, knowing that their own financial success depends on getting people to play the game more and more.

I have a love-hate relationship with computer gaming. I loved computer games and video games as a kid. When my family got our first computer that ran windows, I would get up super early on Saturday mornings so I could get a turn on the computer and play Microsoft Encarta Mindmaze. But my brothers and I still enjoyed some DOS games on our older computer, and in my early days of computer programming I had fun opening the .exe files in a text editor and changing some of the game text into messages to my brothers. When I was in college, I really enjoyed some emulator NES games.

But gaming eventually took control of my life for a short time. After college, I moved to a new city where I knew hardly anyone. After work, I would sit down and play an addictive puzzle game that presented mind-bending challenges with ghostly, hypnotic music. Sometimes I would stay up until 3 a.m. or later playing this game, thinking, “I’ll just try this level one more time,” then, after 10 more attempt, I would finally complete the puzzle, and then tell myself, “I’ll just try the next level one time before I go to bed.” Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Finally one early morning I realized that this game was an unhealthy habit. It had taken over my life. I was addicted.

So I quit. I promised I would never play that game again. And I never did.

Addiction is never a good thing. It steals you from people you could be giving love, time, attention, and help to. It steals you from more productive activities. It makes you do unhealthy things. My example with the puzzle game is a mild example. I have friends who have basically lost their lives to electronic games and digital “relationships” with imaginary characters. Because games can be literally and seriously addictive, I think a developer that capitalizes on that is a digital drug dealer, plain and simple.

So with that said, I greatly respect Dong Nguyen for recognizing the problems created by an addictive game. Most of my web development ideas are productivity related, with the aim of helping people live more efficient or better lives. I have lots of ideas for little games to make, too, but I hope I can do things to limit the addictive quality while still creating potential for some commercial success.

What do you think? Is it possible for games to be fun, enjoyable, financially successful, and not addictive? Is that something developers should concern themselves with?