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Why overnight mobile gaming millionaires feel guilty about their riches

Published Apr 4th, 2014 9:00PM EDT
How To Make Millions From Smartphone Games

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Let’s say you tossed together a cheesy-looking video game about a bird flying through pipes that inexplicably became an overnight sensation and made you an instant millionaire. Would you feel good about yourself or would you feel a pang of guilt that your crappy game has made you more money than people out there who grind it out every day but who still struggle to pay their bills?

The New Yorker has a fascinating profile of some game developers who have been raking in cash from their games but who aren’t comfortable with their unexpected success. Developer Rami Ismail, who co-created the game Ridiculous Fishing, tells The New Yorker that he used to watch his mother wake up at 6 a.m. every day just to make sure he and his family would have enough food to eat and that he feels strange making more money than she ever did just through making a hit game.

“My first thought… was that while I was asleep I’d made more money than she had all year,” he explains. “And I’d done it with a mobile-phone game about shooting fish with a machine gun.”

Similarly, The New Yorker notes that Stanley Parable creator Davey Wreden has expressed feeling isolated and depressed ever since his game took off and made him into a millionaire. And Super Meat Boy creator Edmund McMillan tells The New Yorker that he actually feels bad that his game’s success has inspired people to quit their jobs to make mobile games just because their chances for success are so slim.

There are two ways to look at this phenomenon. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with being successful, even if it comes from producing a silly mobile game that makes you millions overnight. After all, these guys did put in the work to make games that people enjoy and they’re being rewarded for their efforts. If they enjoyed their success a little more I don’t think anyone would blame them.

On the other hand, it’s somewhat refreshing to see that these developers realize their success owes a lot to pure, dumb luck and that they haven’t suddenly become Dagny Taggart-style Ayn Rand superheroes just because they created a hit smartphone game. Because let’s face it: There would be nothing worse in life than being lectured by the creator of Flappy Bird that you could be just as rich as he is if you just worked harder and stopped “looting.”

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.