Feeling Weird About Being a Video Game Millionaire


One night in March, 2013, Rami Ismail and his business partner Jan Willem released a game for mobile phones called Ridiculous Fishing. Ismail, who was twenty-four at the time and who lives in the Netherlands, woke the following morning to find that the game had made him tens of thousands of dollars overnight. His first reaction was not elation but guilt. His mother, who has a job in local government, had already left for work. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve watched my mom wake up at six in the morning, work all day, come home, make my brother and me dinner—maybe shout at me for too much ‘computering,’ ” he said. “My first thought that day was that while I was asleep I’d made more money than she had all year. And I’d done it with a mobile-phone game about shooting fish with a machine gun.”

For The New Yorker‘s Elements blog, Simon Parkin talks to some of the beautiful weirdos whose indie video games made them millionaires, often overnight. A lot of them feel really conflicted about it. Or depressed! Or afraid. Or just guilty.

It’s not that I feel bad for them — at all — but I do love money feelings. The Ridiculous Fishing guy can’t stop thinking about his mom waking up early to go to work every day, and Dong Nguyen, the Flappy Birds guy, took his game offline after it was making $50,000/day because he wanted to “get back to his simple life.” A lot of them are advising each other about the best way to keep perspective — to make a plan for one thing they want to buy to make the money real but keep it in its place.

I love this anecdote about Davey Wreden, who at 24, made $6.3M from his game The Stanley Parable:

“He said that he would go to the store and buy the cheapest and most expensive salmon,” Ismail recalled. Wreden would then cook the two fish side by side and conduct a taste test to see whether the cost difference was justified.

I haven’t played a video game since Duck Hunt and can honestly say I have never played a game on my phone, ever, but I recognize a lot of these names from Indie Game: The Movie, which if you haven’t seen it, is so good (and on Netflix).

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