The “Flappy Bird” game is deceptively simple: Users tap smartphone screens to make a bird fly through gaps in pipes to score points. Anytime the bird hits a pipe or drops to the ground, the game ends. Fans post their scores on Facebook Inc.
The Hanoi developer who removed his “Flappy Bird” game from app stores after becoming a global sensation and earning as much as $50,000 a day experienced the kind of success few individual programmers encounter.
Nguyen Ha Dong, creator of the difficult game with a simple design that shot to the top of the most-popular download rankings, removed “Flappy Bird” from Apple (AAPL) Inc. and Google (GOOG) Inc. online stores this past weekend. He said in a Twitter Inc. message that the game “ruins my simple life.”
Dong, who said on Twitter he has been a programmer for 10 years, didn’t answer repeated calls or text messages to his mobile phone today. Yet his success, viewed as an anomaly by industry insiders, could be a boost to Vietnam’s fledgling community of developers in an industry where revenue almost doubled in three years.
“This is the success story the country needed,” said Than Trong Phuc, managing director of technology-focused investment fund DFJ VinaCapital LP in Ho Chi Minh City. “The money from Silicon Valley will come. It will come looking for the next ‘Flappy Bird’ -- or the ‘Flappy Bird’ developer himself.”
The success of “Flappy Bird” is almost unprecedented for an independent developer as the game ranked first or second for free apps around the world, said Ouriel Ohayon, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of Appsfire SAS.
The game is deceptively simple: Users tap smartphone screens to make a bird fly through gaps in pipes to score points. Anytime the bird hits a pipe or drops to the ground, the game ends. Fans post their scores on Facebook (FB) Inc.
Without any marketing, the game became a global phenomenon through social media, Ohayon said.
“Flappy Bird” is the No. 1 free Apple iOS app download in 137 countries, according to App Annie Ltd., an analytics and marketing service. It is the top free Google Play download in 33 countries.
"Flappy Bird" creator Nguyen Ha Dong removed “Flappy Bird” from Apple Inc. and Google Inc. online stores this past weekend. He said in a Twitter Inc. message that the game “ruins my simple life.”. Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Ohayon estimated Dong and his .Gears Studio earned at least $20,000 a day and as much as $50,000 a day in advertising from “Flappy Bird.”
“I have seen hundreds of games and I have never, never seen anything like this,” Ohayon said in a phone interview from Sunnyvale, California. “I think he’s a regular guy who just won the lottery.”
That kind of success is sure to spur more interest in programming among Vietnamese, said Esther Nguyen, chief executive of Ho Chi Minh City-based music website Pops Worldwide. Vietnam’s digital content industry grew to 3,883 registered businesses in 2012 from 2,844 in 2009, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication. Revenue was $1.2 billion in 2012, up from $690 million in 2009.
“People will have more confidence: ‘If that guy did it, I can, too,’” she said.
On Feb. 8, Dong said on Twitter that the game is a success of his “but it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.” He apologized to the game’s fans and said he would stop offering it on app stores within 22 hours, according to the post.
“I cannot take this anymore,” he posted on his Twitter account, which has 120,000 followers.
Dong said in another message his decision was not “related to legal issues.” Earlier, he wrote, “I understand copyright laws. In the game there is no violation of copyright.”
Dong may have been pressured by other developers or companies that may have said his idea is not original, which is common in the industry, Ohayon said. He also may have been bothered by threats he received through social media from users frustrated by the game’s difficulty, he said.
“Every developer dreams of this shiny moment,” Ohayon said. “But you don’t know how to handle this when it happens. We don’t know the whole story. The guy is a true mystery.”