Flappy Bird creator meets Vietnam deputy PM

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 Nguyen Ha Dong, the developer of sensational game Flappy Bird 

Nguyen Ha Dong, who has been in the headlines first for Flappy Bird hitting the bull's-eye and then his withdrawal of the online game from app stores, met Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam Tuesday amid rumors he had committed suicide.

Online newspaper VnExpress said Dam, who is in charge of culture, society, science, and education, encouraged Dong to continue with his passion for developing games.

Dong is a new talent that needs support and Vietnam needs talents like him for its development, he was quoted as saying.

The meeting took place two days after the 29-year-old indie game developer pulled out Flappy Bird game from app stores after it had been downloaded tens of millions of times.

Shortly after he did that an unidentified "news source" was quoted online as saying that Dong was found dead at home with a gunshot wound in his head.

It claimed that authorities had said the suicide had something to do with the famous game.

But Dong’s father told Thanh Nien that his son goes to work normally and shows no signs of changes in his mood or lifestyle.

He was “surprised” by the rumors, and said his family was happy for Dong’s success with Flappy Bird, but also felt worried because it was “unexpected.”

Before being taken down, the game topped the free app charts of both Apple and Google Play stores with 50 million downloads.

Dong earns US$50,000 on average a day from advertising.

He told Forbes magazine that he grounded Flappy Bird because it had become “an addictive product” but his original purpose was to create a game that people can play for a few minutes when they are relaxed.

“I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.” 

Besides, his life "has not been as comfortable as ... before.”

As Flappy Bird raced to the top of the charts last week, its creator too became a celebrity, but along with approbation also came criticism.

Many expressed doubts about the game’s actual success, suspecting Dong of using tricks to increase the number of downloads.

Others criticized him for stealing the famous green pipes from popular Japanese game Super Mario, and speculated that Nintendo, that game’s creator, would take legal action against him.

But the Japanese game company denied the speculation in an interview with the Wall Street Journal newspaper. 

Dong said his decision to pull out the game had nothing to do with fears of a lawsuit.

A Ministry of Finance official told Thanh Nien that the the tax department has been ordered to estimate Dong’s earnings to collect income tax.

Online newspaper Dan Tri quoted an unnamed expert as saying that Dong could have earned around VND210 billion ($9.8 million) from the game and might have to pay VND2 billion ($94,000) in tax.

Bui Manh Hai, former deputy minister of science and technology, said the incident has made the world sit up and take notice of Vietnamese talent in software but also shows the insensitivity of the country's official agencies.

The agencies should have advised him about issues like taxes and intellectual property.

But instead Dong was like a “small, lonely bird,” he lamented.

Dong, speaking to Forbes magazine, said he would continue to develop games.

“After the success of Flappy Bird, I feel more confident and have freedom to do what I want to do,” he said.

Following the success of Flappy Bird, two of his other games, Super Ball Juggling and Shuriken Block, have also seen demand shoot up in app stores.

Flappy Bird entered the Apple Store in May last year, climbed to top spot last month, and took Google Play Store by storm after it was launched January 30.

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The game, which simply involves navigating a bird through Super Mario-like green pipes by tapping the phone screen to flap the bird’s wings, has left game designers and experts baffled by its huge success.

But most agree that the game’s charm lies in its difficulty, which infuriates most players and inspires them to hit the restart button again and again to get higher scores.

Its “share” function allows players to complain or brag about their scores on social media, tempting others to check it out.

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