Flappy Bird: how a crazy difficult game by an indie developer went viral

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Flappy Bird

It’s seen more than 10-million downloads on Google Play and is currently the top free game in Apple’s App Store in 85 countries. Reviewers say “it consumes you”, warn procrastinators to stay away and suggest its developer should rename the game ‘Time Vampire’. Searches for cheats and tips are currently lighting up Google, as new users struggle to beat their high score. The game causing all this commotion is called Flappy Bird, and it’s the brain child of a single Vietnamese developer who has never had a hit before.

Flappy Bird, which was created by the one-man studio .GEARS, seems simple enough — it involves navigating a fat-lipped bird through a maze of 8-bit pipes by tapping on the screen. Easier said than done — Hanoi-based developer Dong Nguyen has created an addictive and impossible game which leaves users chuffed when their high score enters the double digits. Although it originally launched on iOS back in May (and Android in January), the game has only recently seen success, gaining the top spot in both Google Play and Apple’s App Store in the past week.

On iOS, two other apps by the same studio (called Super Ball Juggling and Shuriken Block) have joined Flappy Bird in the top ten in the US store, presumably by association with the 8-bit hit. Nguyen, speaking to TechCrunch, says his app is now seeing 2-3-million downloads a day on Android and iOS.

But how exactly did an indie developer manage to gain such a massive following?

Rise, fall and rise again

As data from mobile analytics service App Annie shows, Flappy Bird wasn’t always so popular — after an initial spike, the iOS app largely fell into obscurity in the world’s three biggest mobile app markets (Japan, South Korea and the US) until late last year.

Flappy Bird iPhone

On Android, it’s climbed the ranks in a much shorter amount of time:

Flappy Bird rank Android

Nguyen has denied suggestions that he artificially inflated downloads of his app using a mixture of bots and fake reviews — indeed, the reviewers of the app seem to be in a competition to describe how much of their lives have been wasted watching in frustration as the bird plummets to the ground.

While mobile games can gain a lot of attention in a short space of time thanks to reviews, improved App Store rankings, social buzz and word of mouth (as the teams behind everything from Candy Crush Saga to Angry Birds can attest), the rise of Flappy Bird is still interesting to watch. The game, which Nguyen says he made in a few days, has gained a lot of attention on social network sites like Twitter, where users are gathering to rant and explain how they almost destroyed their smart device in anger. The game was also featured by popular YouTuber PewDiePie, who included it in a video titled ‘FLAPPY BIRD – DONT PLAY THIS GAME!’ which went on to gain more than 5-million views.

That probably helped, as did the addictive nature of the game itself, the fact that it looks like Mario merged with Angry Birds, and its sheer simplicity. For something that looks so easy, it is very easy to fail — which is why searches for ‘Flappy Birds cheats’ have risen alongside queries about the game in recent weeks:

Interestingly, Dong hasn’t gone the freemium route when it comes to monetising his app. Instead of offering the app for free and then asking users to pay for in-app goods, he’s listed the app for free and is using a custom ad service on iOS and AndEngine on Android to make an income.

He’s also planning to roll out the game to Windows Phone later this month– so Nokia owners can test exactly how indestructible their phones are when they hurl them at the wall in a rage soon.

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