Why the wild success of Flappy Bird apparently burned its creator

Never really learned to fly.
Never really learned to fly.
Image: Reuters/Ilya Naymushin
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It may seem odd that a hugely successful online game like Flappy Bird would disappear before the internet had time to get tired of it. But the dramatic rise and fall of the game is less surprising when you consider how global and instantaneous breakout successes in the gaming world have become.

Flappy Bird, created solely by a little-known Vietnamese developer named Dong Nguyen, had been topping Apple’s iTunes Store and Google’s Play Store downloads for almost a month. But Nguyen pulled the simple but difficult and addictive game at the height of its success; it had been bringing in around $50,000 a day in advertisements. It’s hard to know exactly what caused the game’s sudden popularity. Its global downloads spiked suddenly in November after a quiet launch in May, and some speculate that Nguyen used, er, fowl play to boost the game’s visibility.

Nguyen hails from a country that’s clearly gaming-obsessed (apparently, crimes related to game addiction in Vietnam are a growing problem). But despite that, the country has yet to cultivate a homegrown gaming industry that can compete with the dominant Western and Japanese gaming companies. Without a gaming ecosystem, the learning curve can be steep for small Vietnamese developers who don’t know how to manage the business aspects of the job. Other Vietnamese developers have complained about the difficulties of breaking away from lowly outsourced jobs from big Western firms.

Nguyen’s tweets suggest that he crumbled under a similar pressure, though it’s hard to be sure if that’s the real reason:

Breakout gaming successes like Angry Birds, which grew from its meek beginnings in Finland to become the flagship game of a $4.2 billion company, have given gaming enthusiasts hope that their humble creations can turn into global hits that bring fortune and fame. But the easier it becomes to rise to the top of the gaming world, the easier it becomes to fall back down.