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Flappy Bird by the Numbers (zachwill.com)
279 points by zachwill on Feb 9, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 143 comments

What disturbs me most about this is the complete lack of empathy people have for the guy. Just look at the comments on the link explaining that Flappy Bird was removed from the app store.

Our culture is so completely and utterly obsessed with money that everyone says he's an idiot for taking down an app without realizing the chaos one goes through in a situation like that. They hurl insults like "weak" and "fragile" as though someone isn't allowed to be shy ever since the internet happened. The sheer amount of greed on display in debates about this game is deeply unnerving, and it seems as though modern culture has forgotten that there are many things that are more important than money. It seems as though our entire country is hopelessly addicted to accumulating more and more pieces of green paper, only to be puzzled when having a large number in their bank account fails to actually solve any of their problems.

I would say, given what money can do for you in this world -- how much easier it can make your life, the doors it can open -- that it is at the very least surprising that anyone would turn down this kind of success. In fact, I'll bet you'd have trouble finding one person out of a hundred who would not be willing to suffer pretty significant pain for two weeks if it meant they'd make $50,000 a day. Given that people are willing to do this, they're shocked that this dev wouldn't just turn off his twitter, shut down his phone, book a trip to the beach and just ride it out there.

There may be a small handful of people in the world for whom taking the app down is the long-term rational decision. But I'd wager they are a fairly rare breed.

Average monthly salary for a software developer in Vietnam is, what, $600/mo? Nguyen was making around seven years' salary per day for two weeks. A lot of the doors that could be opened with money were already opened at that point.

This random dude makes $1200/mo. I don't know what the average is. Maybe he is set for life, but it's only been really big for a couple of days, and I'd imagine he's not quite yet, and certainly not as set as he could be.


AFAIK, a good fresh graduate can make from $600 to $800/month (of course, depends on multiple factors: what he can do, experience, school, type of company, English, etc). That "random dude" got a Master's degree in Korea, so his salary is reasonable I think.

Shouldn't he still be making ad revenue even if the app can't be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play? I'm sure those ad $$$s are still rolling in...

I saw reports that he removed the ads from the application.

Nope, ads are still there (Android version, at least)

The possible subtext is that he is shutting it down in fear of bad repercussion - like being exposed for gaming the app store rankings - or to simply avoid such accusations.

That's my guess. For all, for the sake of argument, let's say this developer did hire somebody to pump up his numbers. They could even be extorting him to pay them more in exchange for their silence. It reminds me of the movie 'Office Space' ... where they rig their software to shave fractional-pennies off of each transaction for an eventual payday, only to have their plan work too well too quickly.

Could be covering his ass on a cease and desist, making it seem like his decision.

Most people who get one don't know if they can talk about it publicly or not and just want it to go away.

Then shutting down does not solve the problem. They could still go ahead and reveal.

That's what I think. Those are just way too much reviews, I would like to see this numbers stacked up against angry birds in its prime.

I actually think that the way the game works. Throwing you back to the home screen every time you loose, makes it more likely that users write a review. They are already outside of the game.

The 'satan' frequency in the reviews vs. the rest of the app store is a smoking gun. https://sensortower.com/flappy-bird-scripted-reviews-analysi...

"There is no concrete conclusion drawn in this post"

" I'm not sure if that is due to genuine virality & copy cat ommentors, an army of keyword-fed reviewers, or an advanced spintax generator. "

"I still have no idea whether or not Flappy Bird gamed the system"

Not much of a smoking gun there.

Highly speculative.

I don't know what his background is, what his family is like, or what it's like to win the app lottery in Vietnam.

I could imagine scenarios where acquiring that kind of money could destroy your personal relationships, and make you a target of unwanted attention from governments, mafias, or weirdos.

This is especially true in a third world country with perhaps a modest level of corruption. Everyone will want a piece of you whether or not you wanted it. Personal safety and the safety of your family all of a sudden become a major concern.

I think everyone's wondering, why didn't he just book a trip to the beach and come back a month later when all the fuss had died down?

Your post was brilliant but you ruined it with this..

>>only to be puzzled when having a large number in their bank account fails to actually solve any of their problems.

I'm not sure what kind of utterly broken philosophy propagates this idea. Do people actually believe that some one starving, unable to afford any kind of medical care, who doesn't have a proper home, clothes or anything for that matter is far more happy than a millionaire?

What kind of a brainwashing does it take to help such absurd thoughts totally devoid of common sense to sink in?

Not one single person who is rich I know isn't happy. When rich people talk of money being unable to solve 'some problems' they are talking of stuff which I wouldn't even consider as problems. They are more like minor small time inconveniences.

Yeah seriously. My grandma died and left me enough money to not have to work for like ten years, even without investing it. I live relatively simply to try and stretch it out, but goddamn if it hasn't removed a ton of stress from my life and made me a lot happier. I've got the freedom to spend my days writing and drawing a comic about a lesbian robot with reality problems instead of scrambling for crappy web dev work or begging my friends who draw stuff for PopCap for an in to go work all week on stuff I don't care much about.

I think the difference is that nobody know you're rich. Everyone knows Nguyen is rich.

Lots of fake people out there.

People have a sort of natural baseline level of happiness, different for each person. When bad or good things happen you move the needle a bit, but when you get into a steady state it moves right back to your baseline. Unless you live in a situation of genuine poverty it's highly unlikely that having more money will make you happier. I know all sorts of income classes and i don't know of a difference in self-perceived happiness among those classes. You can mock rich people for the silly worries they have (like how best to invest their money) but that doesn't mean those worries aren't just as real to them.

(Incidentally, the book The Happiness Hypothesis covers this subject as well as how to actually become happier.)

Your post was brilliant but you ruined it with this..

>>Not one single person who is rich I know isn't happy.

The whole point is we first need to define happiness, no?

There are a lot of people who are confused between things like sadness, disappointment, inconvenience, hopelessness and many such negative emotions.

The problem is we bundle them all en masse in to this category called 'happiness' or its opposite. To be happy is a overloaded term used to define many emotions.

Rich people suffer from the same negative emotions any human on earth goes through. Because they are humans. If their child doesn't win a soccer game, they may get disappointed, if some one in the family falls ill to a deadly disease without a cure they may feel hopeless. But these are emotions every human regardless of their financial status goes through. Whether you are rich or poor.

Having money will keep you well fed, clothed and housed. Your medical expenses are taken care of. Your children's needs are tended to and give you an overall sense of confidence and a sense of safety and freedom.

Being poor means you have a put up with a great deal of BS that life throws at you. You have to sacrifice every single thing, every single desire of yours. Its very exact opposite of what I wrote above.

I don't know of one single human who doesn't go through human emotions but yeah coming to being happy in the sense having to never really get screwed at every step along the way. Rich people never really stop being happy, and most poor people don't even what that kind of happiness actually is. Basically because they continually being fed this garbage that suffering in their current state is far better than breaking out of it.

Wealth removes a number of problems yes, but there are plenty of problems left to deal with.

Even with medical bills "taken care of", health issues don't just disappear. Making love work is just as hard for wealthy people as for anybody else. And some wealthy people feel trapped by their wealth and the responsibility that comes with it. I had a conversation with a guy who had been "told" by his mother that it was time for him to step up as CEO in the family business. We are talking about a large company and this guy flies his own helicopter. I met him in Bangkok where I was staying for the time because I was just traveling around. He told me that he envied me and I got the impression that he was truly miserable because he really didn't want to be CEO of this company. If this man is happy by your definition then it's definitely different from the definition that I subscribe to.

Making love work is just as hard for wealthy people as for anybody else.

It's less clear-cut with love, but at least marriage is much easier for wealthy people - or at least, non-poor people. Divorce rates are higher among poor people, and it makes sense: being low on cash creates a new stress factor, and relationships can be broken by that.

I'm not aware of clear evidence when it comes to love, but I'd wager that it looks at least similar.

That fellow's problem is being under his mother's thumb. It sucks for poor people too. But at least if he decided to quit, he wouldn't have to wonder how he'd eat. So from this we can conclude that making yourself a slave to another person leads to unhappiness, but being rich is very good for your freedom as an employee.

What the ... I was referring to the fact that you presented "people you know" as a meaningful sample of the population.

> Our culture is so completely and utterly obsessed with money that everyone says he's an idiot for taking down an app without realizing the chaos one goes through in a situation like that.

It is not obsession with money, it is just confusion over it. I mean, it isn't that hard to ignore all the bad comments and emails, and a small price to pay for riches. There must be something else going on, and that is the bit that is frustrating, not knowing.

Of course, it is completely up to him, and this is in no way justification for awful comments or messages to the dev.

it isn't that hard to ignore all the bad comments and emails

The gravity and emotional toll of receiving death threats and verbal harassment is often incredibly underestimated by those who haven't received them.

I think the commenter meant to literally ignore comments and emails, as in, don't read them.

It is not obsession with money, it is just confusion over it.

The actions and statements of the author seem completely at odds, and he literally could not do more self-promotion if he tried. Seriously, beyond assassinating a world leader dressed as flappy bird, I cannot fathom how he could have cemented more attention.

He had a hit game. These come and go, usually with the creators completely shrouded and hidden. But he does an interview where he states enormous income levels, guaranteeing an incredible amount of media attention. He is all hands on twitter. Then, in the face of supposed negative attention (or simply attention), and coincidentally at what many would say is almost certainly the crest of the game's popularity, he announces that he is removing the game...in a day. So get in and get those downloads, before you lose your chance. Again, enormous attention across the media.

Had he not done the original interview. Had he not announced that he was making $50K per day on ads. Had he not then announced a 24-hours until its gone window...he would have remained yet another anonymous game creator. Instead we know how it played out.

It could entirely be cultural misunderstandings, but it is tough to listen to the whole "just leave him alone" claims in the face of actions that the most manipulative, talented PR agency would dream up.

I think some of this speculation that this man is some cunning, super-intelligent villain gives him, an average human being, too much credit. Honestly, these "theories" are too outlandish to really be about the actions of a mere human being. What is honestly more believable, that he is some "super PR genius" or, perhaps, just had more than he could handle?

Villain? Super-intelligent? While your strawman is interesting, and typical in a discourse that too often has to be extremely polarized opposites, it has zero relevance to my comment. Don't try to use me as a lever, thanks.

Precisely. If he didn't want the negative feedback, or he is "shy", why did he throw himself out in front of everyone? If you're shy, you don't do interviews, and you definitely don't boast. Things don't add up here.

The only charitable interpretation I can imagine is that he's both shy, and also a doormat. As in, he didn't want to do interviews, but he didn't know how to say no when asked for them. This sort of person also feels intense pressure to answer every fan-letter in their inbox, etc. I can see, if this is the case, why he would want to quit out of the situation.

Doesn't seem unlikely. "Shy, and also a doormat" is how I'd describe probably half of the developers I know. The stereotype of a nerd lacking in social skills is true for a lot of us, and having a difficult time saying "no" is often part of that.

Or maybe he was just naive and didn't expect that outcome.

The thing is, at this point, there was literally zero additional involvement this guy had to have to anything related to the game. Just sit back and check in on an ever increasing bank account. Once the fad died down, enjoy the money. He didn't have to show himself, do interviews, anything at all.

Just accept the cash and fade off into obscurity.

It's hard to empathize with somebody who had to take a specific action to make himself less better off in the end, he was better off with doing nothing at all.

The minute he exposed how much money he was making, he made himself a huge target in Vietnam. Making that much money is dangerous in SEA if you don't have any connections.

He may be a target, but I don't think everyone would chase him for money. Someone who has a net worth of 1 or 2 millions USD is not so rare in Vietnam.

A tiny bit of Googling, not to mention common sense, reveals your second sentence to be patently untrue.

Since when a "tiny bit of Googling", not to mention the query is (supposedly) in English, is a reliable source? Hopefully you obtained enough data (preferably in Vietnamese) about distribution of wealth, net worth and sources of income (which people normally don't want to (and sometimes can't) disclose), etc.

I'm not saying that my sentence is absolutely correct. It's my personal experience, based on what I know and observe everyday. I just don't buy your "tiny bit of Googling".

And please, don't rely on common sense. Things that are so called "common sense" are often agreed within a community and not universally correct, regarding to other communities.

That's said, what I was trying to tell is that earning lots of money doesn't automatically make you a huge target. Yes, Vietnam is a poor/developing country. But it's actually quite safe and peaceful, as long as you use "common sense" (our common sense, if that matters). Money is not everything people care about. And for people that really want your money, at least they don't have gun :) (no offense).

Feel free to offer real numbers in response then. I could not find any source that listed the number of USD millionaires in Vietnam to be out of the hundreds... when you're talking hundreds out of a population nearing 90 million, then yes, millionaires are rare.

(Should also clarify that my "common sense" is also based on, like you, personal experience. I would just rather rely on actual research, which, again, seems to flatly contradict your claims.)

We can easily find the number of millionaires to be few hundreds. But it's probably only based on stock assets. There are hidden millionaires who own other types of assets, like real estate, gold, jewelry, foreign currencies (not legal anymore) or even cash. Some assets are not in name of the real owners but their relatives. Some people are rich thanks to corruption (which is sadly quite high). And all those people won't disclose their net worth. Thus, it's almost impossible to have an exact number of millionaires (http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/special-reports/2712/real-v...)

So yes, I don't have a reliable source either. Though I believe that there are no less than thousands or even tens of thousands. Buy it or not, your choice :)

Just a random story: three years ago, a 66 years old lady owned around 50 millions USD in various types of assets. The thing is no one, including her adopted daughter, knew that before her sudden death. Would her name be mentioned in the list of millionaires? I don't think so.



Sharing the money would've gotten him the connections.

You've perfectly illustrated the post you are replying to, from my perspective

I'm aware of that. But what exactly am I supposed to empathize with? It's like empathizing with anybody who actively takes an action that's not helpful to them.

It's like somebody taking up smoking, drugs and drinking when they have no interest in those things at all and would be much happier and healthier without. Or actively going out of their way to not learn to read.

Even if he does have an emotional/psychological problem (which I do empathize with), he could roll that money into a stellar long-term treatment program and come out better on the other side. Or just donate the money to a charity or something.

Vague "I can't take all this opportunity to do nothing and solve many of my life's problems" is not something that's easy to empathize with.

I think what alot of people keep missing is that Vietnam has communism rooted deep in its culture. I would think that accumulating massive personal wealth like the Flappy Bird guy did can cause some problems with the government and the general population when the media portrays something in the way they did with Flappy Birds. It might just have been very unsettling for the guy.

Not really. Vietnam has changed quite a lot since the war and the 90s. Someone with a net worth of 1 or 2 millions USD is not considered to be "massive" rich.

So far, the only official comment from the government is that he should pay income tax (which is reasonable I think). It is also stated that he will get a favored tax rate, since the government wants to encourage developers like him and IT sector in general. Note that income tax was introduced quite recently in Vietnam (a few years ago I think) and the tax rate is pretty low, compare to other countries.

Generally speaking people and the media have a positive opinion about Dong. Some even say Vietnam is proud of him, he inspires young Vietnamese developers (communism, remember?), etc. Of course, there are haters, just like anywhere else.

Thank you for saying this.

On the other side there are also people like %#&$* Scoble that say this is just a marketing play. The lack of empathy and awareness that not everyone in the world is as greedy and selfish as you really upsets me. But you said it better anyway.

Thank you so much for saying that.

Of course, many of the fans of Y Combinator know that changing the world is more important, but those who have time to comment here and seem focus on extracting rent rather than creating value needed to read this.

But, more importantly (and I might show how old I am by saying this) I didn't feel like this since ’94 and Kurt Cobain’s death: same accusations of being a manipulative mastermind playing hard to get, lacking talent, copying, and the same glaringly obvious suicide warnings: “I want peace”? Really? Do you need anything clearer? An Instagram of the guy with a shotgun in his mouth, asking ‘Like if you think I should pull the trigger, comment otherwise’?

If it happens, there will be so much hand-washing here…

Why not keep the game up and give the money to charity? Removing a good that people want to pay for destroys value. It's like wasting millions of dollars' worth of food.

I for one find these kinds of success stories extremely demoralizing. They create unrealistic expectations. But certainly nothing could justify death threats and personal attacks…

I think the genesis of the obsession you describe is that having significantly not enough in your bank account causes severe problems.

Well he basically slaughtered a goose laying golden eggs. Why not just let it grow old? Hand it over to someone else?

That money isn't just going to stay in his bank account - he can use it to fund a new app, get a car, a new computer, a house, education - it does seem weak willed to take it down because of the pressure of success (of all things)...

If I found something I enjoyed and wanted to share it with my friends, and then someone made it so I couldn't do that, I'd be upset - I think understandably, and not in a particularly greed-motivated way. And that's effectively what the developer has done here.

Yeah ... welcome to capitalism

Are you replying to the wrong submission? I believe there was another submission where people went through these "woe for society" hysterics. As is people may not be empathetic because motives seem curiously in contrast -- I think we're all jaded enough that we don't immediately take what people say as absolute truth.

What's interesting about a by-the-numbers account of Flappy Bird's success is how starkly apparent the weaknesses of the app store model of surfacing and distributing apps seem to be in retrospect. Think about it: the app store organizes apps almost exactly like web directories organized websites in the 90's -- there are human-curated catalogs, and a single store acts as a directory for essentially all known apps. It's like Yahoo! was in 1994.

Considering that Flappy Bird was made popular by power users on other platforms (particularly YouTube), I think that this point is really important: the app store is probably not the best platform to surface new apps.

A good exercise for entrepreneurs is to think of a better model. If anything, the success of Flappy Bird is one hell of an incentive to find out.

(Also: if you have ideas about this, like me, we should have a chat.)

Discovery in general is still a pretty knotty problem.

Even Netflix, which has a relatively small pool of things to sort through, doesn't do a particularly good job of it. It often recommends things I have no interest in whatsoever, and conversely never recommends things I very much want to watch but have to find manually.

It's practical to manually sort as a Netflix customer precisely because their pool is relatively shallow. But I wonder if their weak recommendations are due to that shallow pool, and that in the end there just aren't enough ratings for machine learning algorithms to actually work the way they're supposed to.

There's obviously a lot of money in getting recommendations and discovery to actually work, but I wonder if everyone is on a path that's sort of condemned to failure due to lack of enough data.

Dunno. Thinking out loud really. I know it's something I'm dissatisfied with pretty much across the board.

> Even Netflix ... doesn't do a particularly good job of [discovery].

I see this message repeated by a lot of tech people, but I feel like I get fairly good recommendations. Am I alone?

What is it about the recommendations that seem bad? Is it because you know there is better content there but the metadata has somehow not categorized it properly for cross-referencing, or does it seem more like it's guessing from a shallow pool and trying to bubble up whatever content it can find, even if it's not a great match?

Is there any kind of open source recommendation framework or standard? Couldn't Netflix publish the details of its algorithm, including which metrics it has, to help the community think up more ways to analyze? The value in Netflix right now is in the content, not in the recommendation engine.

Looks like the competition Netflix used to host was ended in 2009... would be great if they started it again: http://www.netflixprize.com

I had a response written to this, but realized I haven't thought it through enough to respond meaningfully.

I know I'm dissatisfied. I know it doesn't show me movies I very much want to see, and that it clutters my recommendations with a lot of things I'll never watch.

My feeling is that it doesn't capture why I like the movies I like.

The categories they've been refining over the years are likely an attempt to address that, but they seem to be missing the important information still.


PS- re the contest, there was a problem with the anonymized data being de-anonymized by researchers, so they couldn't make it available any more.

I suspect it's that last one. I mostly use netflix in streaming mode. The pool of available content netflix is allowed to stream at any given time is pathetic - most of the best matches they could make are films they don't have so they have to settle for suggesting something half-assed that they do have.

As a result, I find myself gradually tending more and more to use various other streaming services first, and only settle for Netflix if I can't find it somewhere else first. (I should just cancel Netflix entirely but haven't gotten around to it yet.)

Their suggestions seemed better when they were a mail-only service and hence not subject to the same limited pool. (A separate factor: when I initially got Netflix there was a HUGE list of movies I wanted to see and hadn't yet; over time that pool also has substantially diminished. So there might be fewer good matches to find even if Netflix had unlimited scope to provide the good matches.)

I briefly used Netflix several years ago, and was astonished at how good the recommendations were. However, I aggressively rated many movies in their catalogue to get better recommendations, movies I'd seen before not necessarily just movies I'd watched on Netflix. When I talked to others who had it, and didn't like their recommendations, it seemed to be because they weren't rating the movies at all.

Maybe they couldn't be bothered, maybe they assumed it would know based on what they watched, or maybe because these were couples I often talked to it was awkward to bring up rating the movie when there were potentially two different opinions on it, and one or both parties unwilling to debate the issue...

Given my anecdotal experiences of this problem I would guess that Netflix's problem isn't a matter of figuring out what I would like, it's a matter of figuring out what I may not have seen yet. The problem is that the things that I am most likely to like based on my viewings are also the things that I am most likely to have already seen somewhere other than Netflix.

I'd argue that Netflix is high-precision, low-recall: the quality of recommendations are usually good, but the recommendations themselves usually don't reflect the entire library.

Great point. I've been considering working on a tool that tried to solve this problem for health apps. It would require the user to fill out a form that teases out information about their motivations, health goals, lifestyle, etc.(the more data the better the recommendation). They'd then receive an auto generated menu of apps that'd work specifically well for them.

I've spent a lot of time talking to my Dad about healthcare (he's a doctor) and he never recommends mobile apps to his patients for weight loss or anything along those lines. I can't really blame him... there are tens of thousands of health apps. That might change if he had an online tool to send his patients to that did the heavy lifting of making an intelligent recommendation. Here's an interesting study that shows how doctors can be a powerful catalyst in this regard: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-67...

In the end, it'd just be an app recommendation engine for health. That aside, I 100% agree with what you're saying.

Google play annotates and highlights apps that you or your friends have downloaded or rated. 'similar apps' is also a more modern way of surfacing content.

Sure, but how do you deal with the long tail? Flappy Bird is not an app that would have surfaced until it was well on its way to becoming what it is today (or was yesterday, I guess).

I find the endless accusations of a bot network quite tiring. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. Either way there is zero evidence to support such a claim. My favorite part of this whole saga is from the polygon article.

Nguyen via Twitter: "Press people are overrating the success of my games. It is something I never want. Please give me peace." Polygon: "We've reached out to Nguyen for comment and will update accordingly."

Good job everyone. Good job.

The article presents some (non-conclusive) evidence of a sudden, steady influx of reviews, and more is coming up: https://sensortower.com/flappy-bird-scripted-reviews-analysi....

What kind of game developer doesn't want it's creations to succeed?

He's explicitly stated in an interview that he didn't do anything to game reviews, so do you stand by what you say, or are you calling him a liar? Not very game developer would resort to nefarious tactics for their own profit. Why does everyone have to look for a cause behind every event - can't you just accept that something might just have ... happened?

I'm not taking any conclusions yet. The episode is unusual, accepting that "things just happened" is not my cup of tea. As a developer I'm interested in the dynamics of the app store rankings, if it's still possible for an indie dev to succeed without "help"; and as a former media student, how exactly a little crappy game clone went viral and made it to the top spot in a month.

If it turns out it was just a fluke, still more interesting it is.

It was linked to by a major YouTuber.

It is a tiny simple free app. You do one thing, you get one number back.

A bit like nananca bike crash. These very simple games are great for the "just one more go" factor, and the bragging rights of "hey! I just beat your top score".

Over analysis could lead to incorrect conclusions so I'd be wary of any analysis that explained Flappy Bird without explaining the failure of all the other similar games.

your link is broken

A few years ago I'd a much more humble experience with virality.

I'd decided to hack off a quirky part of a project I was working on into a jQuery plugin and make a landing page for people to play with it.

Nobody went to it. For months. Like not one person. It's still online today, although I've obviously broken the plugin at some point [1].

Months later my jaw hit the floor when I woke up to an inbox full of emails about this thing. The page had had thousands upon thousands of hits. Not from Belfast, but from NY and SF. It had been featured on a ton of blogs, discussions etc, all in the 6 hours or so I'd been asleep. Traffic had peaked, but it kept coming.

A friend we hadn't seen in a while called into our little co-working space to tell me "that thing you put on Hacker News" had been on the front page for hours. I'd never even heard of HN at this point!

There was no rhyme nor reason to any of this. The page had been available for months. All I can surmise is that something lit the touchpaper that started a chain reaction. And that I've a lot to learn about how virality works and what makes it function.

It makes me wonder did he really engage in some grey market stuff to push Flappy Bird a little. I kind of wonder why he would fork out for something like that when the precedent would indicate he wasn't onto a winner with this game.

In retrospect we know he had a great game, the potential for serious chain-reaction style virality was there, maybe the spark that lit the touch-paper was something innocuous that no-one would ever guess?

[1]: http://opensource.rotify.com/wormhole/

I think the most interesting part of this is what the author points out: this is a story about a normal developer riding one hell of a roller-coaster.

On top of that, let's face it: the game ain't that much. It's not like there was some special secret sauce he put in there. I can guarantee you that there are another 1000+ games out there just as simple and playable as flappy bird out there.

So this story, aside from the marketing moves (which I would love to find out about as long as my best 40K other HN friends do not at the same time), is just about winning the lottery. Guy writes app, wins the lottery.

This kind of lottery keeps poor schmucks writing apps for walled garden playstores. You get ten thousand people slaving away over little apps, each one hoping to be this guy. He's the guy in the casino who hits on the slots. The casino definitely wants to make sure all the rubes see the pile of money he gets.

"I can guarantee you that there are another 1000+ games out there just as simple and playable as flappy bird out there."

I don't know that this is true. Or maybe it's true for "simple and playable", but maybe they're missing the "fun and addictive" qualities that made Flappy Bird work.

There's a lot of subtle things that made Flappy Bird a game people enjoyed- the exact responses of the control, the timing and spacing of the obstacles, the quickness of the games, the ease of restarting, and so on. If any of that had been slightly off, it might not have made it.

I'm not at all sure he got all that right intentionally, it might well be he just got the balances right through accident.

But I do think the precise qualities of the game did matter, and I don't think there's a huge number of games out there that could have done just as well.

It's a mistake to cast these things in absolutes. Hopefully I didn't do that.

Of course, all those things you mention are important. Critical, even. But appstores are not meritocracies, no more than the music industry is. You've got to be working at the top of your game, getting all the details right, and even then 1) you've got a small chance of making it big, and 2) somebody with less skill and execution might do much better than you do.

These aren't reasons to give up, just to understand the risks involved. This market exists to extract the maximum amount of developer work for the minimum amount of money. That way the consumers love their little gadgets more -- and will buy even more. It does not exist to make really great developers a decent living. (Although that's certainly possible)

I get it. Here you have a developer who just wanted to make games, and maybe a bit of money. He creates a hit, by accident, with a game that has addicting gameplay (and it is, I personally love it).

Then everyone in the media calls his game crap and accuses him of cheating the system (without producing any proof). I'd quit too.

I'm sure he was inundated with people wanting to buy it, license it, claim the made it, asking for tips, etc. I'd imagine this kind of thing basically ruins your email address.

Then when he said he didn't like the attention, more hate came. Then when he said he was pulling it, death threats came.

Reminds me of people who win the lottery. All their friends just want something, charities start bugging them, they can't be left alone.

I feel sorry for him.

I feel sorry for him too, but it seems like it should have been obvious that publicly pulling the game was not the way to make things better. It sucks, but the only way to make it go away is to just ignore it all for a while. The internet will find its new obsession in short order, and Flappy Bird's 15 minutes of fame will be over. Anything he does to try to avoid attention will just make it go on longer.

I don't see the point in quitting.

I'd rather just not read twitter for a few weeks(can't be that hard) and rake in the cash.

Maybe he doesn't care about money first and foremost? If nothing else, this move demonstrates it.

Granted, he probably made about a million by now, which will presumably last quite long where he lives. Still, he could have just kept it online and would probably never have to worry about money again.

I'm still wondering if culture has a bit to do with this.

Eastern (Asian) culture is a bit different than western attitude and way of approaching things.

I don't know if I agree with this. I was just talking to my friend about Flappy Bird reviews. When I first got Flappy Bird in early February, the button to rate the game was in the same place where I usually tapped to make the bird fly. Since the "Rate this App" button appeared so quickly after losing the game, I almost rated the app like 5 times in just a couple of minutes. I would like to see the different versions of the app and when this feature / bug was introduced.

^^^ hey look everybody, here he is !

but seriously best of luck to you if it is you.

you should remake the game now with a black swan in place of yellow bird.

I'm not him. Just happen to be a Vietnamese with the same last name :) "Nguyen" is a common last name in Vietnam, like 40% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nguyen).

I should maybe add his response, "I knoooow, WTF. It's annoying. Why doesn't he just make that button, the "Play Again button?"

Oh, you've caught a point. It's such a smart cheat!

Bad/Funny Flappy Bird reviews became a meme on its own: http://www.thechocolatelabapps.com/is-twitter-the-fuel-behin...

So I don't know if it's as simple to suggest it was a pay-for-review scheme, but rather just its own thing.

Same thing happened on Amazon milk reviews: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/09/technology/09milk.html

I don't think it's being suggested that a pay-for-review scheme was what caused it to be a hit.

The game was available on the store for seven months without getting much traction. The developer probably thought he would try some kind of pay-per-review/promotion service to get a few more downloads.

This got the game into the charts, but it only really began to take off because unlike many of its peers using pay-per-review the game actually had a hook that got people playing. In this case the pay-per-review was a tiny catalyst for vast growth.

Of course, this assumes the developer used some sort of paid promotion service.

But he denies that to be the case. And if it was his goal, then why is it pulling it off the app store?

Despite how rare it is to have a true grassroots viral hit, I think that's what happened in this case.

I think the story of this game exemplifies the fact that content needs a minimum amount of attention to reveal it's true value.

The journey of Flappy Bird appears to me like this:

Stage 1: Almost no attention, almost no growth

Stage 2: Some kind of grey market paid downloads / ratings service

Stage 3: Attention of minimum critical mass of early consumers (increase in audience of 1 or perhaps 2 orders of magnitude)

Stage 4: Attention of influencers on other platforms, especially pewdiepie on youtube (increase in audience by a couple of orders of magnitude)

Stage 5: Attention by large community of enthusiasts (increase in audience by a couple of orders of magnitude)

Stage 6: Mass market attention

where each stage is dependent on the one before it, with the exception of stage 2, which is performed externally.

What's interesting to me is that the qualities the game possesses, which were sufficient to carry it from stage 3 to stage 6 without promotion on the part of the dev, were not sufficient to propel it from stage 1 to stage 3. We could say that the true quality of the game was unknown in stage 1.

My personal opinion is that the vast majority of content created languishes in the equivalent of stage 1 for its particular ecosystem. Of this content, the vast majority will be garbage, a small minority will be reasonable and a tiny minority will have the potential to be a widespread hit. But of this last group, most or all of it will never emerge from stage 1 because stage 1 does not provide it with enough attention to separate it from the rest of the (bad) stage 1 content.

Increasingly I think that the journey to stage 1 to stage 3 is the most important, most difficult and most overlooked part of the progression.

For example, when something is submitted to HN, from my anecdotal observation it will typically get something like 5-10 simultaneous visitors from the new page. If it gets a minimum critical mass of votes to hit the front page, this will increase immediately to something like 50-100 simultaneous viewers and increase from there. But often, it only takes 3-5 upvotes for it to hit the front page. So the relatively trivial actions of the small critical mass of early consumers has an extraordinarily large effect on the dissemination of the content. Indeed, as a content creator, it's often struck me that the actions of those first 3-5 people have an equivalent significance, in terms of the world's experience of my content, to me as the creator.

And if you create good content, then just getting to the front page is by far the most difficult part of the process, because once there you will naturally attract upvotes from the vastly increased exposure. But with only a few random bits of cosmic entropy set differently, the creator could create exactly the same content, fail to get those first 3-5 votes, and the number of views on the article/app/etc. could be 10 rather than 10,000 or 100,000.

In my experience, lots of platforms follow the same model. Reddit is a very obvious one, but the same holds to for trying to get press interest: so much depends upon the decisions of a few key journalists, and that decision may depend on how many other emails hit their inbox that hour, or whether or not they've had their coffee yet, or some other particle of background entropy. This isn't a criticism of the press, it's just a consequence of the current system. The same is true for people who run influential blogs or social media accounts with large followings, or newsletters.

The problem is that there is less attention available per item of content than the minimum quantity of attention needed to rate the quality of that content well. When I create something new, my worry is never "Boy, I hope that people don't simply dislike this," it's always "Boy, I hope that enough people see this to give it a shot of achieving its potential, whatever that turns out to be." If it turns out people don't like it, which is of course always a possibility, that's fairly easy to handle. If it disappears into obscurity, that's much more difficult to accept.

When I create content now, my promotion strategy is 99% focused on that first stage. If it reaches that critical mass of attention among a small number of early, influential people, I feel like my job is done and the chips should fall as they may. If it reaches that initial critical mass, people will want to write press stories about it and post it on social media and ask for interviews and tell their friends about it, assuming its any good. This may be an obvious conclusion, but the interesting part, for me, is that the initial critical mass is much smaller, much more random and much more difficult to achieve than most people realize.

You should add the simpler, deeper issue of upvoting mechanically filtering out good long form content.

Say I found a link here and it's a really good long form story, I really got into it, even had a coffee break while reading it. Then I want to vote for it, but the link has fallen down and is hard to find back.

It is even worse on Google, Facebook or Twitter, because of the infinite scrolling. I always open seemingly interesting links in the background and continue scrolling, but then hardly ever even try to like, plus one or favorite good content.

It's like a perverse filter, selecting cat pics and crash gifs over really nice content that require more than a few seconds to digest.

The one who will fix this will actually revolutionize content selection and probably kill curation.

One simple change would be to replace time-based "gravity" dragging items down as they age. Instead, gravity could be based on the number of users who have "finished" consuming the content. Perhaps by just clicking "Back" to the aggregator, or by explicitly acknowledging the completion. There could be three buttons: Like, Dislike, and Saw But Don't Care. In the algorithm to drive items downward, time would be replaced by the count of all three actions. Long-form content would then not be penalized so much (but would still be disadvantaged by users who dislike or don't care about long-form content, of course).

A New page might also need to be sorted differently, e.g. by putting items with zero count at the top, and ignoring time as with the front page.

This is an extremely well articulated point. Nice job.

The music market has worked similarly for a long time.

Almost all markets work like this it's basically the innovation diffusion model from Crossing the Chasm.

I think this is the first and last time that i will read the name Pewdiepie as HN comment :9.

This illustrates an important point:

Information costs nothing to replicate, but it's attention that is the great scarce commodity of the information age. I expect to see extreme escalation in the sophistication of methods for getting peoples' attention in the coming years.

I think people are unwilling to accept luck as an explanation. This might especially be true for the HN audience, because so many of us work so hard hoping to have a success like this.

Well, at least in the (indie) gaming industry, it seems to be generally admitted. It's called "app store lottery" for a reason. And there's certainly not much survivorship bias going on.

This is a good example of the "Lemming Economy" that mobile phones have created, and which I cannot heap on enough derision.

The Lemming Economy follows a model where dozens upon dozens up near pointless applications are created in an attempt find just something that will get enough momentum to drive an ever increasing number of lemmings over the cliff (purchase). Upon succeeding more lemmings scramble to create copy-cats of the game to cash in on the stampede. There's no point except to try and generate cash out of they prevailing whims of the lemmings.

This model neither creates a viable business model (because you can't rely on quality equaling sales) nor useful software (because that doesn't drive the lemmings over the cliff).

Maybe Flappy Birds isn't horrible, I don't know. But the developer obviously didn't like getting caught in the stampede and all of a sudden getting exposed to the general population. I would have taken down the app, too.

I think the main lesson here is that the App Store isn't immune to the bias that plagues most online communities, namely that suddenly popular content benefits from its high position in the system (be that a forum board or section of the App Store) and then it skyrockets as people trust the often naive equation number of users=quality. This either creates successful franchises or an endless stream of one-hit wonders that perpetuates the winner-takes-all mechanism we all have come to know. An ideal system would surface quality content while ensuring equal footing for up-and-comers and wannabe competitors. It looks to me that the answer lies in a complex ranking algorithm that makes heavy use of statistical analysis instead of a set of unproven assumptions and a devil-may-care attitude toward keeping things simple to meet the lowest expectations and nothing more.

A lot of the dynamics you're describing here on Hacker News also apply to Hacker News. It's the same problem: Surface quality content and don't allow the items on the front page to choke out new submissions just because they're on the front page attracting all the votes.

If "getting famous" is such a devastating thing for an app developer, quit making games for popular devices. There is plenty of scientific computing projects that are far more interesting and have tiny audiences... lack of fame surely awaits you!

In fairness the whole app feels like someone experimenting with building something simple for the iOS platform rather than trying to make a mega-successful game.

So removing the app from the store doesn't turn off the ad revenue unless he kills his ad account. Removing it could be kind of a shrewd way to boost downloads one last time before people move on.

Even then, I'm pretty sure his revenues from this will be insignificant in a short time. This certainly seems like it lives from new users trying it and accidentally touching ads. The few power users that will still be around one day after it's taken off the stores probably won't matter revenue-wise.

And I can imagine that he'd lose all his money if he killed the account.

Flappy Bird is pretty much the definition of a black swan. I hope people don't take too much away from it other than: huh, that's weird.

The nerd in me is curious about factors that lead to higher scores. With so many data points, I'd love to see how android vs iphone users scored and if the color of flappy (or "time of day") had any impact on your score. Or how many other people popped a bottle of champagne when they reached level 6...

The most interesting question to me is what is you guys' experience with seeding app store reviews?

It seems that it definitely worked in that case (any many maybe more we don't know about). Are there some white hat review services, with people that actually download the app? Or is it all just black bot spammer'y?

I don't hate the guy, but what does get me is that some unethical paid download service and a whole lot of luck seemed to be the deciding factors for success, certainly not the game's quality. I wonder if it's gonna get better or worse in the near term. Pretty discouraging if you make games.

Flappy Bird's the first app with onscreen banner advertising I've happened upon for years and my god it's disgusting to have these crappy looking ads constantly sliding onto the top of the screen. I sincerely hope paid or otherwise bankrolled apps continue to be prevalent.

In the linked article, the writer claims that by using AdMob, he left $1M on the table... I'm curious - where does this claim come from? The fact that he could have sold the app? Or is there a different untapped revenue stream?

I feel that instead of taking the game down he could use the money that he was getting from the game and give it to charity. That way he could still live the simple life that he wanted while doing something positive as well.

The most important number about Flappy Bird is 4.

From dying you can be back flying again in less than 4 seconds and be back at the first obstacle in less than 8 seconds. There are many games that should learn from that.

Interesting article.. but I'd be careful about scraping anything from iTunes. This could easily be classified as wire fraud in the US (and there is already precedent with someone being convicted).

But the question is, what did he do in December that jump started his downloads? Or, if he didn't do anything, what happened that started the rise in downloads/reviews?

I really doubt anyone really got 9999. Not being cynical but what is the odd of so many ppl getting that thigh score?

If a player can get one point a second that's 2.78 hours of continuous play that would be needed to score 9999.

But how many try will it take to get pass 9998 and 9997? The precision there. I am sure someone may have that skill to do it, but it's really questionable whether all of them are legitimate or not. And in fact, are they all legitimate... the highest in real life I know is 200.

'Desert Bus' requires 8 hours to score one point...


...and people play it for days, for charity!

Wow. That is hilarious. I was going to comment that it should be an Apple/Android app just for shits and giggles but after a cursory search I discovered that it already is! And it costs $1!

Hacking scoreboards is pretty easy for people who are skilled at reverse engineering. Once one of these people figures out how to do it (usually by mocking up the high score message the game sends to the server) they release their crack on Cydia, and thousands of people take advantage of it.

Im convinced more people talk about this game than actually play it.

Obviously, this is the ultimate conclusion:

1. Make Flappy Bird 2. 3. Profits

What was his marketing experiment?

Some externals that had a huge influence on Flappy Bird are Vine and then a couple of huge play along YouTubers (such as "pewdiepie"). I made the analogy before that Flappy Bird is the 2 girls 1 cup of games, and while I saved myself from ever seeing that video, it became famous in reaction videos. Exactly the same thing happened with Flappy Bird, first on Vine in early January, and then as the mega-YouTubers picked it up in late January. It was likely pewdiepie who yielded the enormous uptick at the end of January.

It's worth noting that pewdiepie has 22+ million subscribers. The flappy birds video[1] from January 27th already has 9+ million views.


Ya, but the pew pew video wasn't posted until well after the game hit number 1.

The linked article talks about the enormous upswings at the end of January, and pewdiepie was likely the funnel that caused that.

However YouTubers had picked up Flappy Bird much earlier, again for the "so impossible" angle (in the same way that there were tonnes of reaction videos to the game Amnesia, though it was far less accessible so had a lower ceiling). For instance-


The linked article assumes bots during this period, but more likely it was simply that it started making the organic transit through the YouTubers.

Interesting. So there were a lot of reaction-style vines of people playing Flappy Bird?

Typically when a product shows up all over Vine like Flappy Bird did, at least some of them were paid for. Any evidence of this?

Absolutely. There are thousands of them. Indeed, the whole "this game is super frustrating" was a meme the author of the game picked up on and leveraged in December. e.g.


(Dong is one of the retweeters)

I love Flappy Bird. Period.

To be honest like realy honest, i couldn't careless. The guy was making more money than me and given my current situation, i can't feel not even the most tiny drop of empathy for him. Don't even like the game.

I would guess there was done kind of foul play and Apple said cut that out, here is a check for x amount of dollars. Just take the app down and let's forget about this.

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