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FAST GROWTH

Why a Massively Popular Mobile App Died This Weekend
 

Over the weekend, the developer behind Flappy Bird voluntarily pulled the plug. Here's what can happen when you have too much success, too fast.

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Over the weekend, the developer of an incredibly popular mobile game called Flappy Bird decided to remove his creation from the Apple and Android app stores. On his Twitter Saturday, he had warned his loyal fanbase that he "couldn't take it anymore" and was going to pull the plug.

For any small business owner, the predicament might sound familiar.

In an earlier interview with a blog called Chocolate Lab Apps, the Vietnamese developer, Dong Nguyen, said he was making $50,000 per day from the game. Some have wondered if Nguyen pulled Flappy Bird because he had used bots to pump up the popularity. I have another theory.

Most businesses want their product to start selling quickly, but too much success too fast is not always a good problem to have. Nguyen tweeted at one point that he had started to hate the game because it ruined his "simple life." One look at his Twitter feed and you can see part of the problem. He was inundated every day with questions and comments (and some criticisms), and was apparently trying to keep pace with the newfound enthusiasm for the game. 

At the same time, Flappy Bird is one ugly duck of a product.

The "game" is more of a demo for the screen-tapping feature of modern smartphones. There's a crudely-drawn bird and green pipes that seemed borrowed from Mario Brothers. To fly, you tap the screen repeatedly and try to make it through openings in the pipes. The levels never change. There are no enemies to attack, or any real challenges.

Yet, the game is insanely difficult. At first, you might make it through only a few of the pipes. The game went viral in large part because people starting talking about this simplistic game that's so difficult. There is no learning curve, no complexity to the game design. You just tap the screen over and over again. Some gamers have spent hours racking up scores in the triple digits.

It seems clear that Nguyen just wasn't prepared for the popularity. Last week, the game ranked as the No. 1 app on both the Android and Apple app stores.

If he's smart, he'll seek some business advice and circle the wagons. Then he'll return with a much better game, some support, and maybe a little branding that goes beyond a tiny bird that flaps its wings. His rabid fanbase will be waiting.

IMAGE: Flappy Bird
Last updated: Feb 10, 2014

JOHN BRANDON is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.
@jmbrandonbb




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