Flappy Bird: A Game Changer for Vietnam's Developers

Until Sunday, the world's most popular smartphone game was "Flappy Bird," a simple but frustratingly difficult video game that was created by a developer in Vietnam. But just as its popularity soared, its creator abruptly removed the game from the marketplace. 

Surprisingly difficult and infuriatingly addictive, Flappy Bird has become a global sensation. Last week it became a top seller on both Apple iPhones and smartphones using the Google Android operating system.

The game uses simple graphics, that reminded many of Nintendo's "Super Mario Brothers," a classic video game from the 1980s, players guide a flapping bird between broken pipes by tapping the screen.

Smartphone games are big business, with many companies hiring teams of programmers to make the next hit. But indie developer Nguyen Ha Dong said it only took him a few days to create Flappy Bird.

The success of the game was completely unexpected, and inexplicable, much like Korean popstar Psy's smash hit "Gangam Style," the editor of Tech-in-Asia, Anh Minh-do said. "I talk about how everyone copies Angry Birds principles, and I think people will try to copy the principles of Flappy Bird. You know maybe Flappy Bird's fame is not copyable. Maybe it's one of those flukes… I think it's very hard to replicate those moments," said Minh.

Nguyen Ha Dong, the author of the game Flappy Bird. relax inside a coffee shop in Hanoi on Feb. 5, 2014. /AFP Nguyen Ha Dong, the author of the game Flappy Bird. relax inside a coffee shop in Hanoi on Feb. 5, 2014. /AFP

But being shot to fame was apparently too much for the game's 29-year-old creator, Hanoi native Nguyen Ha Dong. In a series of messages he published on Twitter in recent days, Dong revealed he was taking the game down because the attention was overwhelming.

"I can call Flappy Bird is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it," he wrote.

But although it's "Game Over" for Flappy Bird, experts are hopeful Dong's legacy in Vietnam could be longer lasting.

Vietnam is the largest online games market by value in South-East Asia, with revenue of over $250 million in 2013.

The local market is dominated by VNG, which holds 60 percent of the Vietnamese gaming market. But Dong is one of thousands of upcoming independent developers, who mostly focus on creating mobile games.

Despite that competition, Tech In Asia's Minh said the quality of the games they produce tends to be low.

"Not that many of them are world class and not that many of them are going after the global market. If you're going for the global market then you have to be way better," he said.

In Vietnam, games are very expensive to develop and are hindered by complicated licensing procedures. The result is most Vietnamese gamers play foreign games, particularly from China, which are adapted for the local market.

Do Quy Doan, who recently retired as deputy minister of communication, said the games industry in Vietnam is still new and there are still obstacles as well as mechanisms to encourage it.

Doan said the success of Flappy Bird is very encouraging for the future of the games industry.

In the meantime, whether he likes it or not, the spotlight is likely to remain on Flappy Bird's creator Nguyen Ha Dong, even though his game is no longer available to download.

VOA News / Feb. 11, 2014 08:21 KST