True Story of Flappy BirdFlappy Bird, we hardly knew ye.

What began as a side project last May shot up the iTunes charts in November, hit number one just weeks ago, and is now gone – pulled from circulation by the app creator himself. A maddeningly difficult game, despite its seemingly simple tap-to-flap mechanic, Flappy Bird has provided more drama in the mobile app world than anything else in recent memory.

How did it get so popular? Why did it disappear? And most importantly, what can aspiring app entrepreneurs learn from its meteoric rise and fall?

Flapping Toward Fame

As narratives of the whole saga go, Mashable’s is hard to beat. A developer in Vietnam named Dong Nguyen built the app in his spare time for his small mobile game studio, .GEARS. It debuted respectably, ranking in the top 1,000 family games in the US iTunes store, before quickly disappearing from the charts. Then, over the course of two months in late fall, it climbed to the top spot.

One blogger said the rise in popularity looked suspiciously like a scam, with bots posting automated reviews and downloading the app from phony IP addresses to juice its ranking. His own analysis, though, showed that Nguyen’s other two games took off shortly after Flappy Bird, suggesting that users were simply downloading other apps by the same developer.

Clipped Wings

By January, Flappy Bird was so successful that Nguyen made the rounds interviewing at tech blogs. He told The Verge last week that the game had been downloaded 50 million times and was earning him $50,000 every day through in-app ads.

Flying so high proved perilous, however. Nguyen became overwhelmed by the attention he was getting. Accusations of stealing artwork from Nintendo’s classic Super Mario Bros. and players’ vocal love/hate relationship with the game wore on him. Finally declaring that Flappy Bird was too addicting, Nguyen removed it from iTunes and Google Play on Sunday, February 10.

Wisdom of Owls

Most apps don’t rocket to fame and fortune six months after release – or ever. Among hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, Flappy Bird is almost literally a one-in-a-million occurrence. “The Next Flappy Bird” won’t be anything like Flappy Bird, because as derivative as all its elements were, their unique combination (and the communal frustration it engendered) is what appealed to users.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from its success.

Give your app away for free. Nguyen never asked or expected a cent for Flappy Bird. All his earnings came from a simple ad banner at the top of the screen. Another monetization option is in-app purchases ($0.99 to remove ads, say, or to be able to survive one bonk against a pipe), used to great profitable effect by games like Candy Crush Saga.

Make it social. One thing that helped Flappy Bird go viral was the integration of Twitter into the app. A single touch allowed players to share their scores, amounting to free advertising.

Be patient. Six months is an eternity in the mobile technology world, but that’s how long it took for Flappy Bird to catch an updraft – and it wasn’t even Nguyen’s first app. Keep marketing. Try something different. Make a whole new app; Nguyen’s other games were boosted by Flappy Bird’s success, and he wisely updated them the same day he took Flappy Bird down.

No one can promise overnight success. Having a great app is the place to start, though. To talk to a Zco app development expert, call (603) 881-9200 or email us.

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