Though Flappy Bird had already been available for some months, it experienced an unprecedented boom in user numbers from the start of 2014 onwards. It reportedly made developer Dong Nguyen a small fortune, making it all the more incredible that he abruptly pulled the app from stores. According to WildTangent's Sean Vanderdasson (Senior Vice President, Games Service), something fishy was going on.
While some have speculated that Nguyen was anticipating a legal challenge from Nintendo based on Flappy Bird sharing very similar visual assets to the Super Mario series (something Nintendo itself has denied), Vanderdasson believes that Nguyen may have been jumping ship before being called out for fixing chart placements with bots and fake user reviews.
"That massive spike across all the titles and platforms, even though the titles weren't cross-marketed strongly just seemed weird," said Vanderdasson.
"You can hit the lottery, and it can happen, but that kind of growth paired with the developer taking it down doesn't feel right. [Nguyen] says that it was 'all too much' for him, but it seems more like he was protecting his legal and financial interests.
"I saw the graph, and for someone who doesn't spend anything on marketing, I can't quantify what happened there other than that this person should be playing the lottery rather than developing games if they're that lucky. In poker, you don't stop when you're on a heater -- why did Nguyen, right?"
Vanderdasson believes that until app store chart metrics move from a score system (be that install counts or star ratings) to a combined metric or personalised recommendation set-up for apps and games (similar to WildTangent's own system), this issue will occur again and again.
"Any system where you can buy installs that results in charting is a fixed system, and then the question is, who is the benefactor in that?"
Google at the very least seems to have recognised this failing with its own Play Store. It now punishes bad installs, taking account of high uninstall rates, looking to remove the fictitious accounts that may be skewering chart positions. Whether Google would have found failings within Flappy Bird's practices though, we may now never know.