Ouriel Ohayon of AppsFire watches the App Store for trends like a hawk. Recently he noticed that a single indie developer had the #1, #2 and #6 top positions on Top Free iPhone Apps.
The #1 app is called Flappy Bird and is a not so subtle variation on Tiny Wings. Or as Georgia at iMore puts it: “the game which is what remains when you suck the fun and joy out of Tiny Wings”. Ouch. But since when does the App Store reward fantastic games that hard core games love? For proof, look no further than Candy Crush and the many successful IAP games.
How does an indie developer beat out Candy Crush and other publishers who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to maintain their top positions in the App Store?
Elaine Heney of Chocolate Lab Apps appears to be the only one who has managed to get an interview with the developer Dong Nguyen. In the interview Dong Nguyen claims that he did not “use any promotional methods”.
Carter Thomas has analyzed the historic rankings of Flappy Bird and the other two apps, and his conclusion is that something fishy is going on.
Paying for downloads is nothing new in the App Store economy. The top free to play games do this all the time. A crucial component to make such a campaign profitable is that your app is finely tuned to extract the most money from the players. The big guys have this down to a science. But even with all that in-house knowledge, a common strategy is to launch the app in a smaller market (e.g. Australia or Canada) to tweak and tune the IAPs before launching on a larger scale.
Flappy Bird has none of these characteristics. The only monetization is AdMob banners. This is hardly an optimized monetization strategy.
The darker side of paying for downloads is using bots to inflate your numbers. Since Flappy Bird is ranked high in 50 stores around the world at the same time, it would require an immense botnet to achieve this. The larger your efforts to cheat are, the larger your risk of being exposed becomes. It seems unlikely to me that an indie developer would get his hands on such a weapon.
Many people have pointed out that the reviews in the App Store for Flappy Bird look fake. But when did people suddenly start writing quality reviews in the App Store? Another explanation could be that there’s a meme on Twitter where people try to one-up each other with writing and finding wacky reviews for Flappy Bird.
I’m not going to pass any judgement because we don’t know all the facts.
In my mind the most suspicious part is how did the other two apps climb to the top of the App Store when there is no cross promotion of these apps in Flappy Bird. Do that many people really make an effort to go to the App Store and search for other apps by the same developer and download them?
If there was anything shady going on in the sudden rise to the top, then it’s a sad day. Yet another way to game the App Store. Or as some people would say: business as usual in the app economy. If there is one, I hope Apple finds and closes that loophole quickly.
If this is genuinely a viral super nova for Dong Nguyen, along the lines of Temple Run’s rise to fame a couple of years ago, then that makes me very happy. Congratulations to Dong Nguyen for hitting that perfect combination to make his apps go viral! This means that there is still hope for indie developers to hit it big time in the App Store without a mega budget.