It was created in two or three days by an independent game developer, then quietly released in May last year. Now, the free Flappy Bird mobile app has been taken down after accusations it gamed app store rankings to become an overnight sensation and copied graphics from another game.
It all appeared to come to a head at the weekend, when the app creator, Nguyen Ha Dong, announced the grounding of the addictive game in a series of tweets on Saturday. He also apologised to Flappy Bird players.
Earlier, Dong, who is based in Hanoi in Vietnam, called Flappy Bird a success of his but said it had ruined his "simple" life.
"So now I hate it," he wrote.
This was later followed by a warning, which was retweeted more than 130,000 times, saying that Flappy Bird would shortly be removed from Apple and Google's app stores.
Almost 22 hours later, the app was removed, despite Dong telling tech news website The Verge last week that it was making him on average $US50,000 ($56,000) a day from in-game advertising. (The removal doesn't affect those who already have it but does mean no one else can get it.)
In the game, Flappy Bird players have to steer a bird between green Mario-inspired pipes. Prior to the takedown, the Android version had been downloaded up to 50 million times and attracted more than half a million reviews.
The reviews were mixed though, with the Huffington Post describing it as "an insanely irritating, difficult and frustrating game" and AmongTech saying it included all the right ingredients of an addictive game that could become bigger than the popular Candy Crush.
Many people have questioned Dong on Twitter about his decision to take down the game as only a day earlier he had been talking about developing the app for Microsoft's Windows phones. The app only rose out of obscurity last month to become one of the most downloaded smartphone games on both Apple and Google's online stores, several months after its initial release.
Some suggested its removal might be temporary and a marketing ploy similar to Disney's when it puts its movies into the "Disney Vault". Once there, the movies are not made available in stores for several years until they are re-released. In the past Disney has said this is done to both control their market and to allow Disney films to be fresh for new generations of young children. Despite this, many believe it's done purely to drive demand.
Two friends of Dong reportedly told news agency Reuters that Mario creator Nintendo had sent him a warning letter, and that this may be the reason behind its removal. However the Japanese game maker said it was not considering a lawsuit.
"It sounds very much like a rumour, and if it is, we certainly can't comment on that," Nintendo's media representative told Reuters on Friday.
Flappy Bird's rise in the charts hasn't been without scepticism too, with accusations that Dong gamed the app store rankings using "bots" in an attempt to make it look like the game was popular in the lead up to the holiday season. Dong did not deny it when questioned by reporters.
"I respect all other people opinions," he reportedly told Britain's Telegraph last week.
"I won't give any comment to this article. I'd like to make my games in peace." [sic]
Asked again by a Newsweek reporter on Twitter a day after the Telegraph report, Dong replied: "It doesn't matter. Don't you think? If I did fake it, should Apple let it live for months?"
In another response to a blogger, however, Dong went close to denying it but remained coy.
"I am sure I didn’t use any kind of promotion," he told Elaine Heney of the Chocolate Lab Apps blog. Earlier, Heney suggested that perhaps Twitter helped with the success of Flappy Bird.
"Its chart success defies logic, it has captivated the world with its gameplay, and Dong is becoming an inspiring legend to indie app developers around the world," Heney wrote.
As recently as last Friday, an extra boost of publicity came from Apple's official App Store Twitter account, which said that a staff member had been able to reach a score of 99 in the game. A number of popular YouTube members, such as Casper Lee, have also helped with promoting it.
App builder Carter Thomas was the one behind questioning the legitimacy of the game's rankings. He said it appeared Dong had used bots - which download the app thousands of times - to game the rankings. Having an app appear high on an app store's charts is crucial to the success of many apps, as it means they are seen by many more people.
Another analysis by software developer Zach Williams also concluded that Dong "probably used some sort of service to download/rate Flappy Bird on the App Store" to game its rankings. Williams said it began gaining traction around January 9, when reviews began to grow rapidly.
Dong could not be reached via email for comment by Fairfax Media on Monday. He had reportedly turned his telephone off after cancelling an interview with Reuters on Thursday.
Unlike other successful game makers such as Rovio Entertainment, which produced the hugely popular Angry Birds and has hundreds of programmers, Dong has said he made Flappy Bird by himself in a few nights.
"I made the game alone so there is no team, and my games are very simple so there is no need for much manpower resources," Dong said.
- With Reuters