Flappy Bird creator pays 14% of purported US$446k tax

The Vietnamese developer behind the 2013 hit mobile game Flappy Bird has paid more than VND1.4 billion (US$62,500) in tax for the income he had reaped from the historically popular app, a tax official has said.

While relevant agencies are still discussing what kind of tax Nguyen Ha Dong has to pay, the Hanoi-based developer has “completed the payment of his own accord,” said Nguyen Quang Tien, deputy head of the reform division under the General Department of Taxation.

Dong, who goes online by the name Dong Nguyen, released the addictive Flappy Bird on May 24, 2013, but the game would only become popular worldwide in early 2014.

At the end of January 2014, it was the most downloaded free game on App Store.

During this period, its developer claimed that Flappy Bird was earning US$50,000 a day from in-app advertising as well as sales.

The 30-year-old removed Flappy Bird from both App Store and Google Play on February 10, 2014, due to guilt over what he considered to be its addictive nature and overuse.

flappy bird creator pays 14% of purported us$446k tax hinh 0
Nguyen Ha Dong (C) speaks at an event in Ho Chi Minh City on December 19, 2014.
Photo: Tuoi Tre

The removal also came as it became debatable whether Dong should pay taxes for the huge earnings his app generated.

In August 2014, Dong resurrected the game and renamed it Flappy Birds Family. But it was only available for download from the Android app store and could be played merely on Amazon Fire TV, which is a digital media player that allows users to play video games with the included remote, through a mobile app, or with a game controller.

Later that same month the developer introduced Swing Copters, considered another Flappy Bird sequel. The new game was expected to be Nguyen’s second hit of 2014, but it failed to find fame.

Swing Copters was considered one of the 14 biggest flops in tech that year by Business Insider.

It is believed that Dong has to pay as much as VND10 billion (US$446,429) in tax, which means he has just paid 14% of the sum, according to tax analysts.

It is in fact a challenge for Vietnamese tax authorities to determine how the app-generated income should be taxed.

“In this time of advanced technology and the Internet, there are many new online business models that are not included in any of the current tax regimes,” Tien was quoted by newswire ICTNews as saying.

“So it is difficult to inspect or collect taxes from them.”

The General Department of Taxation has in fact looked into the tax issues of the Flappy Bird creator since early 2014, shortly after which Dong shut down the app.

Tien did not elaborate on what kind of tax Dong had paid, as well as whether he still has to make more payments in the future.

The objective of Flappy Bird was to direct a flying bird, named "Faby," which moves continuously to the right between sets of Mario-like pipes. If the player touches the pipes, the game ends. The bird briefly flaps upward each time the player taps the screen; if the screen is not tapped, the bird falls due to gravity.

In 2014 Dong was listed among ten Internet millionaires who made fortunes out of thin air by entertainment news site The Richest, while the game itself was included in the list of the world’s 50 most popular brands that year by social media intelligence technology firm Infegy.

The app creator was also featured in the “30 Under 30” list of 2014, which honored 30 Vietnamese individuals who stood out in the industries they were part of by Forbes Vietnam.

The Hanoian now devotes his time to .GEARS, an Internet-based company he founded to “produce and publish bite-sized arcade mobile games,” as his life mission is “to make good games,” he told Forbes Vietnam earlier this year.

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