After Flappy Bird, Vietnam Gaming Takes Off

After Flappy Bird, Vietnam Gaming Takes Off
Lien Hoang

If you played a game on your smartphone in February, there’s a good chance it was Flappy Bird, a Vietnamese mobile app that took the gaming world by storm.

According to Mary-Anne Lee for Games in Asia in Singapore, even professional gamers in Singapore couldn’t help but take notice.

“The internet just blew up with news of Flappy Bird. It was ridiculously difficult and ridiculously addictive. I think what Flappy Bird has done for the country is given it the courage to realize, hey, we may not be Japan or Korea, but we do have the ability to produce something as groundbreaking as Flappy Bird. And I think after this, it’s very possible for a lot more companies to follow.”

Flappy Bird brought Vietnam some global fame but Ngo Luyen, who founded DivMob to develop apps, says the gaming industry here was under way long before then.

“In the past year, the mobile phone market in general and the gaming apps market in particular have developed really quickly. A year ago, there was a huge gap between the quality of products here and Japanese products. But the quality has changed rapidly — it’s constantly getting better.”

Vietnam has many ingredients for a potential gaming industry: a young population; wide internet penetration; and more phone subscriptions than there are people.

Ngo Luyen explains that gaming also attracts Vietnamese because it’s not expensive. “The cost to develop a mobile game is really, very low, compared with the cost to develop a computer or online game. For PC games, a group of three or four people would really struggle to make a good product. But with mobile games, the same group could create a product of international quality.”

The low barrier to entry is what allows independent developers like Nguyen Tan Loc to experiment with new ideas for game apps.

“The greatest feeling comes not when we finish the app, but while we’re developing it. For example, we finish a design, but then we get another idea, and we change the design around and try it out. And if it works, it’s really exciting. What’s really special is, if we give our game to other people to play and they like it, we’re really happy.”

The government is investing in the technology sector, too. It has laid out a roadmap to make Vietnam a technology hub by 2020, according to Tech in Asia writer Le Dang Hieu.

“The way it affects the gaming industry is, they are supporting IT and there are also a lot of programs for educational purposes. And you can see that there are a lot of games training courses, and institutions are starting to pay attention to the game industry.

The world is paying attention to Vietnam’s gaming industry, too — and wondering if there could be another hit like Flappy Bird in Vietnam’s future.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!