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Utah boy's 'Bubble Ball' game floats to top of iTunes chart
Technology • Spanish Fork kid's "Bubble Ball" sets a record, sells more than 4 million copies.

By Vince Horiuchi The Salt Lake Tribune

Published January 25, 2011 12:28 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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A 14-year-old Spanish Fork boy just plucked the feathers off those angry birds.

Robert Nay did what many thought impossible: He developed a simple iPod game on his laptop called "Bubble Ball" that finally de-throned "Angry Birds" as the biggest-selling iPhone/iPod game on Apple's iTunes App Store.

So far "Bubble Ball" has sold more than 4 million copies and has held onto the No. 1 on iTunes spot for more than a week.

Not that it's going to make the boy hero a millionaire anytime soon. He made his game available for free on iTunes.

"I think it's pretty cool," said the Diamond Fork Junior High School eighth-grader. "It's pretty overwhelming. I've gotten tons of e-mails about it."

Actually, he's gotten more attention than that. Robert has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and CNN and has appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," all the media attention for toppling the app store's biggest-selling game of all time.

"Bubble Ball," which can be played on the iPod, iPhone and iPad, could easily fit into the category of one of those casual games that's "easy to play but difficult to master." It's a simple puzzle game in which you try to get the blue bubble from the starting gate to the checkered flag. And the game also functions as a physics quiz, as the bubble rolls downward on a series of platforms to make its way to the finish line. As the player you position a series of wooden and metal blocks to help guide the bubble to its destination.

There are 21 levels, which Robert's mother, Kari Nay, first designed on paper. Meanwhile, Robert's sister helped come up with the name "Bubble Ball," and now his dad is working on new levels that will be offered in a later download.

"We're wonderfully proud," said his mother. "It was amazing that he created an app and have it in the app store. Just that was wonderful. But to reach this high is even more amazing."

After watching his older brother Steven program computers at home, Robert has been interested in computers since his early elementary school years. Robert made his first website at the age of 9: a web page for his third-grade class.

"He taught himself pretty much," said Kari Nay. "My husband and I were not computer programmers. He [Robert] got interested and saw other people do it, particularly his older brother. He saw what could be done, and he wanted to do it. So he read books at the library and used computers at the library."

Robert decided he'd like to develop something for his iPod. "I thought a game would be fun to make because something like a utility would be kind of boring," he said.

So he came up with the idea for "Bubble Ball" and downloaded a program called the Corona SDK (for software developer's kit), the core engine that makes the game work. He learned how to use the software by reading the documentation that came with it, and then started writing the code for the game on his white Macbook laptop in- between homework and chores.

After writing 4,000 lines of code in one month, Robert completed "Bubble Ball" and released it in the app store Dec. 29. That first week, it was downloaded 300,000 times, then a million the week after, and now 4.3 million since Thursday night.

Why didn't he charge for the program? "I don't know," he said. "It was my first app, and I didn't think it would do that well."

Robert could have become a millionaire had he just charged the usual 99 cents for "Bubble Ball," of which Apple usually receives a 30 percent cut. But he has no regrets whatsoever.

For one, he and his mom are starting up a gaming company and are going to charge for future levels of "Bubble Ball" as an "in-app purchase" that owners of the game can download and install. Any money he makes, Robert hopes to stash away for college, as he is planning to attend Brigham Young University.

And perhaps by the time he's enrolled there, it'll be Robert who will teach his classmates about making iPhone apps.

"It's just got to be something that you want to do and be interested in," he offered as his only advice on making games. "You also have to believe that you can do it."

vince@sltrib.com.Twitter: twitter.com/ohmytech.



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