Tween's Game Tops iTunes List, Unseats Angry Birds

Robert Nay, 14, creates #1 free game in Apple's iTunes.

January 17, 2011, 6:46 AM

Jan. 17, 2011 -- Watch out, Mark Zuckerberg. A new programming prodigy is hot on your heels.

But he isn't based in Silicon Valley or any of the country's other high-tech corridors. He lives in Spanish Fork, Utah. Oh, and one more thing: he's just 14 years old.

Robert Nay is only in the 8th grade, but over the past couple of weeks, an iPhone application created by the young computer whiz has become one of the hottest smartphone applications around.

During the past two weeks, his free game "Bubble Ball" has been downloaded more than 2 million times. Last week, it nabbed the #1 spot on the list of free games in Apple's iTunes store, knocking the ever-popular "Angry Birds" game to #2.

"I was pretty astonished," Nay said about the game's success. "When I released it, I didn't think it would do so well."

Nay's mother, Kari Nay, said that like most young teenagers, Robert and his friends enjoy playing games on their iPods. But Robert started building a game of his own after a few friends suggested he give it a try.

"Since they know Robert's good with computers, they suggested he make one," she said.

Robert, who built his first website in the 3rd grade, said, "why not?"

He did some research in the public library and found a program, Ansca Mobile's Corona SDK (software developer's kit), that would help simplify the task.

For more than a month, Robert spent a couple of hours each day on the game, ultimately writing more than 4,000 lines of computer code, his mother said.

Kari Nay said she helped him design some of the puzzles in the game, but he came up with the concept and did everything else on his own.

According to its App store description "Bubble Ball" is a "fun, new physics puzzle game, where you will test your ingenuity and thinking skills to get the bubble to the goal."

Robert said he enjoyed creating the game, which was somewhat inspired by features of his own favorite iPod games, but it wasn't always smooth sailing.

"There were some times when I felt like, 'can people seriously do this?' It seemed impossible," he said. "But then there were times when things just worked and I'd be like 'maybe I can actually do this.'"

'Bubble Ball' Is Deceptively Simple, Says Mobile App Company

Carlos Icaza, co-founder of Ansca Mobile (which makes Corona SDK), said part of "Bubble Ball's" allure is its simplicity.

"Because it's so simple, I think I can beat it," he said. "You go 'yeah right,' and then you realize there's a lot of little tricks to make this actually work."

After the game mesmerized Icaza's staff members ("It brought the entire staff to a halt," he said), the company named Bubble Ball its top application for the week of Jan. 9.

Icaza said the Corona SDK simplifies the development of mobile applications so that people other than hard-core programmers, like creatives and hobbyists, can access the mobile world.

But he said that when they learned that "Bubble Ball" was created by 14-year-old Robert, "we were blown away."

"Some of my closest friends in the programming world started sending me e-mails [saying] 'I need to get off my a** and get this done,'" he said. "This is very inspiring."

But those other programmers had better hurry up, because Robert, who plans to pursue a career in computing, said he's already plotting his next move.

Aside from excelling at school, Robert plays the piano, mandolin and trumpet. But given the response to "Bubble Ball," he said he's going to be carving out more of his time to work on his next application.

Robert said he'll likely charge people for his next download, but is learning quickly to be tight-lipped about his plans.

When asked about his newest game, he told "Good Morning America Weekend" just this: "It's secret for now."

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