Flappy Bird mania has morphed into hyper-mania since 29-year-old Hanoi-based indie developer Dong Nguyen removed it from the marketplace on Sunday. The drama has now progressed to the next logical step, eBay. Previously available for purchase was one AT&T iPhone 5s, gray, with 16GB of space, installed with Flappy Bird. The price went up to around $99, 900 after 24 hours of bidding before disappearing from eBay. Various and sundry Flappy Bird-equipped tablets and phones are currently on eBay and range anywhere from $300 to a few thousand dollars. One hopeful has a starting price of $350,000 and a “Buy It Now” price of $5,000,000. There are no bids as of yet in that particular auction.
Up to and including the fake eBay auctions, Flappy Bird’s history is as intriguing as the game itself, which is a unique blend of simplicity and challenge. It is, thus, frustratingly addictive. It took Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen only two to three days to create Flappy Bird, and it was released on May 24, 2013. In September, the game was updated for iOS 7. By January of 2014, it was at the top of the Free Apps chart in the Chinese and U.S. App Stores. On January 30th, the Android version of the game was made available in the Google Play store. And then, just when it had risen to the position of most popular free app worldwide in both the App Store and Google Play and was also earning a reported $50,000 a day in advertising revenue, Dong Nguyen decided to pull it off the market.
February 8th was a very tough day for Nguyen. At 2:15 a.m. UTC time, he tweeted that Flappy Bird has ruined his simple life, so he now hates it. In the same tweet, he also poignantly conceded that he considers it one of his successes. At 11:00 a.m. of that same day, again via tweet, Nguyen announced that he would take the game down in 22 hours. He added, “I cannot take this anymore.” Two minutes later, he tweeted that the removal of the game from the App Store and Google Play was not related to legal issues, but that he “just cannot keep it anymore.” In following tweets, he stated that he would continue to make games, but not to ask him to buy Flappy Bird as he was not interested in selling it. The strain that Flappy Bird fame had placed Nguyen under was apparent in days prior to its removal, when he tweeted that “Press people are overrating the success of my games. It is something I never want. Please give me peace.” And he specifically tweeted the following to a Newsweek reporter: “Hi Joe, I think press should give my game some peace. Its success is really overrate! I’m sorry, I refuse to answer questions.”
On February 9th, at almost exactly the 22-hour mark, he pulled the game from Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Following the removal, Time reported that there were several merchants on eBay selling devices that had the game pre-installed on it. The iPhone 5s that is going for $99,900 had 22 separate bidders, who some say were shill bidders, but presumably at least some of the other devices listed represent authentic bidders and will be sold for thousands of dollars.
Some hypothesize that the reason behind Nguyen’s removal of the game revolve around legal issues, even though Nguyen said explicitly the opposite. The game’s graphics are highly-reminiscent of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers, and some of the art in the game, including the pipes, seems to be taken from the Nintendo blockbuster sans modification. And a warning letter had been sent by Nintendo to Nguyen, according to two of his friends. Company spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa has denied this, stating in an email to the Wall Street Journal that it has not complained about Flappy Bird’s similarities to Super Mario Brothers at all. Dong’s strategy was sound if in fact he was worried about legal entanglements. He denied any wrongdoing while putting a stop to the profits before the pile of coin became large enough to be interesting to the likes of Nintendo, a huge company with an accompanying huge legal department.
Now it looks like Nguyen will share the wealth with some of his fans, who will turn their frustration into profit by auctioning off their Flappy Bird devices. Like Nguyen, they too will give up on the game after realizing a profit from it. What an puzzling flap the klutzy little bird has caused.
By Donna Westlund