Update 11 Feb 2014: Unsurprisingly, the two auctions we pointed out that were selling Flappy Bird phones at near $100,000 seem to have been pulled from eBay (and the links to those auctions won't work now). It's not clear whether eBay or the sellers removed these items. There are still plenty of phones with the game with asking prices in the hundreds or low thousands, and one currently at $16,200, though that also has a suspiciously high number of bids.
The creator of Flappy Bird mysteriously pulled the game from app stores on Sunday, tweeting that he just couldn’t “take it anymore”—presumably referring to the crazy hype and global attention surrounding the skyrocketing success of the laughably simple yet rage-inducingly difficult mobile game. Dong Nguyen, the Vietnam-based game developer responsible for button-mashing tantrums across the globe, added that he also wouldn’t sell the game. But other people seem more than happy to do just that.
I am sorry 'Flappy Bird' users, 22 hours from now, I will take 'Flappy Bird' down. I cannot take this anymore.— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014
Following the announcement, enterprising eBayers have flocked to the auction site to sell off smartphones with Flappy Bird already downloaded—and some of them have bids nearing $100,000.
A 16GB Apple iPhone 5 with Flappy Bird is currently listed on eBay at the unbelievable price of $90,000 (£50,000), after 62 bids. A grey 5S with Flappy Bird is at $99,900 after 74 bids. I mean "unbelievable" quite literally here; some have suggested that fraudulent bids may be artificially inflating the prices.
Probably spurred on by news reports of the increasingly stratospheric bids, a number of other listings have gone up with starting prices in the hundreds, but the majority haven’t attracted any bids yet. Quite why a few in particular are pushing six figures while others lack any bids is unclear, and I’ll remain skeptical until the money actually changes hands.
Because I hate to break it to any bidders, but a phone with Flappy Bird definitely isn’t, as some listings proclaim, all that “rare.” The game was downloaded an estimated 50 million times, which means there are literally millions of phones out there with the game. Even if some of those were bot-powered, as at least one mobile consultant has suggested, you only have to ask around to see quite how popular the game was, and how many people still have a copy.
And even if your love for Flappy Bird is that great that you would part with your life’s savings just to keep flapping (though why you wouldn't have downloaded the app yourself would seem strange in that case), bidding on a used smartphone on eBay isn’t the only option. A blog post on Torrent Freak points out that “getting hold of an unauthorized copy right now is easy,” and adds, “and since it's no longer officially available, that makes it perfectly OK to 'pirate' a copy—doesn’t it?” Note: still illegal, though.
Nguyen was reported to have been making up to $50,000 a day from advertising in the game, and as he opted to take it down and essentially forfeit any future profits, Torrent Freak suggests that illegally pirating the game is arguably “completely OK” on a moral level, as it’s not like it takes any revenue from the creator. Alternatively, you could just replace the game with a clone like "Tappy Bird" or "Clumsy Bird," and let's face it, you probably wouldn't notice the difference.
But while it might be completely ridiculous (and what product of the internet hype machine isn’t?), the existence of $90,000 Flappy Bird phones is surely a testament to the effect the 8-bit-style big-lipped character had in its fleeting lifespan.
Only Nguyen knows why he decided to abruptly end the world’s love affair with his game at the height of its popularity, and he’s remaining characteristically tight-lipped. When Motherboard’s Yannick LeJacq attempted to reach him for a previous article, all he would say was that he was taken aback by the interest and didn’t want to be involved with press. The Guardian reported that he turned his phone off after cancelling an interview with Reuters last week. I’ve reached out to Nguyen for this story and will update if I hear back, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
The developer’s shunning of media attention supports his tweeted excuse that he simply “cannot take it anymore”—which presumably referred to the spotlight of having created a viral hit on his own. Others have suggested that legal issues might have played a role, as Flappy Bird is undeniably pretty reminiscent of Nintendo games. But Nguyen tweeted that wasn’t the case.
It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014
Whatever his reasons, he’s no doubt made enough money to keep him comfortable for a while, and deleting the game before people got bored of it only serves to cement its place in history. Torrent Freak even goes so far as to suggest a potential marketing cynicism. “The press this game has got will ensure that Nguyen’s next creation is a huge hit from the second it lands,” the blog observes—“even if it did take the needless death of a bird to achieve that.”