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'Flappy Bird' craze spawns clones, outrageous auctions

Published February 12, 2014 7:43 pm

Video game • Viral sensation's takedown only fuels the fire.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Either Vietnamese video game developer Nguyen Ha Dong is as wacky as the "Flappy Bird" in his controversial mobile game or he's a flat-out genius.

Since Nguyen, 29, pulled the release of his blockbuster game from Apple's iTunes App Store and Google Play, "Flappy Bird" fever has gotten even hotter.

Used iPhones and Android-based phones are being sold on eBay with the game installed — a supposed draw for buyers because you can't buy "Flappy Bird" anymore. And clones, some made in just a day or two, have popped up on the app stores to replace the original.

Nguyen's mini mobile game is simultaneously being praised and panned for its easy-to-play, hard-to-master mechanics. It's a side-scrolling exercise in which a little bird moves from left to right, and the player has to tap on the screen to keep it flying between the ends of water pipes that look suspiciously like the pipes in "Super Mario Bros." The game is over if you crash into one of the pipes, and keeping the momentum going after even a few seconds has proven to be maddeningly difficult.

On Sunday, Nguyen suddenly pulled the game, citing that he could not "take it anymore," referring to all the attention "Flappy Bird" had been getting him. Since the beginning of the year, the free game had been at the top of the app store charts, and it has been reported that Nguyen was making about $50,000 per day from its advertising.

In an interview with USA Today on Tuesday, Nguyen said he pulled the game, not because of any legal issues for its similar design to "Super Mario Bros." but because " 'Flappy Bird' has unexpected effects. It causes addiction [in] people. I think it is an unexpected problem … and I have to remove it," he said.

Some have speculated that Nguyen really pulled the game because he may have used software bots to automatically generate positive reviews and downloads or paid a service to write positive reviews for the game to heighten its reputation. And pulling the game has done nothing more than raise "Flappy Bird's" profile and an apparent need to play it more.

Sellers on eBay are asking as much as $45,000 for a smartphone with the game pre-installed. Two earlier eBay auctions for iPhones with the game reached bids of over $90,000 before the website took the pages down.

Now clones have made their way in droves on the app stores with titles such as "Fly Birdie" and "Flappy Bee." Two others, "Ironpants" and "Clumsy Bird," are already in the top five best-selling free apps on Google Play. On the freelance job-listings website Elance.com, dozens of job postings exist looking for developers who can help create "Flappy Bird" clones.

vince@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ohmytech