Wordle creator Josh Wardle recently gave a talk at the Game Developers Conference (here is our summary) as part of which he discussed the game’s great success and why he felt that, in the end, he had to sell it to the New York Times. The NYT acquired Wordle in January for an undisclosed seven-figure sum, and the gray lady now says more than 300,000 people play the game daily.
In the early days of Wordle’s phenomenal success, however, this was only creating problems for Wardle. Chief among them was the gold rush: as Wordle became more popular, more clones appeared. We report some of the funny and smart variants from Wordle, but here we are talking about direct outbursts who were pretending to be the real thing and trying to make money out of it. This was mostly a mobile issue, and while Apple and Android were responsive in removing these things, it felt a bit like a mole scam.
“That’s not money I would have made because I said I don’t want to make money, but something about [the copies] I felt deeply unpleasant,” says Wardle. “And so selling to the New York Times was a way to get away from that. I didn’t want to pay a lawyer to fire and give up the game I’m not making money from.”
The situation “seemed like everything was going to get very, very complicated in a way that only [made me] very stressed, honestly.” Wardle added that he felt “an enormous pressure” to act fast because so many copies were showing up.
“It was clear that [copying] was going to happen, whether I wanted it to happen or not. The business side of running a game doesn’t interest me at all,” Wardle said. “So other people monetizing wasn’t the reason I sold to The New York Times, but if I find myself thinking about the ‘what ifs’ now. .. I have to remember how I felt back then, and I felt miserable.”
The mutterings surrounding the sale of Wordle to the NYT appear to have subsided: Shortly after the deal, some were unhappy at the prospect of much of their daily routine being aggressively monetized or even paid. But the NYT has handled it carefully so far, and it’s pretty clear that Josh Wardle keeping him in perpetuity was simply not an option.
Wardle’s fun conversation at GDC it was framed in all the things he did that you didn’t “intend” when making and releasing a game. After all, no one plays a word game expecting it to be a million-dollar hit. Wordle breaks a lot of ‘rules’: playable once a day, a website instead of an app, bad URL, no links in shareable scorecards, had no interest in monetizing it until more or less forced to get real about how great age.
If you want to read about the beginning of the game, there is no better place than the New York Times itself, and Wordle is a love story.