Free browser-based puzzler and Wordle cultural phenomenon was purchased by The New York Times for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.
Wordle – which challenges players to solve a daily five-letter word in six guesses using color-coded clues – was released last October by developer Josh Wardle. Initial interest was modest, but its popularity has skyrocketed in recent weeks, jumping from 300,000 users around mid-January to millions of players.
Unsurprisingly, it was this massive audience that brought Wordle into The New York Times’ orbit. Announcing its acquisition of the game for a price “in the seven figures”, the the post said the purchase “reflects the growing importance of games, like crossword puzzles and Spelling Bee, in the company’s quest to grow digital subscriptions to 10 million by 2025.”
Wardle, meanwhile, confirmed the purchase in a statement on Twitterwriting that as “amazing” as it has been to watch Wordle grow up, “I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been a bit overwhelming. After all, I’m just one person, and it’s important to me that as Wordle grows, it continues to provide a great experience for everyone.”
Despite its huge success, Wordle has remained both free and ad-free since its launch, with Wardle recently telling the BBC that he intends this to continue to be the case. “I don’t understand why something can’t just be fun,” Wardle said at the time. “I don’t have to charge people money for this and ideally I would like that to continue.”
It is less certain, however, that Wordle’s future will continue to be free after the takeover by The New York Times. Wardle says Wordle “will be free to play for everyone” when it goes to The New York Times website, adding “and I’m working with them to make sure your wins and streaks are preserved.” The New York Times, however, seems a little less willing to commit to Wordle’s continued status as a free game, tellingly writing that it will “initially” remain free for new and existing players.
The New York Times isn’t the only party trying to capitalize on Wordle’s runaway success, of course. Mobile app stores have been flooded with unscrupulous clones in recent weeks, tricking users into paying for a generally free online experience. More positively, a developer has donated a sudden monetary windfall to charity after confused users started flocking to its five-year-old Wordle app, mistaking it for the hugely popular Wardle game.