Wordle bought by New York Times for seven-figure sum

1 Feb 2022

Image: © Tada Images/Stock.adobe.com

The five-letter word guessing game has scored seven figures for creator Josh Wardle, who will hand over the running of Wordle to an experienced team of puzzle-makers.

The New York Times has acquired Wordle for an undisclosed sum. It will join the US publication’s stable of puzzles and games, remaining free to play for new and existing players.

However, an article by New York Times writer Marc Tracy ominously added the word “initially” to plans to keep Wordle going for free.

The sale at a price “in the low-seven figures” will see The New York Times take over operations of the viral word game.

Currently hosted at PowerLanguage.co.uk, Wordle will be moved to The New York Times website. Creator Josh Wardle said he is working with The New York Times team to ensure current players’ record of scores and streaks will be preserved in the move.

Wordle will continue to be a daily fixture, joining the publication’s famous crossword and other word games such as Letter Boxed and Spelling Bee.

Why buy Wordle?

As well as selling subscriptions to its print and digital news, The New York Times offers subscriptions to its games service. Its games were played more than 500m times in 2021, and 1m games subscribers were signed up as of December.

On the whole, the publication is well on the road to a targeted 10m digital subscribers by 2025, last reporting a total subscriber figure of 8.4m.

The New York Times’ Mini crossword is free to play every day but only subscribers can access past days’ editions, indicating a possible method of monetising Wordle.

Wardle initially created the game for one person, his partner Palak Shah, to kill time during pandemic restrictions. But the near-2,000 lines of code he wrote for this passion project became a phenomenon.

It was publicly released in October 2021. It then grew from 90 players on 1 November to 300,000 almost two months later. It is now claimed the game has millions of daily players.

In a statement released on Twitter, Wardle, a software engineer based in Brooklyn, said: “I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t been a little overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, and it is important to me that, as Wordle grows, it continues to provide a great experience to everyone.”

With The New York Times taking over, Wordle will now have the support of a team of engineers, designers and editors. The publication has also suggested its team might be able to enhance the user experience, but assured current players of the beloved game that no changes will be made to its gameplay.

Wardle said that the move to sell the game to The New York Times “feels very natural” seeing as the publication’s own puzzles “[played] a big part in its origins”.

“I’ve long admired the NYT’s approach to their games and the respect with which they treat their players,” added Wardle. “Their values are aligned with mine on these matters.”

Wordle is a word-guessing game where players have six tries to guess a five-letter word. With each guess, the game lets players know if they have correctly guessed a letter and its position in the word. This clever colour-coding has become a hallmark of the game, enabling players to share their performance without spoiling the answer for others.

As of 27 January 2022, more than 330,000 Wordle players were sharing their results on Twitter.

“The game has done what so few games have done: it has captured our collective imagination, and brought us all a little closer together,” said Jonathan Knight, general manager for The New York Times Games.

“We could not be more thrilled to become the new home and proud stewards of this magical game, and are honoured to help bring Josh Wardle’s cherished creation to more solvers in the months ahead.”

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.