The New York Times acquires hit game Wordle for seven-figure sum


The viral online puzzle game Wordle has been acquired by The New York Times Company (NYTCo), publisher of The New York Times.

The game asks players to guess a five-letter word in six rounds – a task facilitated by Wordle offering clues that players have chosen the letters used in the word, and whether or not they are in the correct position. The gameplay is similar to the Mastermind punch card game, but with 26 different “pegs” – and of course the answer has to be an English word. Only one puzzle is offered daily.

Wordle was created by a one-time developer, Josh Wardle, as a lockdown distraction for his partner. It took off when Wardle added a feature for players to share their results, and it’s now believed to have millions of daily users – up from just thousands in October 2021.

Wardle announcement the sale on Twitter, saying that as a lone developer, he struggled to keep up with the game as its popularity grew. He also felt that, as The New York Times‘Online puzzles were an inspiration for Wordle, the NYT is the right place for the game.

NYTCo said the deal was valued “in the seven figures,” but didn’t provide further details. The deal is not significant enough to have noted a mention on NYTCo’s investor relations page, nor a regulatory filing.

Whatever the price, that seems like a lot to pay for a game that seems to be largely 1,880 lines of JavaScript once it’s been beautified.

Or maybe not, because the NYT article on the acquisition reveals that the newspaper has over a million subscribers to its games and puzzles service, and they’ve collectively solved 500 million puzzles. than in 2021. Plus, you know, it felt like pretty much everyone played Wordle at some point or at least heard of it, so the price isn’t too surprising.

A revelation: your correspondent subscribes to NYT games and finds that the $20 annual fee provides many hours of frustratingly frustrating entertainment at a very reasonable price. The service is also incredibly digital: the digital incarnation of Times Crossword is very usable, player histories are saved and easily accessible, while some games have spawned respectful and lively communities dedicated to puzzle solving.

Do the math: One million subscribers at $20 generates a very decent revenue stream. And in your vulture’s opinion, Wordle definitely adds value to the service. If Wordle attracts more subscribers or gives current customers a reason to hang around, that low seven-figure sum will soon pay for itself.

The Times promised that the game would remain free for current and future players for a while. This position suggests that Wordle could eventually move past the Times paywall. Alternatively, it can follow the model of the NYT “Mini” Crossword: free to play each day, but playing past puzzles requires a subscription. We will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Wardle says he’s working with NYTCo techs to make sure that as the puzzle moves to its new home, people’s footage won’t be lost. If successful, this should help foster loyalty.

The acquisition is probably also bad news for the Wordle clones, which are legion and sometimes quite trashy – your correspondent admits having tried a few versions limiting their vocabulary to swear words. I excuse these sordid excursions because Wordle is addictive: one a day just isn’t enough – especially when I’ve just been blazing (again, damn it) on the spelling bee. ®


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