The New York Times announced that it had bought the wildly popular game, Wordle. In the game, players try to guess a word of the day, with the browser giving them hints about the letters they guessed correctly. When it was released in October, nearly no one played it, but there was an explosion in popularity when players could share their results with friends on social media.
Multiple sources say the deal for the acquisition "was in the low seven figures." The purchase further showcases how much emphasis The New York Times puts on its game section. The company has spent much time building up the section in recent years. They have the flagship crossword, Spelling Bee, among other games.
As for why they decided to buy the popular game, the company explained their rationale in a statement:
"The Times remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world. New York Times Games are a key part of that strategy."
It should also be noted that games are a driver of revenue for the company. While exact figures are not available, it is believed that it has one million subscribers that pay $5 a month. And that number is believed to be growing every quarter.
But will The New York Times keep their new purchase free?
Will Wordle Stay Free?
Immediately after the announcement, controversy sprang up. Because The Times is a corporation, many users feel that they will change what has been so charming about Wordle. While the game is fun, they say that paying for it is out of the question.
Those fears seem to be confirmed in the company's statement. They said that the game would stay free initially. However, as noted by many people, The Times went out of their way to say eventually it'll be behind their paywall.
Some experts theorize that this will accelerate Wordle's decline. Every trend online has a moment where its popularity starts to wane, usually when it starts to cost money. These people believe that players will move on to the next big thing once it is behind the paywall.
According to Forbes, there is a way for them to slow down the decline in the game's popularity. All The Times would need to do is not put Wordle behind the paywall.
How would they recoup the millions they spent to buy it?
According to Forbes, the answer is simple: they should use it as a loss leader. Keep Wordle as it is now, free and simple. But once players have guessed the word of the day, there could be a suggestion that they give Spelling Bee or the crossword a try. This would lead some people to sign up for games and provide some strategic advertising for the Games section.
Many platforms, including The Times, employ a similar strategy. Users are given a limited number of articles to read for free, and then they have to subscribe to continue reading. Some of them even have pieces that are subscribers only, another good driver for the business.
When he created the game, Josh Wardle could not have predicted any of this. Wordle's popularity and eventual sale are just part of the story.
Josh Wardle created Wordle for his beloved partner, Palak Shah. During the lockdowns of 2020, he wanted to make sure they had something to do together, and she loves word games. Using his skills as a software engineer to help build the game.
In the beginning, it was Palak and Josh playing it. Then they brought his family into the game. Eventually, he built the website, and a few dozen people were playing the game.
When the ability to share the results on social media came about, so did an explosion in popularity.
By the beginning of the year, 300,000 people were playing the game. Just weeks later, there are millions of people delighting in trying to guess the word of the day.
One of the reasons for the success, according to Josh, is because it's simple. "I think people kind of appreciate that there's this thing online that's just fun." He goes on to say that the fact that there is nothing "shady" happening behind the scenes also plays a part.
With new owners, Wordle may not be able to sustain its popularity. Or it could become something even more prominent; only time will tell.