Wordle Sells Out

Wordle Sells Out
Screenshot: Gizmodo/Wordle

The E-N-E-M-Y of the people has struck A-G-A-I-N.

The New York Times announced Monday that it has purchased Wordle. The viral online game was the only good thing to have happened so far this year, and it will be missed (as a standalone site that seemed to eschew the capitalistic pressures to monetise every last godforsaken inch of life but has now been revealed to be a lie all along). The game will remain free, at least for now.

First launched in October, Wordle skyrocketed in popularity over the past month after a fluffy profile by the very same New York Times that now owns the game and its “millions of daily players.” The Times said that the purchase price was “in the low-seven figures,” and the publication reports that the soulless buyout of our collective joy is part of its plan to “grow digital subscriptions to 10 million by 2025.”

Created by developer Josh Wardle (get it) as a gift for his partner, Wordle is a simple word game in which players have six tries to guess the five-letter word of the day. The game also made it easy (too easy?) to share your daily scores online. There are (were?) no ads — just a clean black or white background and the pure, unadulterated game. Despite being incredibly easy to cheat at, Wordle exploded in popularity as people returned from the winter holidays and needed a new way to procrastinate and create social media content.

Wardle originally touted Wordle’s ad-free experience, telling the Times for its profile early this month: “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun. It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

Now, of course, the game is owned by a corporation worth $US6.7 ($9) billion.

Unlike much of the content on the Times’ website, Wordle will begin its life as a part of the publication’s money-making strategy as a free game that won’t be behind the Times paywall. But the company’s press release doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: “At the time it moves to The New York Times, Wordle will be free to play for new and existing players, and no changes will be made to its gameplay,” it reads. Since there will presumably be ample time after Wordle moves under the Times umbrella, that leaves a lot of opportunities for the game to become markedly not-free.

Of course, with Wordle inspiring unnumbered copycats that are lining the pockets of people who are not Josh Wardle, a cynic would say that this tragic turn of events was inevitable. Anything good that appears online will eventually be purchased, monetized, and reduced to a profitable husk of its former self.