Popular word puzzle Wordle has snowballed to mainstream success in the last couple of weeks, prompting players to post those distinctive yellow and green boxes marking their daily score.
Creator of the game, Josh Wardle, deserves a great deal of credit for creating a popular game blissfully untainted by annoying ads and in-game purchases; Wardle even claims that the game is “not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs.”
In an age where every single second of user engagement on social media is being mined for data, where even the most popular children’s games are mercilessly exploiting their own players, Wordle is a bright spot in the predatory playground known as the internet.
Obviously, it didn’t take long for developers with dollar signs in their eyes to swoop in and copy the idea, posting clones of the game on Apple’s App Store, clogged with ads and in-app purchases.
One opportunistic developer, Zach Shakked, created a clone of the game and cheekily named it Wordle – The App, then foolishly bragged about his success on Twitter. Shakked, celebrating the number of downloads and subscriptions his app was attracting, wrote that his Wordle clone was “going to the f**king moon.”
While the real Wordle only releases a single puzzle per day, Shakked’s clone contained an optional $30-per-year annual subscription that allowed players to play an unlimited number of puzzles. Of course, the deliberate scarcity of Wordle is another aspect that makes it special – when was the last time you visited a website that didn’t attempt to keep you there for as long as possible, squeezing every last ounce of data from your eyeballs?
It goes without saying that Shakked was dragged by Twitter users, who objected to the relentlessness monetization of everything free and fun. The public outcry was intensified by the fact that Wordle was originally created as a gift to Wardle’s wife, before being shared with the world.
After the backlash, Shakked (wisely) locked his Twitter account, only to have his clone removed from the App Store. Currently, there are two puzzle games named “Wordle” remaining on the App Store, both of which were created long before Wardle’s Wordle, and boast different gameplay mechanics – both have enjoyed a recent boost in popularity, simply by sharing the name of Wardle’s viral hit.
Shakked briefly unlocked his Twitter account to offer a public apology, and an attempt to explain his actions. “I realize I crossed a line. And I surely, surely will never do anything remotely close to this again. I f**ked up,” tweeted Shakked, who went on to explain that Wordle was not trademarked, and that the concept was somewhat similar to Lingo, an old game show, and that he was merely trying to “hack together something on the weekend and see if I can make a buck.”
In a separate Twitter thread, Shakked also claimed to have contacted Wardle, offering to work together to create an official app, or pay Wardle a percentage of profit, which Wardle reportedly declined.
This isn’t the first time that Wardle has created a free, fun activity that united the internet; in 2017, on Reddit, Wardle created “Place,” which allowed Redditors to color a single pixel of a shared blank template, and quickly led to mass collaboration and organization, with surprisingly elaborate art appearing on the space, as well as legions of trolls attempting to scribble over the images.
“Place” was shut down just 72 hours after its creation, but Wordle looks like it might live on for some time; hopefully, Wardle will keep resisting the urge to monetize his creation.
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