The media group snapped up the viral sensation for a seven-figure sum.
For whatever reason, some things just take the world by storm. Who here hasn’t danced along to ‘Gangnam Style’? Or didn’t watch Tiger King during the first lockdown? One of the trends of today is Wordle, an online daily word-guessing game that everyone from your mother to your MP is currently puzzling over.
Wordle was originally made for a bit of fun by a software developer who thought his partner might enjoy it. He therefore did not monetise it: it’s free to play and there are no ads on the site. However, becoming a viral sensation tends to get the attention of big businesses. Wordle has now been bought by The New York Times (NYT). While the exact price wasn’t disclosed, it was said to be ‘low seven-figures’ i.e. at least a million dollars.
This deal is obviously good for Wordle’s developer, who is now quids in. Presumably, it will also be good for the NYT: businesses don’t tend to spend that sort of money unless they think they’re going to make a return on their investment. But will it be good for Wordle’s players? Plenty of them have already voiced their concern that the days of Wordle being free are numbered. After all, the NYT is a subscription-based organisation. Access to its ‘games’ section currently costs $40 (about £30) a year. Others say that even if the NYT doesn’t put Wordle behind a paywall it will surely take the other common route for making money out of online content: plastering it with advertisements.
Some things will undoubtedly be lost if the NYT does monetise Wordle in these ways (it currently says it won’t). Charging for it might make the game financially inaccessible to some. It will probably dent the popularity of the game, taking away some of the joy that comes with being part of a buzzy phenomenon, such as getting lots of engagement when sharing your stats online. Advertisements are annoying and collect people’s data in a way that many people think is invasive and manipulative.
But there are society-wide upsides to the Wordle deal, too. The media industry has been financially struggling for years; if Wordle attracts new customers then that’s good news for the people whose livelihoods are linked to the NYT, as well as good news for the people who think robust news organisations help keep societies democratic. Plus, knowing that designing a hit game could make you a millionaire may inspire a bunch of other software designers to try their hand at creating the next Wordle, with the end result that there could be many more fun games kicking around for everybody to enjoy… or scream at in frustration after losing a 50-day streak, whichever is more your style.
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