As we entered the New Year, one came around the corner to delight us with a simple notion and a short game to play it out: Wordle, where you predict a five-letter word in six tries and then share your results and the grid documenting your attempts with others. As we talked with the game’s inventor, Josh Wardle, it is a breath of fresh air in the tech industry: no smartphone app, Every 24 hours, only one word is spoken. There will be no advertising. There is no need to register. Even if your internet connection goes down, you can still play it.
The origin narrative, though, maybe even more enjoyable than the game itself. The short story is that Josh Wardle, a British-born New Yorker who used to work at Reddit and is now a software developer at Brooklyn art group Mschf, created Wordle last year for his partner, a word puzzle fanatic, to play together.
Wardle casually shared the game with family on a website he owned for years as a home for his other artistic endeavors (powerlanguage.co.uk, from his time in England). Then he presented it to a few influential people. However, as we all know, when the stars aligned, virality happens quickly. Everything came crashing down in the blink of an eye.
The game went from less than 1,000 players to over 2 million in a matter of weeks. In an interview with TechCrunch, he claimed, “What I designed [at the start] is the game that everyone is playing today.” “When I first started, that was obviously not my aim.” Wardle took aback by the company’s quick expansion. He claims he periodically finds himself “falling down the rabbit hole” on Twitter looking at what people are saying about his invention at his day job at Mschf — the collective infamous for stunts like Lil Nas X’s notorious “blood sneakers.”
Wardle, on the other hand, is not an impresario and, at this time, is not especially entrepreneurial (in a good way — he is just natural in his approach), which has resulted in some surprising effects. Investors who want to take Wordle to the next level, as has suspected and now verified have approached Wardle. (As a side note, venture capital firms such as Founders Fund back Wardle’s employer, Mschf,.) As a result, that could be a fun blueprint to follow in one way. Wardle, on the other hand, is not looking to profit off Wordle.
“I don’t want Wordle to be my full-time job, but I also don’t want to put any money into it or do any of that.” Wardle told TechCrunch, “I’m extremely thrilled with where it’s at.” “I believe [venture investment] would be more in the context of being an artist with a patron or something along those lines if it were to happen.” While Wardle mulls over what to do if anything at all, his rogue game has gained a lot of popularity with less savory types: a slew of developers have begun duplicating it, taking advantage of Wordle’s static web presence and creating applications to cash in on the craze.
While Wardle has not had much of a chance to contemplate how or whether to protect his IP, others have, and Apple currently appears to be removing Wordle clone apps without regard for any pleas from Wordle’s originator. Wardle is also accused of stealing the Wordle concept from others, which is amusing. The host of Lingo, a British game show, has been publicly raving about how he has given the game no credit, despite the fact that it “looks like ours, works like ours, smells like ours, and is practically OURS.”
Wardle, on the other hand, did not create the game for the sake of profit or viral fame. When you consider the motivation for creating Wordle and how few iterations it is gone through since then, it all seems like a waste of time. “Even though I invented the game, I feel smart when I get a Wordle,” Wardle said. “It’s about the journey, especially on days like today when I’m stumped and have to think about it,” says the author. (On the day we spoke, the response was “question,” which was excellent.) “It’s difficult enough to give you that satisfying sensation of success.”