Wordle’s business sale was the best (and worst) for business

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Wordle has taken the world by storm, but could the independent puzzles bought by The New York Times ruin it all?

In the digital age, it’s amazing how trends start from nothing and become global phenomena in a day or two. It helped elevate art, with obscure music, paintings and videos, for example, exploding, while pushing meme culture to new heights.

This latest viral gaming success story has come with Josh Wardle’s Wordle after the programmer created a simple word-solving game for his loved ones to enjoy. Finally, he published it last October under the name of a free online browser game. After the world became obsessed with it, the New York Times do the shocking announcement of its acquisition. This business sale could be both the best and the worst thing that could have happened to wordle.


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Wordle, what is it exactly?


wordle follows a Wheel of Fortune formula where users guess letters to solve a five-letter word. The game reveals if you have the correct letters or if you have a correct letter but in the wrong space. It promotes bragging rights on Twitter, pushing intellectuals to their limits due to its tongue-in-cheek simplicity.

Within minutes, users complete the game with the ability to post the results on social media platforms, helping to create that competitive advantage. There is a “hard mode” where the correct letters must also be carried over, and in addition, it stores the user’s performance and sequences. Most inviting is that it’s not bogged down by ads, which leaves people eager for the next game as there’s only one puzzle per day, creating an air of exclusivity.


Why was the sale good for Wordle?


Who wouldn’t want a creative to make a bank out of something like that? Wardle has inked a seven-figure deal, which will inspire other developers, even if they have day jobs, to crank out similar projects in hopes of cashing in. More free games can’t be a bad thing on the web, reminding fans of this music player Mark Zuckerberg, Synapse media player.

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Rather than selling to bidders like Microsoft, Zuckerberg posted Synapse media player for free, and while it hasn’t been as hard as projects like Napster, he provided an alternative. And that’s what users want: a variety of platforms that don’t require a lot of time. Anyone who develops similar games will have to get creative to keep it appealing and also original. Once differentiated, with form and function intact, it’s hard to see anything differentiable being overlooked, leading to a sale and continued industry growth.


Why was the sale bad for Wordle?


Some see the NYT own wordle shocking, because it reflects the shark mentality in the corporate world. It happened with microbreweries, for example, where something small and independent loses that mystical, hipster edge once bought by big corporations. It’s just no longer cool who, like The social network reminded us, will be even worse if the Time decides to place ads on the page.

So far, the deal was that it would remain ad-free, but that can change in a heartbeat, as chances are they’ll want to monetize it due to its popularity. The newspaper has had problems with this model in the past, as it features games such as crosswords, logic puzzles, and spelling bees, but after a few tries, fans are hit with this ever-annoying paywall. It’s intrusive and should wordle receive the same treatment, it will alienate fans and cause churn.


What also has people suspicious is that wordle can encourage “corporate listening” online. Users complained the more they played wordlethe more they got the NYT recommended games in their feeds. It would create mistrust, leaving people wondering if online games are selling data or encouraging big brands to target innocent users. After all, there is already cynicism about search engines, algorithms, and invasive advertisements based on what people surf the web. And to top it off, this acquisition risks turning people away from wordle because they see the NYT as something that should be about news and media, not the hunt for the next big game. So they would like to make a statement and cut wordle out could be their way of telling big brands to stay in their lane.


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