One of the most popular games in the world right now is Wordle, a free web game where you have six tries to guess a five-letter word. A new puzzle arrives every day. It’s taken the internet—and especially Twitter—by storm. The fifth most popular free game on Apple’s App store is a game called Wordle!. But beyond the exclamation mark, Wordle! has nothing to do with Wordle. They share a name and involve word puzzles, but they’re very different games. In Wordle!, players must try to guess a word based on the letters already provided to them.
“I have not worked on the development or marketing Wordle in over 5 years,” said Wordle! designer Steven Cravotta in an interview with Waypoint recently. “I have always considered Wordle a ‘dead’ project because I created it 5 years ago and all of the incoming traffic has slowly dwindled down to 2 [to] 10 downloads a day, until all of this craziness happened.”
Yesterday, Wordle! was the 14th most popular free game on the App Store. Its rise to number five happened in a single day, suggesting it will continue to become more popular.
That “craziness” Cravotta alluded to was Wordle becoming a cultural phenomenon, with people sharing their daily scores and strategies for solving puzzles. Unlike most mobile games, Wordle was developed for browsers, meaning it’s platform agnostic. But it’s not surprising people would immediately sprint towards a place like the App Store to play an iPhone native version of the game, perhaps one with more features than web Wordle, which is purposely basic and importantly, does not charge any money, nor generate any revenue.
Worldle! is not a copycat of Worlde, but in the weeks following Wordle’s surprise popularity, a number of developers attempted to cash in. Most notably, a developer named Zach Shakked made a carbon copy of Wordle in terms of design, aesthetic, and branding for the App Store. It wasn’t enough to just copy Wordle and make some easy cash, because Shakked’s real mistake was bragging about the whole incident on Twitter. He quickly became a pariah.
Shakked has been locking and unlocking their Twitter account as this saga has unfolded. Currently, it is locked.
The phrase “going to the moon,” commonly used by crypto and meme stock investors, has now become an enormous red flag on the internet.
In response to the backlash, Apple removed the many Wordle rip-offs—but not Wordle! It’s a decision that Cravotta agreed with. Cravotta said he hadn’t heard from Apple during all this.
Though Wordle! is not Wordle, Cravotta has, obviously, played it, and called it “incredible.”
Cravotta told me there are no plans to change the name, despite the obvious confusion. It has, so far, resulted in some frustration among players who are expecting a different game.
“I have gotten a few bad reviews from people who are confused and didn't notice that I last updated the game five years ago,” said Cravotta. “People are sticking around to play Wordle!. Retention rates are at 30% and although they may have downloaded it for a different reason, users are staying because they do genuinely enjoy the game.”
That retention has also translated into money, something the “true” Wordle doesn’t make. To date, Cravotta told me Wordle! has made roughly $1,300 through in-app purchases and ads.
I reached out to Cravotta because of a Twitter thread, where they walked through the experience of having a dead app revived by accident. In that thread, Cravotta noted he’d reached out to original Wordle developer Josh Wardle about what to do with the money; they hoped to donate it to a charity or non-profit that lined up with the game’s literary values.
On Twitter, Wardle confirmed the two had been in touch.
“I read the articles on Josh and why he created Wordle as a free to play game with no ads,” said Cravotta. “I respect his mission, and at the end of the day this all happened because of his app. I'm just excited to be a part of it and turn this unique situation into something incredible that will help people!”
Cravotta said he doesn’t intend to become a full-time developer on Wordle! quite yet, but he might fix a few bugs or update the in-game dictionary, depending on how long this lasts. His focus at the moment is another app called Puff Count, designed to help people quit vaping.