New York Times acquisition of word-game craze Wordle sparks controversy

The news that The New York Times will by the hot online word game Wordle from creator Josh Wardle for a price in the “low seven figures” has sparked fears the deal will kill the low-tech, open-to-all features that helped make the game a Web sensation.

Mr. Wardle, an engineer for Reddit who lives in Brooklyn, originally created the game solely for him and his girlfriend to play, but decided to release it to the public in October. The ad-free game gives users six chances to guess a five-letter word, and can only be played once per day. Its popularity grew quickly, with celebrities like late-night talk show host Trevor Noah joining in on the fun.

“I would be lying if I said this hasn’t been a little overwhelming,” Mr. Wardle said on Twitter. “After all, I am just one person, and it is important to me that, as Wordle grows, it continues to provide a great experience to everyone.”

But many Wordle addicts now fear that The Times will put the game behind a dreaded paywall. In its statement announcing the sale, the Times said that Wordle would “initially” remain free. The statements’ wording quickly caused a stir on Twitter.

Dan Campbell, an IT manager from Sharon, Pennsylvania, was one of the people to voice his displeasure on Twitter. For Mr. Campbell, refusing to pay for the game is more about principle than expense.

“It was just that it’s a simple word game that [Mr. Wardle] thought someone he cared about would enjoy,” Mr. Campbell said. “… It’s something that is more pure technology-wise in a time where there’s so many unpure things in technology.”

Mr. Campbell said he also feared the app becoming more “corporate” is inevitable after it is bought by a giant media corporation.

“You see it all the time. A big company buys out something small that was created with pure intentions, New York Times buys it out. Then all of a sudden there’s a paywall. There’s ads popping up all over the place. And they just sorta make it like every other piece of technology or app and even get away from a once a day play thing,” Mr. Campbell said.

The newspaper has been steadily building its network of games, some of which require a subscription to a gaming service that is separate from the publications’ other news subscriptions. The Times’ popular daily crossword puzzle is free, but a subscription is required to unlock additional puzzles.

The Times’ expansion is not limited to games, as the newspaper is also expanding on the editorial side. They purchased The Athletic for $550 million last month as they look to increase their sports coverage.

All of these ventures appear to be steps towards reaching their goal of 10 million subscribers by 2025. And it looks like the Times’ is just getting started.

And Mr. Wardle himself said he felt confident his creation would survive and endure under new management.

He said he was “thrilled” that the New York Times “will be the stewards of the game moving forward” and that he admired the newspaper’s “approach to games and the respect with which they treat their players.”

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