No good deed goes unpunished – as is the case with Wordle, the viral linguistic guessing game which found itself with a deluge of apparent clones flooding Apple’s App Store this past week.
Initially created by software engineer Josh Wardle for his partner, a puzzle aficionado, the brainteaser skyrocketed in popularity earlier this year, blooming from just 90 daily players in November to now more than 2 million.
While Wardle’s game is entirely housed in a web browser, a host of apps – in an apparent effort to capitalise on Wordle’s popularity – soon sprang up with names like What Word – Wordle, Wordus and Wordle 3D.
All of them appeared to mirror the mechanics – and even look – of the original puzzle, where players have six tries to guess a five-letter word each day.
In the most striking example, titled Wordle – The App, users were offered a free trial as well as a US$30 annual subscription for a premium-tier version. Its developer, New York-based entrepreneur Zach Shakked, bragged on his Twitter account about monetising Wardle’s game, which is completely free. It was later taken down, and Shakked said he had “crossed a line” but maintained that it was a generic word game, that the name Wordle was not trademarked and claimed he had not made any money from his app.
“I am a bit suspicious of mobile apps that demand your attention and send you push notifications to get more of your attention,” Wardle has previously said in a BBC Radio interview.
“There are also no ads and I am not doing anything with your data, and that is also quite deliberate.”
Many apparent copycats have since been removed from the App Store, though not before users took to social media to lament the murkiness of copyright laws. Others viewed the clone apps as a direct assault on the nature of Wordle, which is “simple, fun, satisfying and free” and an antidote to cynicism, as described in the Guardian.
“This is why tech culture sucks,” read one tweet.
Others have pointed out that Wordle itself seems to draw inspiration from other language puzzles, including American TV show Lingo – which also featured a five-letter guessing game.
It is a testament to Wordle’s virality that it has spawned so many replicas and spin-offs – some of which have, themselves, achieved a level of popularity.
Among the free-to-play Wordle-style games online are Queerdle, which describes itself as a “yassification of Wordle” with a pink background and more risque solutions; Sweardle, dedicated to four-letter expletives; and the infuriatingly absurd Letterle – where users have 26 tries to guess just a single letter.