Written by Marc Tracy
The sudden hit Wordle, in which once a day players get six chances to guess a five-letter word, has been acquired by The New York Times Co.
The purchase, announced by the Times on Monday, reflects the growing importance of games, like crosswords and Spelling Bee, in the company’s quest to increase digital subscriptions to 10 million by 2025.
Wordle was acquired from its creator, Josh Wardle, a software engineer in New York, for a price “in the low seven figures,” the Times said. The company said the game would initially remain free to new and existing players.
Wordle — the name is a cheeky pun on its creator’s name — has had a striking rise. It first appeared on a no-frills, ad-free website in October and had 90 users on November 1. That number grew to 300,000 by the middle of January, and now millions play the game daily, according to the Times announcement.
A feature enables users to share their performance, with rows of five bricks indicating how close they were to guessing the correct word. For the uninitiated: A green brick indicates that the letter is correct and in the exact location; a yellow brick indicates that the letter appears in the word but in a different place; and a grey or black brick indicates that the letter does not appear anywhere in the word. These analog brick layouts have been endlessly memed and have driven millions of tweets.
“The Times remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world,” a company statement said. “New York Times Games are a key part of that strategy.”
Since the Times put up a paywall in 2011, its business strategy has revolved around persuading readers and users, the overwhelming majority of whom get Times content digitally, to buy subscriptions. The traditional newspaper business model is centered on advertising.
The Times sells subscriptions to its print newspaper and core digital news app. For lower prices, it also offers subscriptions to a games app (Games), a recipe app (Cooking) and, as of last year, Wirecutter, a product-recommendation site the Times bought in 2016. In January, the Times spent $550 million to buy sports news website The Athletic, hailing the 1.2 million subscribers the site brings with it.
The business strategy has been vindicated to the tune of millions of new subscribers. In November, the Times said in an earnings report that it had nearly 8.4 million. (Its next earning report is scheduled to be released Wednesday.) In December, the Times reported that Games and Cooking each had more than 1 million subscribers.
The Times’ games — along with the crossword and Spelling Bee, they include Letter Boxed, Tiles and Vertex — were played more than 500 million times last year, the company said.
Wardle, told a Times reporter in January that he had started Wordle after he and his partner “got really into” the Times’ crosswords and Spelling Bee games during the pandemic.
“New York Times Games play a big part in its origins,” Wardle said in the company’s statement, “and so this step feels very natural to me.”