Wordle, the popular online word game that has taken the world by storm, is now owned by The New York Times Company. The Times announced the acquisition on Monday, revealing the price tag was “in the low seven figures.” They bought the game from creator Josh Wardle, who launched the free game in October on a bare-bones, ad-free website. The Times reports that on November 1, the game had 90 users. By the middle of January, it had attracted 300,000 players, and now millions of players around the world play the game each day.
The beauty of the online word game is its simplicity. Players get one word each day and six chances to guess a five-letter word. Reminiscent of the game Mastermind, Wordle gives players clues as they try to guess the word. A green square means the player guessed the right letter and put it in the correct spot, a gold square means the player guessed the right letter but in the wrong spot, and a dark gray square means the letter does not appear in the word at all.
At launch, the game was made available for free, and The Times said initially it would remain free to new and existing players and no changes will be made to how the game is played. However, it seems likely that The Times will eventually bundle its popular digital word games together, including Crosswords, Spelling Bee, Letter Boxed, Tiles, Vertex, and now Wordle. Not including Wordle, The Times’s games were played more than 500 million times in 2021. In December, The Times said they had reached 1 million Games subscriptions.
“The Times remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world. New York Times Games are a key part of that strategy,” said The Times in a statement. “Our games already provide original, high-quality content and experiences every single day. Wordle will now play a part in that daily experience, giving millions more people around the world another reason to turn to The Times to meet their daily news and life needs.”
Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn, explained why the acquisition was a natural fit.
“If you’ve followed along with the story of Wordle, you’ll know that New York Times Games play a big part in its origins, and so this step feels very natural to me. I’ve long admired The Times’s approach to the quality of their games and the respect with which they treat their players. Their values are aligned with mine on these matters and I’m thrilled that they will be stewards of the game moving forward,” Wardle said.
Jonathan Knight, general manager for The New York Times Games and a Wordle player, also commented on the acquisition.
“The game has done what so few games have done: It has captured our collective imagination, and brought us all a little closer together. We could not be more thrilled to become the new home and proud stewards of this magical game, and are honored to help bring Josh Wardle’s cherished creation to more solvers in the months ahead,” said Knight. “As part of our portfolio of games, Wordle will have an exciting future with the help of a team of talented engineers, designers, editors, and more, furthering the user experience.”
Second acquisition of 2022
In January, The Times announced that it would buy The Athletic, a digital sports news outlet, for $550 million in an all-cash deal. The acquisition is expected to close by April 1, 2022. As of the end of 2021, The Athletic had 1.2 million subscribers. Combined with The Times’s own subscribers, the acquisition pushes the legacy media company over its 10 million subscriber goal. The company had expected to achieve that by 2025, and they reached it three years ahead of schedule. In its fourth-quarter 2021 earnings release, The Times has set a new goal of having at least 15 million total subscribers by the end of 2027.
Always the media company to watch, The New York Times continues to set a high bar for itself and other media companies. The Times’s recent acquisitions both support The Times’s long-term strategies for growth, while remaining true to the company’s high-quality journalism and customer-centric roots. Despite the ongoing pandemic, The Times is kicking off the new year with bold moves and new audiences that are sure to get them closer to their ambitious goals.