Wordle: K_L_O_N_E

The word puzzle game "Wordle" is a hit. But because there is no app, third parties hope for quick money with brazen copies. But there are also fun alternatives.

One word, five letters, six tries: this is the gameplay of Wordle , the online word puzzle that has taken the world by storm over the past two weeks . Millions of people now puzzle along every day and share their successes on social networks.

The game was created by the American software developer Josh Wardle (hence the name) for his partner because she discovered her weakness for word puzzles during the pandemic. "Wordle is a love story," wrote The New York Times.

Of course, when he originally published Wordle for his friends and family, Wardle could not have guessed that the entertaining online game would become a worldwide phenomenon. As a result, he may not have been prepared for how quickly copycats would copy his idea to cash in on the  Wordle fever.

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This week, dozens of apps appeared in the Apple and Google app stores with Wordle in the title and were apparently a copy. Wordle is not available as a smartphone app; the game is only playable via the website and the browser. Third parties want to take advantage of this fact. Because many people who hear about Wordle may first look for it in the app stores and may not even realize that it is not the original. Whoever clones the fastest and best has the best chance of profiting from the hype.

Clones have always been a well-known phenomenon in the app stores, especially for games . In 2013, for example, the hype surrounding the game Flappy Bird caused numerous clones, a year later it was the puzzle game 2048 that called the Copycats into action. World-famous games like Candy Crush have also been copied again and again in the past. But while big companies like Activision Blizzard, the parent company behind Candy Crush, are better able to defend themselves against it, some game developers were almost ruined by brazen app store copies. 

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Although Apple prohibits the copying of content, clones still make it into the App Store time and again. With a bit of luck, they even get more views than the original, which in turn has a hard time climbing the rankings.

"Wordle" clones are flying off the App Store

In Wordle's case, a developer named Zachary Shakked was poised to become an App Store hit. He released an app last week called Wordle, which looked almost exactly like James Wardle's version. The only difference was that longer words could also be solved - and that there was a "premium" version for $29.99 per month that allowed unlimited play.

The developer wrote on Twitter that the app had been downloaded around 12,000 times in a very short time and had already made it into the top 30 puzzle games in the App Store.

Like numerous other clones, it has since been deleted by Apple. To the displeasure of Shakked, who sees himself as a victim, but also admits mistakes. The fact that his app looks similar to the original Wordle is due to the fact that he programmed it over a weekend. 

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He also phoned Wardle and offered to license Wordle for an iPhone app, but Wardle refused. And the term Wordle is not protected by copyright or registered as a trademark, which is why it is not fundamentally reprehensible to use it for your own apps, he argues.

In fact, there are still some older games called Wordle in the app stores, but they have a different gameplay. As technology website Ars Technica found out, as recently as January 7, someone going by the name of Monkey Labs Inc. filed a trademark application for Wordle with the appropriate US agency for "software for word puzzle games".

Apparently, this is not James Wardle. According to his own statements, he does not want to invest too much time in the project or market it on a large scale.

It is not certain whether Wardle would have any copyright or trademark rights to Wordle at all. On the one hand because there are already mentioned puzzle games under the same name. On the other hand, because the game principle of Wordle itself is not new. It's heavily inspired by the 1980s game show Lingo, which is still running today in the Netherlands and the UK (and which also exists as a smartphone app). 

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A fact the British moderator pointed out with a wink on Twitter. James Wardle may also be so reluctant to market Wordle because he knows that he too has used existing word puzzles.

In the social networks, most users are still on Wardle's side. The story of the programmer, who first presents his wife and later the whole world with a small game that distracts from incidences, vaccinations and other irritations for at least a few minutes a day and is also free, is simply too sympathetic.

Incidentally, the alternatives that either add longer words to the gameplay (WordGuessr, Hello Worldl), make the gameplay more difficult (Evil Wordle , Absurdle) or, let's say, appeal more to people with a special vocabulary (Sweardle, Queerdle). For example, Word Blitz or Word Cross, both of which are available for both iPhones and Android devices.

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