Inside the Lucrative Wordle-ization of Online Games | Chart

It comes as little surprise that the viral online word game Wordle would spawn numerous infectious variants, including Dordle (two Wordle-type games played at once) and its offshoot Quordle (a terrifying four-games-at-once), as well as Nerdle (a math game), Worldle (geography), the New York City-specific Subwaydle (six chances to guess a real subway trip with two different transfers) and Lordle of the Rings, a replica of Wordle’s five-letter word game except that all answers are from the main text of “Lord of the Rings” (including names like B-I-L-B-O).

There are many more Wordle spin-offs, some less politically correct than others (Lewdle, anyone?). But what they all have in common is the hope of taking off like Wordle, which software engineer Josh Wardle sold in January to the New York Times for a low seven figures. The Times declined to comment on the possibility of acquiring Wordle offshoots, but online game experts say that cashing in on Wordle spinoffs is only a matter of time.

“We may see monetization soon. We see it happening in gaming, both online and off, with things like microtransactions and pay-to-win business models from major companies,” Bryan Wirtz, SEO copywriter for digital media agency Sprinkles Media, told TheWrap. “Imagine if a company offers players to get a jump on the next day’s word for a fee or an entire weeks’ worth of words [for Wordle]. For now, it’s a matter of when, not if creators will monetize these games.”

Mike Grguric, CEO of Udonis, a mobile marketing agency focused on games, said there’s no question that game designers can and will make money from these new takes on Wordle. “The short answer is yes — and the long answer is yes. All games can be monetized,” he said, adding that word games are a top genre because word game players tend to play them for years. “Once you get hooked, you’re hooked.”

The popularity of Wordle and the countless offshoots are also giving new life to other well-known word games. Last month, Scopely entertainment company launched, an online version of the classic board game. “The popularity of word games further validates something we’ve known all along, and that is they play an important role in the lives of many people all around the world,” Beth Nations, Scopley’s VP of growth for Casual Games, told TheWrap. “To Scopely, the popularity of Wordle and other games in the category just helps to remind people how much they love word games.”

Matthew Inman, co-creator and chief creative officer at Exploding Kittens and creator of the free mobile app word game “Kitty Letter,” agreed. “Word games almost always evoke the same two feelings in me. The first feeling is, ‘This puzzle is impossible. I’m a dummy. I can’t solve this.’ The second feeling is, ‘I did it. I’m a genius.’ They let us use our intelligence to get a little dopamine hit from each solved puzzle,” Inman told TheWrap. “Wordle does this beautifully.”

Share of U.S. adults who play online/mobile games Wordle, Words With Friends and Candy Crush (Statista)
Share of U.S. adults who play online/mobile games Wordle, Words With Friends and Candy Crush (Statista)

Word games can also serve as ego boosts for players seeking intellectual validation. “These games are popping up because of a renewed interest in competitive puzzle-solving,” Inman said. “It’s more fun to see who has a bigger vocabulary than to see who can mash the buttons on the Xbox controller the fastest.”

We’ve seen this spinoff phenomenon before: The doodle-ization of the dog world, for example, which according to PetCarePlus began in 1969 when with the breeding of the first Goldendoodle (a mix of the hypoallergenic standard Poodle and the Golden Retriever), followed by other half-poodle large breeds including the Labradoodle, the St. Berdoodle and the Sheepadoodle (all following the proliferation of small-breed “poos” such as the Cockapoo and the Maltipoo in the early 20th Century). We decline to comment on whether this trivia is included to inspire the new pet-friendly online game “Doodlewordle.”

As in the case with doggy “doodles,” appending some form of “ordle” to a game name increases the odds that it may find a new audience for anyone googling Wordle.

Kelli Dunlap, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at American University Game Lab, said the “ordles” are “variations on a theme — taking the structure of a well-designed game and customizing it for a more niche audience. Might this lead to financial gain? Possibly — more site visits means more traffic, more visibility, donations, but probably not a seven-figure buyout,” she told TheWrap. She added that the most likely benefit is to increase one’s stature as a game developer, connect with an already established fan base — or just to have some fun.

However, the association may not be all positive. Since Wordle was acquired by the Times, fans have worried that the game, now free to play, will eventually be moved behind the Times Games paywall, which costs $1.25 a week or $40 a year. Some resent the idea of paying for online games — or perhaps they just can’t affordle. The Times hasn’t commented on when or whether a subscription requirement will come into play.

But experts in the online gaming field say adding fees — or getting snapped up by the New York Times — isn’t the only way to make money from an online game.

The mind-boggling Quordle, created by Freddie Meyer from an early prototype by engineer David Mah in what Meyer has called “a moment of evil and genius,” offers players the modest option of making donations by buying “coffees” for Quordle for $5.

However Udonis chief Grguric said there are plenty of more efficient ways to make money with an online game, including creating a game app and charging for downloads, or selling in-app advertising space on the gaming page. Grguric doesn’t see much promise in peddling ad trackers, since data on word game players is, in his view, not of much use to marketers: “All it does is tell you the person played Wordle (or whatever game),” he said.

Griguric cited the phenomenon of the online game Flappy Bird, launched in May 2013 by Vietnam-based developer Dong Nguyen. By January 2014, BusinessofApps reported the game had hit 50 million downloads, becoming one of the top free games on the Android and iOS app stores. The game’s author claimed Flappy Bird generated $50,000 a day in in-app advertising and, Griguric said, was responsible for launching a genre called hyper-casual (read: easy to play) games. “A simple game can make billions,” he said — and that can include easily created clones.

However, the cloning of Flappy Bird ruffled some feathers. According to BusinessofApps and multiple other sources, Flappy Bird was criticized for a design that was strikingly similar to Super Mario. And developer Nguyen removed the game from the app stores in February 2014, citing both guilt and the too-addictive nature of the game.

It remains to be seen how many more Worldle copycats will sprout up, but for now, they seem to be quite the T-R-E-N-D.