Wordle is the newest viral game taking over your Twitter feed and group chats, and with popularity comes cloning. If you search "Wordle" on the App Store right now, you'll find nearly a dozen copycat versions of the game, many of which shamelessly use the game's name in the app title with little to no alteration.
Most of the games look identical to the version created in private and for free by software engineer Josh Wardle, who maintains the game but has not asked for any monetary compensation for doing so. But as is the case with anything organic and popular on the internet, there are always those interested in profiting off it in one way or another. That's especially true in the world of mobile gaming where so-called cloning is a rampant practice with little to no recourse for creators.
Usually, cloned apps are made by relatively anonymous developers whose skill lies in quickly turning new and popular ideas in game design into quick, functional apps. In some cases, developers will rework existing apps and change the name, too. But slap some ads on there or attach a small price like $1.99 and they stand to make some money.
However, in this case, a developer by the name of Zachary Shakked created a Wordle clone as a self-described fan of the game, and then released it on iOS with a $30-per-year pro version that allows you to keep playing and also modify the number of letters in the word you're guessing. It's one of the more popular of the Wordle clones on the iPhone right now. Shakked has since put his Twitter profile to private after users found older tweets in which he criticized those who shamelessly copy other's ideas.
Cloning is not exactly what you would call honest app development work, and it's an endemic issue in mobile gaming that's not quite solvable given the industry-wide truce around abuse of copyright law and trademarks. Games wouldn't be very fun if you had to pay a licensing fee or risk a lawsuit every time you wanted to borrow a good idea, so most developers just treat copying and cloning as the cost of doing business.
One of the most high-profile cases was the cloning of Asher Vollmer's Threes. The ingenious number game was cloned into a web game and then countless mobile apps under the name "2048" to viral success for the cloners, who opted to make their versions free while Vollmer initially took the paid route. The business model decision was one Vollmer later said he regretted but used as a teachable moment when he turned Threes into a free-to-play app and saw his revenue skyrocket.
For Wardle, who doesn't sound like he's interested in making money off Wordle, the cloning of a word game he built for his puzzle-loving partner to play together in private may not bother him so much. In an interview with The Guardian published Tuesday, Wardle sounded more concerned about the newfound fame his game has earned him. He said going viral "doesn’t feel great to be honest," and that he now feels "a sense of responsibility for the players … to keep things running and make sure everything’s working correctly.”
"I need to be really thoughtful. It’s not my full-time job and I don’t want it to become a source of stress and anxiety in my life. If I do make any changes, I would like to think they are changes I would have made even if it was just [my partner and I] playing," he said.