How much did the Wordle guy get paid?

Wordle, the popular online word guessing game, was created by software engineer Josh Wardle and released in October 2021. Within just a few months, it had amassed millions of daily players. So how much money did Wardle make when he eventually sold Wordle to The New York Times in January 2022?

The origins of Wordle

Wordle was initially created by Wardle as a passion project for him and his partner to play. He had previously created two social experiments called Place and The Button for Reddit. However, with Wordle, he wanted to create something that was simply fun.

Wardle built Wordle using JavaScript and deployed it on his own website in October 2021. The game only allowed one puzzle per day and there were no ads or ways to monetize it. This was intentional on Wardle’s part, as he wanted Wordle to stay simple and not be driven by money or clicks.

Initially, Wardle shared the game with his family on WhatsApp, who became hooked. Over time, through word of mouth on social media, the game spread rapidly. Within just a couple of months, Wordle had amassed millions of daily users.

Wordle’s meteoric rise

By November 2021, Wordle had over 300,000 players per day. By early January 2022, it had crossed 2 million. On January 10, 2022, The New York Times reported that Wordle had reached over 300 million players in just 3 months.

Wordle benefited tremendously from people sharing their results on social media in spoiler-free ways. Players only had one puzzle per day, so sharing results provided social validation. The ability to copy and share green, yellow and grey tile results drove viral growth.

Media coverage also contributed to Wordle’s popularity. Profiles by The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN and other major outlets introduced the game to new audiences. As celebrities like Jimmy Fallon began tweeting their Wordle results, interest surged even higher.

Monetizing Wordle

Despite Wordle’s incredible growth, Wardle had not built in any monetization mechanisms. There were no ads, no in-app purchases, or ways to collect user data. Wardle had no plans to make money from the game.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Wardle explained his thinking: “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun. It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs.”

However, maintaining Wordle still cost money for server fees. As the game grew, Wardle realized that he would need some way to sustain it financially.

Selling Wordle to The New York Times

In January 2022, Wardle made the decision to sell Wordle to The New York Times Company. The New York Times, already well known for its popular crossword and games section, seemed like a natural fit to take over the viral word guessing game.

On January 31, 2022 The New York Times Company announced that it had purchased Wordle for an undisclosed price in the low seven figures. This means that Wardle likely received somewhere between $1 million to $10 million from the sale.

In an interview with The New York Times, Wardle explained his rationale for selling: “I am incredibly pleased to announce that I’ve reached an agreement with The New York Times for them to take over running Wordle going forward.”

Wardle expressed that The Times was the perfect home for Wordle, given its long history with games like crosswords. Transferring it over would relieve the strain of maintaining the game as a solo developer.

After the sale to The Times

After selling Wordle, Wardle donated some of the proceeds to charity. He also expressed that he would continue creating experimental games in the future.

For regular Wordle players, nothing changed immediately after the sale. Users could still access the game for free through its original website. The New York Times indicated that the gameplay would remain the same.

In the future, The Times may look for ways to expand and build upon Wordle. But for now, the core one-puzzle daily format remains intact. The Times has also committed to keeping past Wordle puzzles accessible on the website.

Was the price paid fair?

Determining whether the undisclosed seven-figure price paid by The New York Times was “fair” is tricky. Here are some perspectives on the deal:

  • For Wardle, selling Wordle provided financial resources to sustain it, while relieving him of the duties of running it solo. This achieved his main goals.
  • For regular players, nothing really changed – Wordle remained free and accessible. So from a user perspective, the value remained intact.
  • For The Times, Wordle was likely a very strategic acquisition. Adding Wordle expanded its gamer audience and strengthened its position in the online games space.
  • From a revenue standpoint, Wordle had no monetization or consistent cash flow. So most of its value was speculative based on future potential under Times ownership.

Given these factors, the undisclosed seven-figure price was likely “fair” for both parties. Wardle got life-changing money for a previously free product. The Times paid reasonably for an asset with huge upside in supporting its growth into gaming.

Could Wordle have earned more?

If Wardle had tried to maximize monetization of Wordle from the outset, could he potentially have earned even more money instead of selling it?

Some possibilities that could have generated revenue:

  • Charge a monthly/annual subscription fee for unlimited access
  • Sell ad space within the app
  • Add sponsorships or brand partnerships
  • Create a mobile app version with in-app purchases
  • Build a marketplace to sell Wordle merchandising

However, going down any of these paths could also have risks and downsides:

  • Adding fees or ads could turn off users and slow growth
  • Focusing on monetization could water down the simple user experience
  • Trying to rapidly monetize could attract bad press or a user backlash
  • Expanding the app and team could get complex and expensive for a solo developer

Given how quickly Wordle went viral, it is hard to say in retrospect whether Wardle could have generated more revenue on his own. Adding monetization elements could have also altered the app’s growth trajectory. Overall, selling to The Times was likely the simpler and less risky route for a solo developer.

Key factors in Wordle’s value

Here are some of the key factors that contributed value to Wordle, making it an attractive acquisition target:

  • Millions of daily active users
  • Strong viral growth and social sharing
  • Loyal user base
  • Positive brand/media coverage
  • Unique and captivating gameplay
  • Simple and elegantly designed user experience
  • Potential to expand into new game formats
  • Engaged audience that plays daily
  • Opportunities to cross-promote with other Times games

For The New York Times, Wordle presented a smart strategic play to acquire a viral online game asset with a vast potential to further monetize and leverage the captive audience.

Could Wordle have fetched an even higher price?

While the exact sale price was not disclosed, some financial analysts have speculated that Wardle likely could have pushed for even more money from The Times or another buyer. However, there are a few factors that may have limited Wordle’s value:

  • Lack of consistent revenue or monetization from the free app
  • Unknown long-term retention of users
  • App relying on a simple formula that could lose appeal over time
  • Potential competition from copycats diluting its uniqueness

Given these uncertainties, most experts agree the Times deal was smart timing for Wardle to maximize value with less risk. Selling at the peak of the hype curve gave him leverage to command a high sale price.

Holding out longer or shopping the deal around may have yielded a higher valuation. However, if user growth stalled or competitors copied Wordle’s format, the acquisition value could have dropped.


In the end, Wardle likely received somewhere in the range of $1 million to $10 million from selling Wordle to The New York Times.

This was a life-changing payday for the creator of a simple, free online game that he initially just developed for fun and with no monetization model.

For The Times, Wordle provided a strategic opportunity to grow its gaming audience at a reasonable price given the app’s extraordinary early growth.

Overall, the deal appears to have achieved the ideal outcomes sought by both the buyer and seller – providing Wardle a well-deserved windfall while allowing The Times to add a prized digital asset under its umbrella.

Only time will tell how much additional value The Times can extract from Wordle in the years ahead. But for now, the deal looks like a win-win for both parties at a pivotal moment in the viral game’s meteoric rise to fame.

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