The developer who created an iOS clone of Wordle — the word-puzzle game that’s gone viral in the last two weeks — issued a mea culpa (sort of) after getting dragged online for ripping off the idea and gleefully bragging about profiting from it. His apology also followed Apple’s removal of his copycat app from the App Store.
The original Wordle behind the craze, created by Brooklyn software engineer Josh Wardle, is available to play for free on the web at this link. There’s no official app version of the game — which led several opportunists to create clones looking to cash in by adopting the name and gameplay format.
One of those was created by a tech entrepreneur Zach Shakked, whose “Wordle – The App” went live Monday on Apple’s App Store. The game offered five-, six- and seven-letter words (the original Wordle has five letters) as well as a “pro” mode with unlimited play for a $30 annual subscription.
In a Twitter thread posted late Tuesday, Shakked — after getting attacked on social media for blatantly copying the original viral hit — acknowledged his mistake. “I realize I crossed a line. And I surely, surely will never do anything remotely close to this again. I fucked up,” he wrote.
Earlier Tuesday, Shakked had boasted about how his ripoff app was taking off: “I’m literally giddy right now – that’s 5.4k downloads in 1 FUCKING HOUR,” he tweeted at one point. He also exulted, “We’re going to the fucking moon.”
After publicity over the shameless Wordle ripoff apps, Apple removed Shakked’s game and others from the App Store on Tuesday.
The outrage over the Wordle clones was heightened because Wardle hasn’t tried to monetize the game to this point. In an interview with the New York Times published last week (which clearly supercharged its popularity), Wardle said he created the game for his partner, who’s a fan of crosswords. “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” he said. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”
While Shakked professed to be sorry, he also tried to defend his actions and complained that he was being raked over the coals for something he claimed is routine in the industry. “Wordle is a ripoff of another game,” he wrote, and pointed out that “Wordle” has not been trademarked.
“This was the perfect storm to publicly crucify me for something that is common,” Shakked wrote on Twitter. “In a week my app would’ve looked totally different and had way more functionality beyond what original dude did.” He continued, “Getting mad that I charged a $30 subscription that 1000s of people were willing to pay is just bananas. This is how businesses work. You charge money. If it’s too much, people won’t pay. In this case, many people were willing to start a trial.”
Shakked also claimed he lost money on the app: “Yes I was really fucking excited when I saw how many downloads it was getting. And how much money it COULD make (I MADE $0 OFF IT AND ACTUALLY LOST MONEY). So nobody got fucked here other than me.” On Jan. 3, he had tweeted, “My 2022 resolutions: – be more real – be more vulgar – make tons of fucking money.”
In addition, Shakked griped, “Another thing I’d ask you is how do you feel about Apple unilaterally removing apps without any recourse? I spoke to lawyers and the original creator’s claim to ‘Wordle’ was highly dubious.” Apple’s guidelines for app developers specifically advises, “Don’t simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own.”
Wardle’s web Wordle has exploded in popularity: The site had 300,000 daily players in early January and that has risen to 2 million this past weekend, according to the Guardian.
In the Apple App Store in the U.S., there appear to be only two games currently with the Wordle name still available, both of which predate Wardle’s game: “Wordle!”, first published in 2016 (described as a “timer-based word game in which you are given letters to create a word as fast as you can!”), and “Wordle – Word Puzzle,” released in 2018.