Stress forced Wordle creator to sell game to the New York Times, he says

A screenshot of Wordle on a phone
Josh Wardle said the experience left him "pretty stressed out, truthfully". Photo credit: Getty Images

The creator of viral sensation Wordle says he sold it to the New York Times because he feared he was going to spend time and money stopping others from making a fortune from the game.

Josh Wardle, who created the game for his puzzle-loving partner, told a Game Developers Conference that getting rid of his creation was a way to avoid the pressure he felt was inevitable.

After the game drew the attention of millions of users, clones popped up on Apple's App Store with quite a few charging either for the game or ongoing subscriptions.

One of those who ripped off Wardle was Jack Shakked, who boasted on Twitter about how much money he was going to make - before a backlash forced him to apologise.

The whole experience left Wardle "pretty stressed out, truthfully".

 "That isn't money that I would have made, because I said I don't want to make money, but something about that felt really deeply unpleasant for me," he said.

"And so selling to the New York Times was a way for me to walk away from that. I didn't want to be paying a lawyer to issue cease and desists on the game that I'm not making money from.

"It felt like it was all going to get really, really complicated."

According to reports, the Times paid between US$1 million and US$3 million (NZ$1.45 million to $4.35 million) for rights to the game.

During the talk, Wardle revealed he was able to scale up the game for millions of users for around US$100 (NZ$145) per month.

He also shared some feedback he had received from players whose lives were changed positively by the game, including one from Nebraska.

"Both my parents play now. We don't have a lot in common, even though we love each other a lot. I'm gay; they're conservative Christians," the person wrote.

"Wordle has given us a way to come together every day. [My mother] loves that regular contact with me. And it's something I enjoy too that distracts me from all the difficult differences that are between us."

Another said how it helped their relationship with their mum after she embraced QAnon, the extremist conspiracy theory group.

"To read this is really heartwarming. It's also incredibly tragic, I think. Right now we are more connected than ever, yet people want [for] connection," Wardle said.

There were fears that the game would end up behind a paywall once purchased by the New York Times, but that hasn't happened yet.

Reports in the media suggest, however, that the number of users has dropped, with the Times claiming around 300,000 are playing each day.

In the meantime, new clones have appeared on the App Store and Google's Play Store while there are others online which have adapted the original in different ways.

This includes Worldle, where users have to guess the country based on its outline and Framed, which offers stills of a movie getting increasingly easier as the game progresses.

Word-based games Quorlde and Octordle have also increased the complexity of the original by making users guess four and eight words respectively, albeit with more attempts to guess.