Wordle scams are rampant again on the App Store
Wordle clones are back on the App Store, just weeks after Apple erased almost all copy games in January.
A quick look at the App Store’s best free apps reveals at least two well-placed Wordle-likes, while diving into Apple’s more specific word games category (or just searching for “Wordle”) brings up plenty of other imitators, many of whom appear to have been part of Apple’s first wave of teardowns a few months ago.
None of the new games impersonate Wordle – at least not by name. Instead, the clones were creatively renamed “Wordus”, “Word Guess”, “Wordl”, and other thinly veiled references to the original game. But all of them offer a twist on Wordle’s gameplay, down to the same gameplay, UI, design, and color scheme.
Apple encourages developers not to copy other games. In section 4.1 of its App Store guidelines, the company advises developers to “come up with your own ideas” and not “simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to the name or to another app’s UI and pass do it as your own.
The fact that Wordle isn’t actually on the App Store complicates matters – the game was first published by original creator Josh Wardle and hosted on his website before being purchased by The New York Timeswhich currently hosts the game. Times also didn’t add Wordle to its official Crossword app (where many of the company’s other daily puzzle games live).
But whether or not the Wordle clones technically violate App Store guidelines is almost irrelevant. The past decade-plus in the App Store’s history – including Apple’s own withdrawal of Wordle clones earlier this year – has made it clear that the company has the power to lay its foot on any app it has. ‘she wants. Apple, after all, remains the sole arbiter of what is or isn’t allowed on the App Store, subject to guidelines it writes and enforces entirely on its own.
The question is therefore not whether Apple can again remove Wordle clones, but should this?
The situation around Wordle copycats has also changed drastically since the last round of takedowns. In January, Wordle was a cute game that a lone creator released on his own as a gift for his partner, something that was explicitly not monetized. “It’s not about doing anything shady with your data or your eyeballs,” Wardle commented in a post. New York Times profile at the time. “It’s just a game that’s fun.”
Much of the outrage over Wordle imitators (all of which added ads, optional in-app purchases, or subscription fees) in the public court seemed to stem from this narrative: greedy developers trying to make a quick buck money with this rare, pure thing on the internet.
Flash-forward to March 2022, and Wordle isn’t just “a fun game” anymore. This is a major property that Wardle has sold to The New York Timesone of the largest media companies on the planet, in a seven-figure deal.
Is it Apple’s responsibility to defend a multi-billion dollar company (with its own legal teams) against copycats? Should Apple have taken action back when it was a single developer that wasn’t interested in monetizing their work?
At this time, it is unclear what will happen next. Asked by The edge on wordle clones, The New York Times declined to comment for this story. Apple also did not respond to a request for comment at press time.