In context: If you have never heard of Wordle, you’re forgiven, even though it seems to be the “in” thing to be talking about on social media right now. Wordle is a puzzle game only available on the internet and only offers one puzzle per day. Despite its limitations, its popularity has gone viral, with unofficial copycat apps appearing in app stores.
Wordle is a play on the creator’s last name, Josh Wardle. The game plays like the multicolored peg game, Mastermind but with five-letter words instead. Players have six chances to guess the word of the day while receiving feedback on the presence and position of each letter in the guess. You can play once per day for free on Wardle’s Wordle website.
Self-proclaimed New York entrepreneur Zach Shakked recently submitted his iOS version of the game to the App Store and had it removed in less than 48 hours. It is unclear whether the original game’s creator filed a copyright claim with Apple or if the publicity brought on by Shakked’s pompous attitude alerted the Cupertino firm to the blatant ripoff.
This is absurd. 450 trials at 1am last night, now at 950 and getting a new ones every minute. 12K downloads, rank #28 word game, and #4 result for “wordle” in the App Store. We’re going to the fucking moon. pic.twitter.com/fE7fsgYVJC
— Zach (@zachshakked) January 11, 2022
To his credit, Shakked did make some changes to the game by adding four, six, and seven-word variants. He also introduced a paid version that allows players access to unlimited puzzles instead of once daily.
Despite his changes, Shakked came under fire on Twitter after bragging about how well his app was doing. Of particular note was developer Andy Baio calling Shakked’s tactics “so gross.”
“This guy shamelessly cloned Wordle (name and all) as an F2P iOS game with in-app purchases and is bragging about how well it’s doing and how he’ll get away with it because Josh Wardle didn’t trademark it,” Baio tweeted. “So gross.”
— Zach (@zachshakked) January 10, 2022
Shakked defended himself, pointing out that Wordle is a ripoff of the 1980s game show Lingo. He also said he was justified in stealing the name because Wardle never trademarked it, but Baio wasn’t buying any of it.
“There have been games with similar mechanics dating back at least to the 19th century — the 1980s game show Lingo was far from the first — but this guy plagiarized the name and interface from Wordle as a naked cash grab,” Baio said.
I absolutely despise copycats. Shameless copying is so dumb. Take inspiration from others. Why are they doing that? Why is this a good feature for users? How can we build on top of that?
Shameless copy/pasting ideas/features will get you nowhere.
— Zach (@zachshakked) June 22, 2021
Others pointed out Shakked’s hypocrisy by dredging up a tweet from last summer saying that he “despised copycats.” At some point, Shakked locked his Twitter account, presumably because of the backlash, but has since unlocked it, apologizing for the fiasco.
“I realize I crossed a line,” he tweeted. “And I surely, surely will never do anything remotely close to this again. I f***ed up.”
The Verge notes that Apple removed several other “Wordle” apps but that many clones remain under various names. Shakked is appealing Apple to reinstate the game.