Regular readers may recall the viral success of wordle led to an unexpected flood of downloads for an unrelated, six-year-old iOS game that was also called Wordle! (Note the exclamation point.) These readers may also recall how mobile developer Steven Cravotta pledged to donate some of the proceeds from his unexpected Wordle! boon to charity.
Since that report, however, Cravotta Wordle! ended up in the hands of mobile gaming powerhouse AppLovin after being sold for an undisclosed sum (as first noticed by TechCrunch). In doing so, the multi-billion dollar company appears to have found a legal way to exploit the popularity of the wordle name and brand to make millions of dollars in revenue.
A story of two Words
Cravotta initially launched his mobile Wordle! in April 2016, at the age of 18, years before Josh Wardle came across the same name for his unexpected web hit in 2021. Cravotta’s simple anagram game, whose gameplay closely resembled the game popular and pre-existing PikPok four letters– received a few updates in the months after its release, but then went untouched and largely unnoticed for years.
“I never thought it would turn into anything, so I kind of let the project go after a bit,” Cravotta said in a recent YouTube video. “There were between one and two downloads per day for the past six years.”
Fast forward to late December 2021, when thousands hooked up on Wardle’s website wordle started looking for a mobile version in the iOS App Store. With no official iOS offering from Wardle – and with Apple cracking down on some clone makers – gamers started downloading the similarly named Cravotta. Wordle! in large numbers, eventually peaking at 200,000 downloads per day, Cravotta said. These numbers were despite the games having almost nothing in common gameplay-wise except for their shared use of letters to form words.
Following the unexpected surge in popularity, Cravotta reached out to Wardle, and the pair decided to donate some of the app’s inflated proceeds (which came mostly from ads) to Boost! West Oakland, a children’s tutoring charity. Cravotta announced the $50,000 donation on February 24by then, his app had received 8 million downloads, according to the Washington Post.
After the donation, things start to get a little weird for Cravotta Wordle! Internet archive captures from the iOS App Store show the mobile app publisher’s account being transferred from Cravotta to the new Goldfinch Studios shortly before February 21, just before the announcement of the donation. The publicly traded publisher then transitioned to AppLovin subsidiary Lion Studios Plus on March 31. This studio, founded in 2018, has created dozens of spin-off casual mobile games like Project makeover, bingo historyand Solo Cruiseto name a few.
These publisher changes closely coincide with app updates that have transformed AppLovin’s Wordle! from Cravotta’s standalone anagram game to one closely resembling the web hit that shares its name.
At the end of January, the Wordle! The app started receiving “bug fix” updates for the first time since 2016. But it was a new “6 Guesses” mode, added in a Feb. 6 update, that brought the version of the application to closely imitate the web. wordlegameplay and presentation, down to the green and yellow letters offered as clues for the five-letter word hunt. Later updates would also add result sharing and daily puzzle features, further tying it to the popular web game.
The “6 guessing” mode is now the first thing you see when you launch the Wordle! app for the first time. Cravotta’s original game is buried in a “Word Fever” mode menu.
AppLovin did not respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica. The company told TechCrunch that it is bringing Wordle! to millions of mobile gamers worldwide and that the game is “mobile-exclusive”.
A representative for Cravotta said that “there are no comments at this time regarding the subject matter involving an acquisition,” but noted Cravotta’s current work on Puff Count, a free app that “keeps track of your puffs and your nicotine consumption to facilitate quitting”.