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Wordle copycat creator apologizes for ripping off the popular free word game

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Developer Zach Shakked — the creator of one of several controversial copycat versions of Josh Wardle’s popular free word-guessing game — has responded to Apple removing his app from the App Store after an internet backlash that followed his boasting about the money-making potential of his clone.

“I realize I crossed a line. And I surely, surely will never do anything remotely close to this again. I fucked up,” tweeted Shakked. He goes on to explain that “Wordle” itself wasn’t trademarked and that Wardle’s game was similar to Lingo, an older TV game show with a similar word-guessing mechanic. Shakked also says that he planned to expand on Wordle with more functionality and change the overall design of the app to less resemble Wardle’s own game, had he been able to before Apple removed his app from the store.

Wordle has skyrocketed to popularity over the past several weeks, with its minimalist design, bite-sized daily puzzles, and the now-iconic grids of grey, yellow, and green squares. The original game is completely free and solely played through a web browser, leaving an opportunity for any number of copycats to try and make a quick buck off the concept on the App Store.

Shakked’s clone (called “Wordle – The App”) was one of the more high-profile copies, thanks to the developer’s celebratory tweets about the project and the eyebrow-raising price tag — an optional $30-per-year annual subscription that would allow players to play an unlimited number of puzzles, instead of Wordle’s one-per-day system. Shakked’s tweets also rubbed many the wrong way, boasting about how many downloads and subscription trials his app was getting and how it was “going to the fucking moon.”

Shortly after reports of Wordle knockoffs broke, Apple leapt into action, removing the offending apps from the App Store last night. Currently, there are only two puzzle games called “Wordle” left on Apple’s storefront, both of which offer very different types of word games than Wardle’s viral hit and which predate the web app by a number of years. (Incidentally, the other Wordles appear to be greatly benefiting from Wardle’s game’s success, with both apps rocketing up the App Store charts).

In a separate thread, Shakked also says that he spoke to Wardle and offered to license the idea, work together to develop an official app, or pay him a percentage of any profit, which Wardle reportedly declined. Shakked also claims that he told Wardle that he would “consider changing the name” before the app was removed entirely.

Wardle, for what it’s worth, has already been extremely clear about the idea of monetizing Wordle (which, as he explained in a New York Times interview, was originally created as a gift for his partner). “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Wardle said. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

The aftermath of the blowback seems to have soured Shakked (who had previously complained on Twitter about how “[s]hameless copy/pasting ideas/features will get you nowhere”) on the idea of copycat apps in the future. “I’ll go back to creating apps based on my completely, evergreen, original ideas and never fuck with anything remotely like this again,” Shakked’s thread concludes.

Zach Shakked did not respond to request for comment.

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