The World Handled A 'Wordle' Ripoff Just Fine Without Any IP Action
from the move-along dept
In the video game space, it has become commonplace to see creators freak out over “rip-offs” and “clones” of their games when the targets of their ire are actually not rip-offs or clones at all. This typically comes down to the all to common confusion over whether you can own or protect ideas versus specific expression. Typically in these stories, it turns out someone is complaining that they’re seeing a similar idea in other games, whether it’s first person shooters that share common features, the explosion of battle royale games, or even just artwork.
Which brings us to Wordle, a browser-based game that I gleefully enjoy telling my fellow Techdirt readers I have not played. However you feel about the game, it’s notable in that its creator has been adamant about not monetizing the game, nor has he bothered registering any copyright or trademark for it. Between that and the game’s popularity, there is a ton of goodwill there, which may explain why the world smacked down another person’s attempt to actually clone (basically) the game into a mobile app that then required paid subscriptions for all of the features.
“I love Wordle so much I decided to make my own Wordle app but with a twist!” tech entrepreneur Zack Shakked wrote on Twitter yesterday. “There’s not just 5-letter words, but also 4, 6, and 7 letter words too! You can also play unlimited times if you’re on the Pro version.”
The new version of Wordle on the App Store didn’t just have bigger puzzles, it also required you to pay a subscription to unlock all of its features. It was a greedy innovation that, in the words of Any Baio, compounded the plagiarism into a “naked cash grab.” The downloads, reviews, and active paid trials instantly started rolling in.
Yes, they rolled in. And Shakked took to Twitter to brag about the adoption rate in the most irritating way possible.
“We’re going to the fucking moon.” That prediction turned out to be true, by which I mean the creator ended up in a place where all the oxygen had been sucked into a vacuum. See, that goodwill I mentioned before for the original Wordle creator led to the internet losing its damned fool mind over this cloning of the Wordle game into a money-grabbing app. In addition to Andy Baio dunking on Shakked, so did many, many others.
Cabel Sasser of indie studio Panic, the publisher behind Untitled Goose Game currently working on the Playdate handheld, responded to Shakked that he couldn’t wait to show Wordle’s true creator how to navigate the App Store takedown process. Others were more explicit. “Absolutely fuck you,” wrote Vlambeer cofounder Rami Ismail.
And eventually, Apple took the Shakked’s app down. The reasons why are trivially easy to understand: the app called itself “Wordle”, had nearly the exact same gameplay and look as the original game, and was clearly attempting to profit off of the work of others.
But notably absent in all of this was anything related to actual intellectual property registrations and the like. The world managed to take the right and corrective action on a bad actor without talking about copyright, trademarks, lawyers, cease and desist notices, DMCA takedowns, or any of that. You can chalk some of this up to our general ownership culture I suppose, but the truth is this all feels like the public doing its thing via a backlash on someone doing something shitty and Apple responding to that.
Which leads to the obvious question: why can’t this be the norm?