August 16, 2022
Enlarge / Wordle‘s value to The New York Times isn’t much of a puzzle.

The New York Times’ seven-figure purchase of viral hit Wordle in January was “incredibly valuable” to the company and was responsible for “an unprecedented tens of millions of new users to The Times,” the media giant said in announcing its quarterly earnings Wednesday morning. And while New York Times Co. CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said the “majority of these incremental users only played Wordle, many… stayed to play other games, which drove our best quarter ever for net subscriber additions to Games.”

Levien said during an earnings call that the number of average weekly users for the Times’ non-Wordle games “nearly doubled” during the quarter ending in March. The game “played an outsized role in the quarter’s engagement and subscriber growth,” she added.

The Wordle acquisition was part of a larger effort to make The New York Times seem “more valuable to more people by helping them make the most of their lives and passions,” Levien said during the call.

Wordle has remained a free and ad-free daily offering under the Times’ ownership. Instead of creating revenue directly, the game serves as something of a loss leader for the Times’ Games subscription—a bundle that includes full access to its popular crosswords and other daily puzzles like Spelling Bee and Vertex. That access is available as a $40-per-year annual standalone subscription and in an “All Digital Access” bundle that also includes access to news, recipes, Wirecutter product recommendations, and the recently acquired The Athletic.

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While the Times doesn’t break out its Games subscriptions separately, the company says it netted 387,000 total new digital-only subscriptions for the quarter, including 312,000 that had access to its news product. The Times now boasts over 8.3 million digital-only subscribers, including 6.15 million that have access to news and an overlapping 2.56 million with “multi-product” subscriptions (which likely includes many Games subscribers). The Times’ nearly 800,000 print subscribers also enjoy full access to its digital games, the company said.

Has the fad peaked?

Despite all the Wordle love, Levien’s remarks also offered a small hint that the Times doesn’t necessarily expect the game to remain quite as strong of a draw going forward. Levien said the Times is “moving swiftly to leverage [Wordle‘s] massive audience to introduce Wordle players to our other games, recognizing that its audience may moderate over time.”

In other words, the Times seems aware that, across months and years, players may start to grow less interested in Wordle and that the simple five-letter daily guessing game may not be as consistent and long-lasting a draw as deeper and more complicated puzzles like the crossword.

The number of daily tweeted <em>Wordle</em> results has continued to fall precipitously since we created this graph in February.
Enlarge / The number of daily tweeted Wordle results has continued to fall precipitously since we created this graph in February.

There’s some evidence that a drop-off in interest is already happening. The Wordle Stats Twitter bot now regularly registers 100,000 or fewer daily player-tweeted results for the game, down from a peak of over 360,000 on February 2 (just days after the Times acquisition was announced).

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While there are other potential reasons for that downward trend—players may simply be less likely to share their results on social media for a number of reasons—the size and speed of the drop in result tweets is notable by any measure. In other words, don’t be surprised if the Times isn’t talking up “tens of millions” of new Wordle-driven users three months from now.

“We don’t have set plans for the game’s future,” a Times spokesperson told Ars in March when we asked if Wordle would remain free. “We’re focused on continuing to make Wordle a great daily puzzle.”