Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wordle Clones

John Gruber:

Apple’s App Store is lousy with Wordle rip-offs. I mean not just the concept — there’s a long history of “guess the word” games, including a defunct game show called “Lingo” that was clearly an inspiration for Wordle — but literally the name “Wordle” and its design. As observed by Greg Karber, as I write this, the #3, #7, #14, and #15 word games in the iOS App Store are shameless Wordle clones stealing the name “Wordle”.


And then we get to the real gem of the bunch. “Wordle - The App”, by Zach Shakked, a free-to-download app with a 30-fucking-dollar-per-year “Pro” unlock. Shakked’s rip-off doesn’t just steal Wordle’s name, design, and mechanics, its “The App” suffix clearly was chosen to make it look like the official App Store version of Wardle’s original.

Apple removed the ones using the “Wordle” name last night.


Update (2022-01-24): John Gruber:

Some good rules of thumb, if you’re weighing whether a derivative new work crosses the threshold into ripping off the original: If the derivative steals the original’s title or name, that’s a rip-off. If the derivative is designed to confuse people into thinking it is the original — as Shakked’s Wordle clone clearly did — that’s a rip-off. If the derivative is indistinguishable from the original or brings nothing new to the table, it’s probably a rip-off.


When last week’s controversy erupted, I watched some footage of Lingo, and rolled my eyes at the “Wordle is just a rip-off of Lingo” allegations. Yes, both games are about guessing five-letter words. But a game show where you compete against other contestants and against a clock “smells” quite different from Wordle’s solo gameplay and leisurely “take as much time as you want” pace.

Turns out Lingo isn’t just a TV game show, though. It’s an officially-licensed video game — in both the App Store and Play Store. David Barnard was the first person I saw who pointed to the official Lingo game, tweeting thus[…]

Update (2022-03-07): Chaim Gartenberg:

The Wordle clones are back on the App Store, just a few weeks after Apple wiped out nearly all the copycat games in January.


None of the new games are actively passing themselves off as Wordle — at least, not in name. Instead, the clones have creatively rebranded to “Wordus,” “Word Guess,” “Wordl,” and other thinly veiled references to the original game. But all of them offer some variant on Wordle’s gameplay, down to the same gameplay, UI, design, and color scheme.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

Weird how Apple can remove Wordle clone apps within a day (most of which were not monetized), but AFAIK they have not removed any of the million dollar scam apps that have been reported.

@Ben Legally, abuse of the "Wordle" name could be considered a trademark issue (even if it's not officially trademarked yet), or at least a copyright issue that the "holder" can try to enforce, whereas the scam apps are just a moral issue, and therefore require no direct action by Apple, I suspect.

Kevin Schumacher

Given that there are at least two examples of apps using Wordle as their name prior to the website game being a thing, I think it would be an uphill climb to trademark it. And unregistered trademarks have far less protection.

As far as copyright, functional game rules can’t be copyrighted. A rule book could be, but that obviously doesn’t apply here. Art created for the game could be, but that doesn’t appear to be relevant here, either.

All this to say, legally I’m not sure there is much to be done. The website is very barebones and therefore attracts little in the way of copyright protection, outside of its source code, which is unlikely being used in the app clones.

Apple in this case was far more likely responding to media response than anything they were legally obligated to do.

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