Ramat Gan - Israel

+972 (03) 790-1700

London - United Kingdom

+44 20 8089 7891

Paris - France

+33 7 55 54 86 87

Istanbul - Turkey

+90 212 401 29 92

What can publishers learn from Wordle at the NYT?

Naomi Rabbie, November 8, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Though Wordle at the NYT is grabbing headlines, publishers have used games to draw in audiences for years.
  • For a successful game strategy, publishers need to listen to their audience.
  • Like every method to diversify revenue, publishers need to ensure they have the resources to implement it successfully.
Wordle on NYT
Photo by Nils Huenerfuerst on Unsplash

Who would have guessed that a simple text-based puzzle game would be such a runaway success, resulting in one of the world’s largest new publishers purchasing it for more than $1 million?

In late 2021, UK software engineer Josh Wardle made a simple, yet addictive, online word game based on the board game Mastermind. Quickly, it became an overnight sensation, reaching 2 million players globally by the first week of January 2022. By the end of that month, the New York Times (NYT) announced it had purchased the game, stating that it would continue to be free to play Wordle.

Though the price tag for the game raised eyebrows, publishers have always sought to use games to draw in audiences. For over a hundred years, print newspapers have populated their pages with crosswords, Sudoku, word searches, and other mind-boggling puzzles. The NYT was no stranger to this, having previously found success with Spelling Bee, another word game, as well as the New York Times Crossword app.

Gaming is a rapidly growing sector, due to be worth $320 billion globally by 2026. While much of this is powered by PC games, and console games, social/casual games such as Wordle are driving the majority of this growth. Clearly, there is potential for publishers, but can gaming be turned into a source of revenue? And what approach should publishers take?

Starting Words

First, let’s ask a simple question: is it worth it? If we go back to the NYT, Wordle has clearly had an impact on its audience. While the game is free to play, the NYT highlighted that the game brought tens of millions of new users to its site, and drove an increase of 387,000 new digital subscribers in the first quarter of 2022 alone. 

As marketing budgets begin to tighten due to the worsening financial situation, and the cookie deprecates, publishers are rightfully looking to diversify their revenue streams. Gaming certainly represents another channel to be explored. Whether you think that you’ve found the new Wordle, or are going to put your own spin on a classic, this is what you should be considering before taking the next step:


As with any new revenue stream, a gaming offering can take time and talent to implement. From the technical implementation to updating content, publishers will have to harness the specialist talent they have at their disposal, or hire new staff with the appropriate skill sets. This can take time, creativity — or in the case of the NYT, the ability to buy a ready-made proposition.


If your already existing audience has no interest in a game, then implementing it may not be the best idea. Without the support of your loyal, regular site visitors, adding a gaming channel will not lead to long-term success. You need to harness first-party data, email feedback, and social media interactions to discover what your audience actually wants before taking the plunge. 


Ultimately, adding a gaming channel is a chance to create a new revenue channel, but you need to have a clear vision of how exactly this will be monetized. Will it be behind a paywall? Will it be ad-supported? Will current subscribers have access, or will they have to pay more? Again, the needs of your existing audience should be front and center in your decision-making. There is no right answer, and hybrid approaches prove fruitful, like the one employed by the NYT.

Considering incorporating gaming into your site? Be in touch if you want help deciding if gaming could be right for you.