It’s strange to think that for a moment in 2022, the New York Times, one of the most prestigious and respected news brands on the planet, became a global media story itself – for buying a game. Wordle wasn’t just any game though. Created by programmer Josh Wardle to amuse his partner, it was – and still is – a phenomenon; a deceptively simple word-spotting puzzle with an insanely compelling and sharable design. Launched in October 2021 it became a viral sensation, hitting two million players by December, and three million by the time the NYT purchased it at the end of January 2022.
Wordle now sits on the NYT’s renowned online games portal among the paper’s homegrown titles, including the thoughtful word search challenge, Spelling Bee, the dot-to-dot shape-maker, Vertex, and the ever compulsive Mini Crossword. The games were played almost four billion times in 2022, attracting over one million subscribers, and it’s such an important part of the paper’s remit, the service now has its own “Play” tab in the NYT News app.
Heading up Games for the paper is Jonathan Knight, a 25-year video game industry veteran who started out as a producer at Activision before moving to Electronic Arts, Warner Bros and Zynga. So what’s the secret of the NYT’s puzzling success, and what’s it like running a game studio inside a digital news operation? We sat down with him in London to find out.