After the popular online game Wordle went viral, an unrelated older mobile game that shared the same name benefitted, gaining an explosion of downloads as iPhone users mistook it for the web game making headlines. Now the developer of the iOS game Wordle!, Steven Cravotta, has cashed in on this case of mistaken identity — he’s handed off his game to mobile marketing firm and game maker AppLovin in an undisclosed deal.
Neither AppLovin nor Cravotta would comment on the deal terms, but AppLovin confirmed the iOS app Wordle! is now run by its studio Lion Studios Plus. A rep for Cravotta said “Steven cannot comment on the acquisition at this time.”
While you may have now heard of the popular online game Wordle, later bought by The NYT, you may have missed the story earlier this year about how a mobile game of the same name was blowing up on the App Store. Cravotta said he had been surprised to find a game he created as a teenager five years ago suddenly being downloaded 40,000 times per day, up from just 10 downloads per day the month before, The WSJ had reported at the time.
As it turned out, iPhone users had gone to the App Store in search of the Wordle game everyone was talking about and had been downloading Cravotta’s game by mistake.
Cravotta’s Wordle! game was similar to the online version that everyone was playing. He said he had created it as a teen because he wanted to make something that would challenge people’s minds and be a great game for kids. But the app never took off. Cravotta promoted it for around half a year, he says, before deciding to move on to other things.
“It just sat in my developer account for the longest time getting maybe one to two downloads a day for six years … until all this craziness happened,” Cravotta tells TechCrunch.
The popularity of the web game, however, continued to boost the downloads for the mobile title in 2022.
“It was more than 40,000 [downloads],” Cravotta notes, correcting the earlier estimates. “It was up to six figures of downloads — hundreds of thousands — at one point,” he says.
The mobile game monetized through paid advertisements and in-app purchases. While Cravotta could have tweaked the game to make even more money to capitalize on the surge of users, he left it untouched.
“I just kind of let it run and do its thing,” he says.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the mobile game was downloaded approximately 18.9 million times. The vast majority of the installs (>99.6%) arrived after the web game went viral — with downloads spiking on Jan. 12, 2022. From Feb. 12, 2022 onward, the game has seen 13.7 million downloads — or about 72% of its lifetime installs since its April 2016 launch, the firm said.
And despite the fact that it’s not the game users were seeking out, it’s managed to hold some gamers’ attention.
Today, the iOS game is still the No. 19 mobile game in the U.S. by average monthly active users as of the first quarter, right behind bigger titles like Among Us and just ahead of notable games like Minecraft and PUBG Mobile.
While no one would have really blamed Cravotta for just sitting back and cashing checks, he wanted to do something more with his good fortune.
In February, Cravotta reached out to the founder of the viral web game, Josh Wardle, whose hit title had given his own such a boost. He then announced he would donate $50,000 of the revenue generated by his Wordle! game to a charity that both he and Wardle agreed upon — an Oakland tutoring center, Boost Oakland.
“I think my generation really wants to come together to make the world a better place instead of going after each other,” says Cravotta, 24. “There’s a million ways Josh and I could have gone to battle over this whole thing. But instead, we united forces and did something great.”
What’s interesting, however, is that the game’s publisher account was updated from Cravotta to AppLovin-owned Lion Studios Plus on Feb. 16, 2022 — which indicates the actual acquisition would have likely taken place before that date. News of the $50,000 donation, though, started making the rounds after Cravotta announced it via Twitter on Feb. 24, 2022.
Asked if perhaps the donation was funded by way of an AppLovin acquisition, and not just Wordle!’s revenue, Cravotta declined to comment. He couldn’t speak to anything related to the deal, the game’s proceeds or even if he was under some sort of NDA with regard to the AppLovin agreement. AppLovin similarly declined to comment, noting only that Lion Studios was bringing Wordle! to millions of mobile players around the world, and that the game is “exclusive to mobile devices.”
Sensor Tower estimates Wordle! has generated close to $3 million to date.
Cravotta, who still has a day job at an ad agency, says he’s moved on to a different side project following the Wordle! craze. He’s now working on an app called PuffCount, which aims to help people quit vaping. The app now has 200,000 downloads and is being promoted across TikTok, where the account has 90,000 followers and has generated 50 million views.
The developer says he’s happy that what happened with Wordle! has given him the opportunity to promote this project, which he views as “an opportunity to help people live healthier lives.”
“I’m really happy that I was able to donate $50,000. And I’m really proud to have this platform to encourage young entrepreneurs to take bets on themselves,” Cravotta says.