Wordle Is Taking Over the World

Ad-free word game is a massive online hit
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2022 2:51 PM CST
Wordle Is Taking Over the World
Yellow blocks show letters that are in the word, but are not in the right place.   (Newser)

Last year, New York-based programmer Josh Wardle created a game for his partner Palak Shah, a big fan of crosswords and other word games. Fast-forward a few months, and Wordle is taking over the world. The free online game, in which users have six chances to guess a five-letter word, was made public in October and went from 90 users at the start of November to almost 3 million at the start of this week. Grids of blocks that users share to show how a game unfolded, with a green block showing where the right letter has been guessed in the right place, have become ubiquitous on social media. More:

  • Not your usual online game. Wardle tells NPR that he put the game out without ads or any attempts to harvest user information. "Making Wordle I specifically rejected a bunch of the things you're supposed to do for a mobile game," including push notifications or options that allow users to play endlessly. There's only one Wordle per day and it is released at midnight. Wardle has said he wanted to create a game that was just fun and doesn't try to do "anything shady with your data or your eyeballs."

  • The love story behind the game. Wardle, who is originally from Wales and has worked on projects for Reddit, told the New York Times last week he and Shah played the game together for months before they shared it with family members. "It’s really sweet," she says. "This is definitely how Josh shows his love." She helped get the game ready for wider release by narrowing the list of words down from more than 12,000 to around 2,500.
  • The attention is becoming overwhelming. "It going viral doesn’t feel great to be honest. I feel a sense of responsibility for the players," Wardle tells the Guardian. "I feel I really owe it to them to keep things running and make sure everything’s working correctly." He says he's not sure whether he should do more with the game, because it's not his full-time job and he doesn't want it to become "a source of stress and anxiety"—but he does like hearing about how the game has brought people together during a difficult time.

  • Strategy is hotly debated. As the game has spread, so have online communities where users offers tips and debate strategies. The Wall Street Journal reports that two main groups have emerged: Those who believe a consonant-heavy first word will give them an advantage, and those who go for a vowel-heavy initial word like "ADIEU." Wardle says he gets a lot of emails about different strategies, but he's actually "very bad" at the game.
  • Copycats and cash-ins. The Guardian reports that people who tried to monetize the game by flooding the App Store with cloned versions of Wordle—including one with a $30 annual subscription fee—have been strongly criticized, and most of the clones have been removed. Numerous alternative versions of Wordle have also sprung up, including "Sweardle." Zach Shakked, the tech entrepreneur who boasted about the $30 version of Wordle earlier Monday, apologized Tuesday for "crossing a line," per Variety. He added, however, that Wordle hasn't been trademarked.
(More games stories.)

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