Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn-based software engineer, designed Wordle as a gift for his partner, who was enamored with word games last year. The game quickly became so popular among his family that he decided to release it to the public.
The game was released for free online in October 2021, and it rapidly became a hit. There were 90 individuals playing it in November, 300,000 by early January, and approximately 2 million a week only a few weeks later. Wardle, who created the game for his puzzle-loving partner, has had an unexpected grassroots success. On their sofa, the couple played it for amusement, and additional users gradually joined them.
It’s just another word puzzle game, right? So what draws people in? Some of it is simply due to Wordle’s brilliant design: you get six chances to guess a five-letter word, and you get Mastermind-style clues as to what you got right (and incorrect) with each try. It’s sociable because everyone is looking for the same word every day, and you may compete and commiserate with your family and friends (or even with strangers). You can humblebrag-share an image of your score on social media after you’ve solved it. Because it’s a word game, it inspires a lot of entertaining strategies sharing online. Another amazing thing about this game? It’s free.
The game skyrocketed when a user from New Zealand (where the game is very popular) posted her game result on Twitter as a series of emojis. Wardle was then inspired to create a feature that would allow players to share theirs more readily, in a visually appealing Rubik’s Cube-style grid layout.
When it comes to Wordle, the learning curve is practically non-existent, allowing it to become a frictionless daily routine, thus Wordle’s lack of originality is a strength, not a problem. The terminology reflects this emphasis on accessibility. Only 2,315 of the 12,000 potential five-letter words in English are used in the game, which were chosen by Wardle’s partner.
So why is it so successful? The secret to Wordle’s success appears to be the same as that of many other gaming applications and video games: they allow players to achieve success and progress on a difficult task.