Wordle fever is spreading rapidly. But what is behind the sudden boom?
Web-based, no-account daily word game, playable on Apple AAPL
AND ANDROID GOOGLE,
Phone, tablet or desktop is becoming a sensation. Countless players are sharing their results on social media. Imitation games are also becoming popular.
Wordle Producer Josh Wardle have even been profiled in The New York Times. (Alas, he didn’t respond to Marketwatch’s request for an interview.)
At heart, the game is a study in simplicity. Players have six attempts to guess the five-letter word of the day, with Wordle responding after each attempt. If you choose one of the correct letters, Wordle will highlight it in a shade of yellow. If the letter is also in the correct place, the highlight turns green.
Puzzle solvers are encouraged to share their results (without actually sharing the correct word). Hence, postings on Facebook and Twitter that say “word in 4” or “word in 5” (meaning 4 or 5 tries), as well as the occasional added commentary.
In a sense, Wordle is succeeding in part for the same important reason that other games get a fan base—it’s all about acceptability. Mark Griffiths, a professor at Nottingham Trent University in England, who studies gaming and behavioral addiction, says, “If you look at what makes a game popular, it’s usually very easy to learn the rules, but it’s hard to master it.” Takes a lifetime.”
Wordle’s social component, in the form of sharing results, is also crucial to its overnight success, say experts: The more people talk about the game, the more others learn about it and want to play. So its popularity is only snowballing.
In a word (or two), Wordle “has social currency,” says Brandon Gaines, marketing vice president of MonetizeMore, a company that works with web and app publishers. (Gaines also wrote about what apps go viral,
Of course, Wordle also benefits from the never-ending popularity of word games, from Scrabble to crossword puzzles and the New York Times’s relatively recent digital edition of its popular Spelling Bee. Craig Chappelle, a strategist at Sensor Tower, a company that tracks the app industry, notes that word game apps generated nearly 500 million downloads in 2021. “There’s a huge market as a whole,” he says.
Even so, Wordle doesn’t necessarily follow the standard playbook for games—to the point that Mark Griffiths calls it almost “anti-game” in its aesthetic and approach. But some people think that this may be part of its appeal.
For starters, Wordle isn’t app-based — meaning it’s played through a website, which is not as typical for games that go viral. It is also a game that does not market itself in traditional ways or try to win followers through advertising.
,‘I think the scarcity is part of the appeal… the Beanie Baby effect.’,
The story goes that Wardle, a software engineer, built it to please his word-game-savvy partner, without any worries about flashy graphics or, for that matter, some sort of business strategy.
Or, to quote a New York Times profile, “There are no ads or flashing banners; no windows popping up or asking for money. There’s only the game on a black background.”
Wardley himself described his creation this way: “It’s just a game that’s fun,” he told the Times.
It’s also a game that intentionally limits your chance of playing it. You get a daily shot at Wordle – no more, no less. It’s a far cry from app-based games that try to get you to play for hours on end (and that try to sell you upgrades along the way).
,‘If [Wardle] Wants to turn it into a business, looks like he can.’,
The daily limit appears to be working in Wordley’s favor. New York publicist Jennifer Baum, who is a fan of the sport, calls it the “beanie baby effect,” referring to plush keepsakes that skyrocketed in popularity at a time because they became harder to obtain.
“I think the scarcity is part of the appeal,” she said of Wordley.
It’s hard to say whether Wordle will continue to grow in popularity. Like any other trending cultural phenomenon, a game may have its moment, but then that moment quickly passes, which follows the gaming industry.
It also remains to be seen whether Wardley, who named his game as a play on his nickname, will eventually attempt to monetize his creation in some way.
Nevertheless, the opportunity clearly exists. “If he wants to turn it into a business, it looks like he can,” Brandon Gaines said.