A Brief Guide to Making the Next Wordle

How you can make a game that sweeps the internet into a storm?

by Melissa Borgerding / Garnet & Black

Six guesses. Five letters. One word. Everyone has heard about Wordle, the daily word guessing game that’s swept the internet into a frenzy. Every day, people attempt to guess a five-letter word faster than their friends and post their attempts on Twitter and other social media platforms to share their enjoyment and brag about who solved the Wordle first. You don’t need me to explain it to you because you have probably played it every day for the past few months. But what about this simplistic language game makes it so fun and exciting for people of all ages? What made this game an internet sensation, and is there any possible way to recreate it? Can anyone make a game that reaches the same level of popularity? Like all things, there’s a science to explain why this game is so popular.

It’s important to give a detailed explanation of the mechanics of Wordle before we can understand why the game is so effective. You get six attempts to guess a five-letter word. After a guess, each letter of your attempt is highlighted in gray, yellow or green. A gray highlight means that letter is not part of the given word, a yellow highlight means the letter is in the answer, but not in the place you put it and a green highlight means that letter is in that exact same place in the final answer. After you have either guessed the word or failed trying, you must wait until midnight to play the next Wordle, and everyone around the world receives the same word to guess each day. The incredible simplicity of the premise is a huge factor in its popularity, as anyone can easily understand the game enough to be competent at it.

One of the most important reasons why this game became so popular is the daily release of the Wordle. One may expect that it would be easier to randomly generate words to create an infinite set of puzzles to be solved, but that would actually hurt the game’s enjoyment overall. In an article by Northeastern University, Yakov Bart, an associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University and a game designer specializing in fan culture and emergent behaviors, points out that, “when everyone is solving the same puzzle around the world, that helps with building a community. It would have been very easy to set up the game so that each player keeps getting served new puzzles once they’ve solved one, but it was a strategic design choice to keep it at one per day.” The daily release of puzzles provides people with an event to anticipate. The daily release of Wordle has given players something to come back to each day without growing tired of the puzzles, and that has helped Worlde keep the world’s attention as long as it has.

Another amazing aspect of this game that has made it a sensation is how easy it is to share your results across the internet and social media. After you’ve finished the puzzle, you can hit a single button to share your results across the internet to any social media of your choice without spoiling the puzzle for others. Yakov Bart said, “the easier it is to share, the easier it is for the content to spiral out of niche communities and into the zeitgeist.” The ease of sharing your results with friends and even complete strangers has made this a game everyone on the internet can connect over. Everyone receives the same word, and it creates a community that can  celebrate their successes while mourning when they can't win. “Part of what’s been happening over the last two years is that people are looking for new ways to connect, because it’s been so hard to connect in-person,” said Bart. Wordle has become that way to connect for so many people, and the shareability of Worlde has made that connection.

So how can someone recreate a sensation such as Wordle? Taking into account all the factors that made Wordle so entertaining and engaging gives everyone a great blueprint to make their own sensation. First, your game or puzzle must be easy to understand. People need to know how to play your game easily, or many may simply refuse to play before even learning how. However, the game should be hard to master. There needs to be some complicated strategies or methods that can increase or decrease the difficulty for people so no one becomes bored too easily from it. Secondly, the game needs to be easily shared with other people over the internet. Social media is your friend, and making the game easy to share with others is going to be one of the most important things in making your game viral. Your game should appeal to everyone, regardless of age. One feature that makes this game appealing to people of all ages is that it’s a word game, which harkens back to games like Scrabble that older generations grew up playing and loving. The next thing is to make it engaging over long time periods. Make it daily, like Wordle, or give it limited puzzles to solve. Create that sense of anticipation as players wait to try your puzzle again. 

However, of all these tips and tricks you can use and abuse, there’s no greater aspect than simply making your game fun. No advertisements, no money-grabbing schemes, no in-game currency. Wordle has been such a huge sensation in part because there’s no money needed to win. There are no bright lights and flashy pop-up ads trying to divert your attention away from the game. The creator, Josh Wardle, said it best. “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun. It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun,” Wardle said. So maybe, all you need to do to make something everyone will talk about is just to make something that’s fun.