4 ways Wordle got it right

I started playing Wordle around the 200th puzzle mark. And I have been playing ever since. It has become a part of my daily routine. In this article I will discuss the core fundamentals why I feel Wordle gets it right. My biggest realisation while doing this research is that, all the fundamentals that Wordle has done is simple, but not easy by any means. Post facto it makes perfect sense, but the genius is to pre-empt some of the decisions. The game is gold standard in minimalist design and tapping into some psychological hooks that I’ll discuss in this article

Background

Wordle is a simple word game where there is a daily word (a word of the day if you must). It is a 5 letter word, that the player has to guess. There are no clues, no themes, no anything. Just a grid where you need to put in a word and check if its correct. You get only 6 guesses. Every guess needs to be a 5 letter, valid, English word. The only feedback from the game:

  1. If you get an alphabet correct in its position in the word to be guessed, the game makes it green,
  2. if you get an alphabet present in the word to be guessed but in the wrong position, the makes it yellow,
  3. else it turns the alphabet grey.

And yes, once you have guessed the word, you have a streak that is maintained, and you can share your path to victory on social media.

Wordle has since become a viral sensation and was recently bought by NYT for more than a million dollars. And below are the 4 things that the game absolutely nails.

1st thing — Daily Puzzle

Single puzzle every day. In hindsight, this is the single most brave yet awesome thing that the game has done. In a world of content gluttony, this flouts every playbook of engagement or monetization. Conventional wisdom states, give players engaging content and pace it in a way where they are pinched at their moments of peak flow. Then monetize the pinch.

But Wordle does none of that. You can’t pay to get more puzzles. You can’t pay to get a hint. It’s a daily puzzle and you have to play it daily. That’s it. This goes a long way in making the game a part of our daily habit, like doing the morning Sudoku in the newspaper or reading your daily horoscope in the morning.

I tried playing some clones where I can do unlimited wordles for as long as I want, but I kept coming back to this game.

2nd thing — Valid English Words

It’s not very difficult to get a deja vu of Hangman while playing the game. And many players are wired to try out vowels, and popular consonants to start guessing. But this game puts in a constraint that the word has to be 5 letters and a valid english word. Suddenly you are not only thinking in terms of alphabets, but in terms of words where you can experiment with an alphabet. And when you can think of a word to test an alphabet in a smart way, it makes you feel smart. And that’s the kind of fuzzy sense of achievement that games are all about. It’s this sense of success that you come back to games for.

3rd thing — Share With Friends

Add to the above a way to show off your success and you have a winning combination. And that, the game does marvellously. Now designing a show-off mechanic in a word guessing game is very tricky. You dont want people sharing spoilers for others. But you do want people to share that they have done it.

And voila! Wordle lets you share the path you took, all in the form of coloured boxes. In addition to showing off how many tries you took, you also get to show off that swanky , risky word you guessed on your 4th guess to find the letters other than the ADE at the end. This is where the game truly shines. Marry this with the fact that there is only one daily puzzle, it makes it very easy to share this info with other people without spamming anyone.

4th thing — Web Site

In a world of gaming apps being there in hundreds of thousands, the fact that this game was a clean website was a masterstroke. It took away the intermediate download step. When someone shares a hyperlink with you , a single click lands you in the game. This removes a bunch of friction for players and is in theme with the minimalist simplicity of the game.

Add to the above, the graphics of the game which is clearly minimalist but not shoddily done you have this masterpiece.

Conclusion

A lot of the above principles are known to all. And in a game like Wordle, a lot of the elements aligned and turned into the viral sensation of today. But one thing needs to be rememberd , that this game was not designed keeping virality in mind. The creator of this game wanted a simple app to play with his girlfriend and when you play the game, thats the vibe you get. A simple game, to be played with loved ones and enjoyed.

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Krishnendu Mukherjee

Krishnendu Mukherjee

I write about product management, video games and personal productivity.