The Game You Know, The Story You Don't

The story of how a game built with a gesture got acquired by the popular newspaper company with global daily readers.

The Game You Know, The Story You Don't
Image made for melvinraj.com | The Game You Know, The Story You Don't

Hello, people of the internet. I have two questions for you - Have you ever played Sudoku or the word puzzle or any word guessing game for that matter? Have you felt like your ideas are small and might not be a great success? If you did answer yourself yes on at least one, read along to know about a game that took the Twitter world and entire publication to buy it in close 7 terms within 4 months.  

The Wordle game was recently acquired by the New York Times. I never gave any interest in the game although there were many people playing it and showcasing it on Twitter. But I saw this game gain such huge popularity within months and now I read that the game got acquired.  This got me curious.

Wordle - A daily word game
Guess the hidden word in 6 tries. A new puzzle is available each day.

Following my curiosity, I went to google and started to know more about the game and found a story that needs to be told.

Firstly, this is what the game is: Every day, you get a secret 5-letter word to guess and you get six tries to guess it. If you get the right letter you get a green box If you get a letter right in the word, you get yellow and gray if the letter doesn't match the word.

The game gained popularity because:

1.  It brought in scarcity i.e. the game can be played only once every day

2. Bought a simple game that can be played with more people.

3. People were sharing it on social media with the grid box of colors of green, yellow, and gray.

4. No advertisements

5. No capture of user data

A few interesting facts I found is

1. The gameplay is similar to the two-player board game Mastermind which had a word-guessing variant and the game Bulls and Cows, with the exception that Wordle confirms the specific letters that are correct [Source: Wikipedia]

2. The sharing option was later put in. People used to manually show the boxes. Seeing this the creator added in the share feature later (rapid feature additions that he(creator) took notice of).

The feature was similar to this:

🟨🟨⬛🟨🟨
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3. Simple, elegant, and amazing enough to get others intrigued.

This game had only 90 players in November 2021 whereas now there are close to 300,000 players(approx.) playing this game every day!

I personally never played the game but I was seeing the tweets of people and their love for the game. It truly built a cult-like following with its simplicity.

How did NYT come into the scene?

The New York Times is an American daily newspaper, that dominates most of the digital and print media and news coverage. Adding to that In the digital space of NYT, there are NYT games that are puzzles for people to play. These games include spelling games, letterboxed, tiles to name a few. These games are a fun little section just like the newspaper where you had puzzles and cartoon sections.  

Recently,  NYT was looking into ways to get more subscribers, this is how a company looks to move forward by acquiring customers, subscribers and onboarding them with different interests.

This post from nytco.com  explain better their reason for the games section and how wordle caught their attention in a more succinct manner:

New York Times Games have captivated solvers since the launch of The Crossword in 1942. Our experts create engaging word and visual games — in 2014 we introduced The Mini crossword, followed by Spelling Bee, Letter-Boxed, Tiles, and Vertex. Our games were played more than 500 million times in 2021, and in December, we reached one million Games subscriptions.
As The Times looks to entertain more solvers with puzzles every day — especially during these anxious times — we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve acquired Wordle, the stimulating and wildly popular daily word game that has become a cultural phenomenon. Wordle, which gives players six tries to guess a five-letter mystery word, will join New York Times Games’s portfolio of original, engaging puzzle games that delight and challenge solvers every day.
The Times remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world. New York Times Games are a key part of that strategy. Our games already provide original, high-quality content and experiences every single day. Wordle will now play a part in that daily experience, giving millions more people around the world another reason to turn to The Times to meet their daily news and life needs.

With this reasoning, I believe the move from NYT to acquire Wordle is a big win.

Now onto the story:

Creator, Josh Wardle (@powerlanguish) is a developer who started as an artist at Reddit. He later became one of Reddit's first product managers, serving as a product manager for the community engineering team. In this position, he created popular collaborative experimental games such as The Button in 2015 and Place in 2017. He left Reddit for almost two years to work as a software engineer at Pinterest, before returning to Reddit also as a software engineer.

It is in lockdown that he built this game so that he could play it with his wife. He mentioned in an article that he built the game for his wife Palak Shah, who loves the NYT spelling bees and crosswords. Josh originally built the prototype in 2013 but didn't build it until the pandemic because a lot of his friends have shown uninterest at the time. In the pandemic, as a gesture, he thought to build this game for his wife so that she would enjoy and thus his wife officially became the first player. This game was later sent to their Whatsapp friends who were loving it since everyone was in lockdown and this game becoming more than what it was meant to be. So in October 2021, the game was made available for people to play.

The name 'wordle' for the game is a play on the creator's last name Wardle and 'word'.  About the words, the initial list of all of the five-letter words in the English language — about 12,000 — contained a lot of obscure words that would have been near impossible to guess, so they decided to select 2500 words that are 2500 days of gameplay ready.

Funny what a game made for his wife was actually something that NYT acquired. Imagine from loving the NYT games to being acquired by the same NYT for the game you built just with pure interest and passion.

This is a story of how ideas can be simple yet brilliant. How stories can be re-told in a way people want to hear, interact, and share. There are lots of amazing stories out there for you to tell in your own way. Start looking and keep enjoying the process.

I tried this game after hearing about the story and

Wordle 234 X/6

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I completely forgot the rules and thought every line is a different word. Well, I'm a first-timer, cut some slack. You can try your hand at this fun game below:

Wordle - A daily word game
Guess the hidden word in 6 tries. A new puzzle is available each day.

Thank you for reading.


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