In my 30 plus years as a professional puzzler, I don’t think I have ever seen a word game capture the attention of millions of game fans the way that Wordle has. It seems like everywhere you go, you see those now familiar green and yellow squares, as friends share how many tries it took them to guess the daily five-letter word. Not since Words With Friends have so many people been obsessed with a word game. And if there was ever any doubt about the game’s popularity, there is none now, as it has just been purchased by the New York Times.
This wild success raises the question – what makes Wordle so addicting? In my opinion, it all comes down to how simple, shareable, and accessible it is. It puts a spin on two classic multiplayer games – Hangman and Mastermind – making them single-player. With its mysterious green and yellow squares, people are driven to solve the mystery, and once they see how simple it is, they come back for more every day. Additionally, psychologically there is the scarcity factor, since Wordle is a once-a-day event. But the single smartest feature of Wordle is how easy it is to share your results on social media, allowing people to publicize the game to their entire network.
It seems unlike the Times to buy someone else’s game, given that it has its own offering of word games. They of course have their famous crosswords and mini-crosswords, as well as the more recent Spelling Bee. However, we have seen a rush on gaming acquisitions recently – Microsoft acquired Activision/Blizzard, Sony acquired Bungie, and Take-Two Interactive acquired Zynga. Additionally, it seems The New York Times has been actively eyeing acquisitions, as they have also already acquired the online sports news outlet The Athletic earlier this year. Even so, this acquisition speaks volumes to how much national attention is currently focused on Wordle. And for The New York Times, the move is a good way to diversify their game offerings.
As a puzzle creator, it’s truly exciting to see people paying attention to word games in such a large-scale way. But with all the hype around Wordle, a word of caution: something that has become so popular so fast could fizzle out in the same amount of time. We’ve seen it before, where phenomena that are the biggest thing one moment and are no longer popular the next (remember the HQ trivia game?). This could happen to Wordle if people simply begin to get bored of it, but the more dangerous thing is if the New York Times makes it inaccessible to the general public, hiding it behind a paywall or requiring a subscription like they do with the rest of their daily puzzles. Right now, the plans are for Wordle to remain free “initially,” implying that in the future it may become paywalled, alienating a massive chunk of its player base that might not have a reason to subscribe to the New York Times. This would be an unfortunate move, and with skepticism and doubt around the other recent major gaming acquisitions, this could add even more fuel to the fire.
Watching the rise of the Wordle phenomenon has been very interesting, and I do hope that it continues to keep people coming back day after day. We really haven’t seen such a following for such a simple word game in a long time. From its accessibility and shareability, to its charming backstory of being created by Josh Wardle to play with his girlfriend, to its clever name based on the creator’s last name, to now being acquired by a major publisher, Wordle has everything going for it to remain in the spotlight for a long time. And I hope it does.
Chief Brain Games Mastermind, Arkadium
For 20 years Arkadium has been the ultimate creator of games designed for grownup players. Arkadium has developed dozens of hit titles enjoyed by millions worldwide. Its games can be found on its own top-ranked game site Arkadium.com as well as on iOS, Android, and websites of world’s biggest publishers and brands – including USA Today, AARP, The Washington Post and MSN. Headquartered in New York City with additional game studios in Portugal and Russia, Arkadium is a privately held business owned and led by co-founding husband-and-wife team Kenny Rosenblatt and Jessica Rovello. It has consistently ranked as a “Best Place to Work” by Inc. Magazine, Ad Age, Crain’s New York and more. To learn more, visit arkadium.com or follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.