Josh Wardle doesn't consider himself a game developer, but he spoke at the Game Developers Conference anyhow, sharing the creation story of his viral word game with a packed room. Many of the Wordle details Wardle shared in the talk, such as that he made the game for his partner, have already been inscribed in the Wordle lorebook by profiles such as The New York Times's "Wordle is a Love Story."
Naturally, the first thing I did after seeing the talk was text my mom and sister to tell them that I'd just been sitting 10 feet away from the Wordle guy. During the talk, he said the first sign that Wordle was going to be successful–although he didn't entirely pick up on it–was that it reinvigorated his sister-in-law's family group text chat. Eventually, they had to create a spin-off text just for Wordle talk.
Wardle's entertaining presentation was framed around all the things he did that you aren't "meant to" when making and releasing a game. The first, he thinks, is that he made a word game, which aren't the kind of thing expected to be hits worth over $1 million. He only made it playable once per day, made a website rather than an app, launched it on a bad URL, didn't include links to the game in the sharable emoji scorecards, didn't have any interest in running a game business, and didn't monetize it, except by eventually selling it.
Here are a few details from the talk I found interesting, whether or not they were previously known:
- Wordle began as a mix between Words with Friends and Mastermind.
- The original 13,000 words included such impossible words as "zizel" and "ditts."
- When his partner was going through a "hard time," she wanted something to play that wouldn't require much energy. He made an app that showed her the 13,000 words one at a time and asked her to hit one of three buttons: "I know," "I dono," or "I mayb kno." Wordle's word list is thus based on the words she knows.
- Wordle's social nature "wasn't intentional," says Wardle, although he says he might have intuitively known that the once-per-day limit would encourage people to share their results.
- The sharable emoji block recap wasn't Wardle's idea. A player started doing it manually before he created the automated feature.
- Wordle initially blew up in New Zealand.
- Wardle was happy to see all the free Wordle variants pop up, but seeing people clone and monetize the game was "really unpleasant," he said.
- However, he "had no interest in running a games business" and didn't want to start looking for a lawyer. That's about when he sold the game to The New York Times.
- The name Wordle was "one of those dumb things where you're like, 'I just need to name this project and I'll change it in the future' … it got too late."
- As for why he didn't go with a five-letter name, Wardle says that he doesn't like "Silicon Valley" thing where they remove a letter at the end of a word, as in, "Wordl." (I think he'll find a lot of agreement there.)