“How many guesses did you use today?”
You’ve probably heard mutterings about the new viral word game ‘Wordle’ in your social circles, family WhatsApp group, or even in your office – we can’t stop talking about it here at Differentology! Failing that, you’ve most likely seen glimpses of white, yellow and green squares on your social media as people show off how many tries it took them to guess todays five letter word. But what is the mysterious new game that everyone is talking about and over 2 million people are playing, and how has it become so popular?
In case you haven’t already heard, Wordle was created by Brooklyn software engineer Josh for his partner Palak who enjoys word games – I’m obsessed with this love story. Her, and his family quickly became obsessed, leading to him opening it up to the world in October 2021. Since then, it’s taken social media by storm, but what is it about this simple game that’s grabbed everyone’s attention? And how could you go about creating the next big viral success game? Well, there are 3 S’s in ‘success’ and we believe that’s true for Wordle as well…
- Simplicity: The game is one word, six guesses, that’s all. With few barriers to play – it’s a free website rather than an app to download, sign up to and get notifications from – it’s caught the attention of everyone during a time of global burnout and busy lives. Scarcity: It’s a strictly once-a-day game meaning you can’t keep going unlike on never-ending social media feeds that it’s oh-so easy to waste time on. It feels like it’s in short supply, which makes it even more appealing, so everyone keeps coming back (this is also why games like Candy Crush limit you with certain number of lives).
- Social Proof: The game is communal to its core. Everyone aims to guess the same five letter word each day, making it a universal experience that people can chat about – it’s a low effort, and low friction way for people to connect (unless you spoil todays word for your colleague!). The developer seized an opportunity when he saw people sharing their guesses using coloured box emojis, so they didn’t give anyone any spoilers, and built in a simple and automatic way for people to upload their guess pattern without including letters – smart, as this is where it really took off. The distinctive squares on social media feeds make them stand out, and it influences people to engage just because it seems like everyone else is (this is definitely how I was swayed!).
- Smugness: It scratches that overconfidence bias itch that we all have that makes us believe we’re so much better than average at tasks like this when we guess it in 2 (of course, no need to share the day it took you 6 to guess).
So that’s why we think it’s taken off, but there is always more to the story. Wordles popularity has of course led to copycats trying to imitate the game itself, as well as spin offs such as ‘Sweardle’ for those of us who enjoy bad language, and ‘Nerdle’ for the mathematically inclined. Ultimately, explaining human behaviour is much easier than predicting it. So, although these games try to employ the exact same biases for success, the magic remains with the original Wordle for now.
With around 2,500 of the most common five letter words built in, there is a few years left of daily challenges (6 years and 310 days to be specific) and a big pool of guesses to come. If you fancy some tips for good starting words, Differentology people have been known to start with ‘audio’, ‘radio’ ‘adieu’, ‘samey’, ‘teary’ or ‘pilot’. “Knoll” day was a very stressful day in the office, and lets not even talk about the American spelling of “Humor”!
Here’s hoping it will continue to unite people across the world in bewilderment or well-earned smugness, and challenge our brains for a couple of minutes, once a day. All the while, us researchers will continue to marvel at the wonder that is human behaviour and viral trends.
Anyway, today I got it in four guesses…how did you do?
By Anna Walton