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GDC: Josh Wardle shares his incorrect tips for Wordle’s success

Comments on the explosion of mobile app clones and selling to the New York Times
GDC: Josh Wardle shares his incorrect tips for Wordle’s success
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Software engineer Josh Wardle, creator of Wordle, opened with a statement you don’t frequently hear at GDC: “I don’t think of myself as a game developer.”

But his talk focused on how many of his errors actually contributed to its success:

  • “The first thing you’re not meant to do is make a word game, which is a shame because I love words. If you make words the core of the game, people come with a deep understanding already.”
  • In Wardle’s original design of Wordle in 2013, it had infinite play – players could immediately play another round. But, inspired by the New York Times games selection – which has since acquired Wordle for an undisclosed seven-figure sum – Wardle implemented its one-round-a-day format.
  • Similarly, Wardle notes another mistake he made: “I made a website. And you’re supposed to make an app. But knowing that any players could click on this link and play it immediately was really important.”
  • The game did not promote itself – Wardle noted previous criticism that the shareable results page did not include a link back to the game.

Wardle closed by remarking on finally selling the game to the New York Times. “I had no interest in running a games business. It is not interesting to me,” and Wardle did not monetise the game.

However, the influx of mobile clones led Wardle to some introspection about whether to sell to the New York Times – “that’s not money I would have made, but knowing that other people were profiting from Wordle made me feel very uncomfortable”. The clone would be removed from the Apple App Store, but selling gave him a degree of closure and separation.

“For me, this is the best possible outcome.”