Wordle: How the Latest Internet Sensation Went Viral

“Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. There’s a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even.” — Jonah Berger

Do you still wait for the newspaper every day, not just for the news, but to fill up the latest crossword? The prospect of solving that piece of puzzle, one day at a time, gives many a sense of delight. Some people go jittery if they somehow miss a day; it has become part of their routine!! 

Know what has become a part of millions of people’s routines? It’s called Wordle. As you read, you’ll know what this latest internet sensation is and why it went viral.

So, What Is Wordle?

Wordle is a daily cryptic word game on the internet. A person needs to guess a five-letter English word in a maximum of six tries. The first try has to be a complete guess without any clues. Every word you guess, the game starts giving you clues for the answer word by changing the colour of the tiles in which the word is written. If a letter from your word exists in the answer word the letter tile turns yellow or green. Yellow indicates that letter present in the answer but it is not in the right position. Green indicates that the letter is present as well as it’s in the same position in the answer word.

Image source: Wordle

As you keep guessing, you should be able to crack the puzzle in six tries.

What’s the Big Deal?

Yeah yeah, we know you might be thinking, “what’s the big deal? It’s just a word game!”. Well, look at the number of players who played Wordle in:

  • November 2021 – 90
  • January 2022 – 300,000
  • A week later – 2 million

The numbers are rising every single day.

In recent events, Wordle has been acquired by the New York Times in some undisclosed ‘seven figures’ and is now available to play on their website. Games like Wordle are amongst the key components of NYT’s marketing strategy. 

People loved Wordle so much, many alternate niche-based versions popped up. There is the very famous ‘Nerdle’ which is for maths lovers, Taylordle for Taylor Swift Fans aka Swifties, ‘Marketdle’ for marketers, and many more. As they say – it’s the best compliment if someone is copying you!

The Origination/Love Story

Like many great things, Wordle’s origin is connected to love. Josh Wardle (I love the name coincidence!), a Brooklyn-based software engineer, made this game for his partner, Palak Shah who loved cryptic puzzles. In the beginning, the game was available for just the two of them, but they later decided to open it up for their family. The family got hooked instantly and gradually through word-of-mouth many more people got glued to Wordle.

What happened after is in front of you.

Reasons Why Wordle Went Viral

Wordle was not made with an intent to go viral and yet it managed to make a place in people’s hearts. Below are five reasons why Wordle went viral:

  1. Feeling of Agency – a principle of game theory
  2. Word-of-Mouth publicity
  3. Automated sharing of scores on social media especially Twitter
  4. FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
  5. Element of Scarcity

Feeling Of Agency | Agency Expansion

From the Game Theory perspective, a ‘Feeling of Agency’ refers to the feeling of control over actions and their consequences. In simpler terms, it is a feeling that drives you to continue making choices based on the positive results of your past actions. Almost all games have this ‘Feeling of Agency’ that drives the players. It is one of the strong reasons that drives people to continue playing any game.

This feeling is quite strong in the case of Wordle. While playing the game, the first word is a completely random guess. All the guesses after that are based on the consequences of the previous guess. If a letter turns green, it means it’s in the right place of the answer word and hence you’ll continue placing it on that spot in all the next guesses. If a letter turns yellow, it means it is in the answer word but has to be placed somewhere else. In the next guesses, you’ll place it in different positions. 

With every guess – you narrow down your choices for the next attempt and get closer to the answer. The ability to get closer to the answer is actually the agency expansion. This sense of achieving something on one’s own, based on their own past actions; gives them a reason to continue playing Wordle.

Word-of-Mouth Publicity

There’s no better tool of marketing than Word-of-Mouth. Word-of-mouth was the strongest contributor to the virality of Squid Game as well. If someone likes something, they are going to tell it to others one way or the other. Unlike other forms of marketing, word-of-mouth is more credible as it comes from someone who has tried and tested what they are referring to. I heard of Wordle from 3-4 different people – once from our writer, once from a client who created their own version of Wordle called Marketdle, and more. Later I checked with my friends and acquaintances in WhatsApp groups and most recommendations came from friends or community. Hence word-of-mouth validated 🙂 

Automated Sharing of Scores

Wordle’s score-sharing feature is the biggest reason for it becoming an internet sensation. Once you finish solving a puzzle, Wordle gives you an option to share the achievement with the help of colourful square-shaped grids. Without sharing the actual answer, one could showcase their achievement. These grids tell how the player managed to get the answer and how many tries it took him.

Image source: Twitter

Social media feeds started being bombarded with these square grids. Other than just solving Wordle daily, people became habitual of sharing their scores on their social media. From Instagram and Facebook stories to tweets, the grids were everywhere. Twitter alone clocked 3 million Wordle tweets just between 23rd December 2021 and 27th January 2022. 

FOMO – Fear of Missing Out

The Feeling of Missing Out aka FOMO is the worst feeling ever. Once those colourful square grids started popping up on everyone’s feed, people who didn’t know anything about it started feeling left out. Not just these colourful score grids but there were memes about Wordle. Companies started using Wordle elements in their social media posts. It was as if everyone was going crazy about these green and yellow grids. That sheer idea drove many people to at least try the game and see for themselves. If they liked it, they kept coming back and spreading the word.

Image source: Twitter

Element of Scarcity

Anything that is scarce is valued. It applies to games too. If you were given unlimited word puzzles to solve in a day, no matter how much you loved them, you’d get bored. But if there was just one puzzle a day, and you had to wait for twenty-four hours to solve the next one, you’d be hooked. That’s why crosswords and sudokus in newspapers are still solved with so much fervour.

Wordle leveraged this element of scarcity to its benefit. There is just one puzzle a day that leaves you wanting for more once you finish it. There’s also a ‘streak’ feature that tells people the number of days they have been continuously playing Wordle, which makes them not miss a single day. If they miss, they lose that streak.

Wrap Up: Why Did Wordle Go Viral?

Wordle’s story is fun, exciting, loving, and inspiring for many disciplines. The feeling of agency inspires game creators to add elements of agency to bring people back again and again to the games. Word-of-mouth is still one of the strongest ways to make things go viral. But it works only if you give people a reason to talk about your creation whether it’s a game like Wordle or a series like Squid Game. Social media marketing can do wonders for your product if leveraged correctly. With this, we leave you to think about how you can make your creation a sensation.

We are a content marketing agency that brings business, not just website traffic. Open to explore Concurate?

P.S. This story was originally published on Hackernoon.

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