Few overnight sensations can match the rapid rise of Wordle, a word game in which players get six tries to guess a single five-letter word. For each try, letters in the right places turn green, letters that are in the word but not in the right place turn yellow, and letters that aren’t in the word turn gray. Released in October with no fanfare at all, Wordle had 90 players on November 1. As of this week, it has more than 3 million players worldwide, with no advertising and nothing but a bare-bones website.
What the heck happened? Fads like Wordle can be hard to predict. But Josh Wardle, Wordle’s creator, made a few simple decisions that set the game up for its extraordinary success. Every entrepreneur and business leader, and anyone who ever wants to capture the public’s attention, can learn from those decisions.
1. Make something you love.
Elon Musk once advised every CEO to ask, “Is your product as awesome as it could be?” In most cases, he said, the answer is no. Though extremely simple, Wordle is indeed as awesome as it can be. There’s a reason for that–it is literally a labor of love.
Wordle was first created as a gift from Wardle to his partner, Palak Shah, a simple game that the two of them could play together during the pandemic. When it turned out his family and friends loved it too, Wardle decided to release it to the world. It was always a side project, created for pure enjoyment, and to this day the game is not monetized in any way (although some copycats are). When you create something you love so much that you’re happy to do it for free, there’s a good chance other people will love it too.
2. Leave people wanting more.
Wardle told The New York Times that his breakthrough came when he decided to limit the game to a single word every day. For one thing, that means the game is over quickly, usually in five minutes or less. Most of us have had the experience of spending an hour or more playing a game without realizing or intending it. That can’t happen with Wordle. the fact that someone who completes a Wordle must wait till the next day to try another one is one secret of its success, Wardle said.
3. Get people talking.
Another reason Wordle’s one-word-a-day policy is so brilliant is that, at any given moment, everyone playing is trying to guess the same word. On Monday, when that word was a particularly challenging one (KNOLL), people commiserated with each other all over social media.
Another very smart decision is the link Wardle built in to the site to let people who’ve solved the day’s Wordle brag about their accomplishment without revealing the word itself. Successful solvers can click a link and send out a grid to their social media followers that shows each of their guesses with gray, yellow, and finally all green squares, but not the letters themselves. Wardle told the Times that he considered adding a link to Wordle along with the grid but decided it looked better without it. He also said he thought the grid without explanation might arouse people’s curiosity, which it likely did.
Whatever the reason, Wordle certainly is the talk of social media, particularly Twitter, which told the Times that tweets about the game were increasing an average of 26 percent every day. Any time you create an experience that people will want to share about on social media, you’ve increased the chances that your product or content will go viral.
That’s especially true if you make it fun to share. And people certainly are having fun with those Wordle grids.
Some of what Wardle did right when creating Wordle may be lessons you can apply to your next product or online content. And if you haven’t played Wordle yet, maybe you should give it a try.