Feb 11, 2022 - Technology

The zen of snapping a Wordle streak

Wordle streak

Wordle results screen. Screenshot: Axios

A broken Wordle streak might not be a bad thing–it might even clarify whether you’re still enjoying the game at all.

Why it matters: Wordle players have been stressing about their streaks over the last two days. The game’s transition to its new owner, the New York Times, broke some users' cherished daily count of correctly guessed words.

  • Streaks have been so important to devoted players that the game’s creator, Josh Wardle, made a point last month of saying he wanted streaks to be preserved during the Times transition.
  • The paper blamed a technical glitch and has promised to restore as many streaks as possible.
  • But the potential snap offers a moment to reflect on the good and bad of a popular, but frequently controversial, element of game design.

What they’re saying: Streaks are “extremely high motivational pieces of information that can instantly flip into being extremely high de-motivational pieces of information as soon as they're broken,” says Zach Gage, an acclaimed game designer who has deployed streaks in his games.

  • He traces their roots to more traditional video game score systems and says they tap into a part of us that seeks perfection.
  • But a broken streak can be illuminating. It can make a game more fun as players become more tolerant of making mistakes, he said.
  • It can also give you an opening to bail on the game as “you realize that this wasn't something that you were truly enjoying. This had become a job.”

Between the lines: Streaks have become a staple of casual and more hardcore games for many years, even as they play a dual role of hooking players or keeping them away.

  • Streaks are sometimes used to drive player engagement, feeding into a business assumption that players who regularly return can generate more revenue through advertising or making extra purchases, if a game offers them.
  • They’re also used to motivate improvement in programs well beyond games, such as the Duolingo language-learning app, which credits streaks with helping users reach learning goals.

Yes, but designers sometimes admit taking them too far.

  • In 2019, Ubisoft developers removed several streak goals from The Division 2, including one asking for an hour of play over 30 straight days, saying they “​​were not delivering a great experience for players.”

The bottom line: Gage encourages designers to think of a better way to do streaks that leaves players less frustrated.

  • “What you want to do is design something in a way that gives people the enjoyment of having a good streak, but doesn't give them the supreme dissatisfaction of breaking something that was perfect.”
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