Mar 25, 2022 - Technology

Wordle used to have a much harder wordlist

Josh Wardle’s talk included slides of an early Wordle build and some of the five-letter words taken out of the final game. Photo: Axios

The earliest version of Wordle had a much harder word list back in 2013, the game’s creator Josh Wardle shared during an exuberant talk at Game Developers Conference.

Driving the news: Wardle’s talk came amid a week of GDC discussions about what it takes to make successful games.

  • Wardle’s angle: He did all sorts of things you’re not supposed to do. (For instance: don’t put your game on a website that has a confusing web address.)
  • He also shared lots of details about how his viral game came to be.

Origin story: Wardle traces his game’s inspiration to a childhood color-matching game called Mastermind and a 2013 fixation with Words with Friends that led to an early version of Wordle.

Two differences in the 2013 version vs. the current one:

  1. You could play new puzzles continuously.
  2. The game randomly picked any of 13,000 five-letter words such as Byded, Nemns, Rozit and Emyds.

In 2014, his partner was going through a tough time, he said, and wanted a mindless game, so he made an app that displayed any of those 13,000 words and asked the user to classify as familiar or not.

  • She did, and that produced the modern Wordle’s word list.
  • Wardle also said he was playing a lot of the New York Times’ word games which were restricted to once-a-day play, so he applied that once-daily limit to his new game.

Fun fact: Those famous colored block grids people post to Twitter to share their Wordle results weren’t always part of the game.

  • A player in New Zealand, where the game went viral early, started posting their results using an emoji keyboard.
  • Wardle said he saw it, liked it and worked it into the game.

The game’s spread: Wardle zipped through slides showing famous people tweeting their Wordle results and movingly shared more personal stories.

  • “Here’s Paul McCartney probably cheating at Wordle,” he said, showing the ex-Beatle getting a word on the first try.
  • He quoted a Reddit user who said Wordle gave them a way to talk to their mom who’d otherwise become consumed with QAnon conspiracy theories.
  • He shared a message sent to him by a gay player in Nebraska who said Wordle gave them something to safely talk about with their conservative Christian family.

“To read this is really heartwarming,” Wardle said. “But it is also incredibly tragic. What really struck me is that people are more connected than ever. Yet people yearn for connection.”

  • “Wordle became this lightweight way to check in with your friends and family and tell them that you loved them, without using big heavy words like ‘I love you.’”

Why he sold: Wordle’s popularity exceeded Wardle’s interest in managing it.

  • “I made this game, but I had no interest in running a games business,” he said. “I think of myself as an artist.”
  • He said he had “complicated” feelings about other people cloning the game and selling it, “Selling to the New York Times was a way for me to walk away from that.”
  • “I didn't want to be paying a lawyer to issue cease and desists on a game I'm not making money from. It felt like it was all going to get really, really complicated in a way that just…I was pretty stressed out truthfully.”

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