On June 19, 2021 a new game was born with absolutely zero fanfare. Wordle, named after its creator Josh Wardle, didn't go public on the internet until October and didn't gather any real attention until January 2022 — but once people picked up on it, it became the viral sensation of the year.
There's some debate about when Wordle's real birthday is, because the game wasn't public when it launched. But if you look in the game's HTML code, the first entry is dated June 19, 2021, with the first answer being CIGAR — so that's good enough for us.
A year later, Wordle is in a very different place. It's now owned by the New York Times, and though we don't know exactly how many people play it daily, it's probably in the millions. It's also spawned an entire industry of Wordle clones and alternatives, some of which are almost as essential as the original.
It's easy to see why; Wordle is a brilliant antidote to an increasingly difficult
year decade, offering one slightly challenging puzzle a day with no time limit beyond the need to complete it by midnight, simple gameplay mechanics and an in-built sharing mechanism that made it a truly social experience.
The game is scheduled to run until sometime in October 2027, when the last of its 2,308 puzzles will be used, although it's possible the NYT will extend the word list before then. However, if it wants to keep all those millions of fans playing daily, Wordle may need to work hard for their attention; today's viral sensation is tomorrow's Pokémon Go.
So, what can Wordle do in its second year to ensure it remains popular? I have some ideas.
1. Add cross-device play
My Wordle streak is currently 53, but it's also currently 165. This annoys me greatly, and it all stems from the fact that Wordle isn't currently clever enough to handle anyone playing on multiple devices.
Admittedly, I may not be a typical Wordler: I usually complete the game first on my phone, then switch to my laptop and play it again so I can take screenshots and write my today's Wordle answer column for Tom's Guide. But on a couple of occasions, I've skipped the phone part and gone straight to the laptop, and as a result my phone streak and stats are different from those on my laptop.
Fortunately, I've played every day on the laptop, so my full streak is captured — but if I'd forgotten a game there too, or had a day off work sometime, it would be an unmitigated disaster. And it will also be an issue if and when I replace my wonderful Google Pixel 6 with another phone — because Wordle stats can't officially be transferred across devices.
This surely can't be that difficult to fix. Wordle is now part of NYT Games, and NYT has a login system so you can use WordleBot and play other games, such as Spelling Bee. Presumably it could implement a free tier, so you could still log in on multiple devices and know that your streak was always safe.
2. Create an official Wordle archive
As I've detailed in the past, I've played every Wordle so far and lost only once. And the reason I was able to do so is that I had access to the now sadly defunct Wordle Archive. In fact, there was more than one such site that allowed you to play previous Wordles, but the NYT unceremoniously shut them all down soon after it purchased the game in February.
On the one hand, I can see why: it spent a lot of money on Wordle, reportedly a low-seven-figure sum, and it had to protect its IP. But such a move would only make sense if it created its own official Archive instead, and thus far there's no sign of it doing so.
My prediction is that it will do this at some future point, and will place it firmly behind a paywall. This would be annoying, but still better than nothing.
3. Make WordleBot (partly) free again
WordleBot was a brilliant addition to the Wordle experience, giving players post-game analysis of the most recent puzzle, together with strategy tips and insight into things like the best Wordle start word. It was free for the first couple of months of its life, but was placed behind the NYT paywall earlier this month.
As I said above, it's understandable that the NYT wants to claw back some of the money it spent on the game, but did it really have to go the whole hog and put it all behind a paywall? For instance, one of the best things about WordleBot is that it tells you what the average score across the game is for everyone who's played it so far that day. This is a great stat to know and really adds to the overall sense of community around Wordle. It's fair enough that the more detailed analysis might go paid-only, but couldn't it make the first screen free-to-view at least?
4. Improve the in-game stats screen
Similarly, Wordle's stats page is clean, concise and effective, giving you a breakdown of how many 2s, 3s, 4s etc you've got and what your current streak is, but it could go further.
Sure, many people don't want detailed stats, but they could be hidden in a pop-up or something. For instance, I'd like to know what my overall average is at a glance, but this currently requires a calculator to work out (it's 3.76, since you ask). I'd also like to know how that compares to everyone else who plays the game.
This would be a minor change, but also an easy addition to make.
5. Create a better Hard Mode
Wordle's Hard Mode, as I've made clear a couple of times, doesn't really do it for me. That's not because I'm scared of it (though I don't deny that I'm merely an average player), but simply because it changes the gameplay in what I consider to be a negative way.
As it stands, Hard Mode works by forcing you to play letters that are already green or yellow in subsequent guesses. This means you can't use a 'throwaway' guess to narrow things down for a difficult word. In that sense, it does indeed make the game harder. But mainly it just makes it more about luck.
To take an example such as the infamous 'WATCH' game (#265, above) I was able to play PLUMB on the third guess, ruling out PATCH, LATCH, MATCH and BATCH in one go. That's strategy. On Hard Mode I'd have had to blindly guess in the hope I picked the right word; that's luck.
By all means leave Hard Mode as it is, but how about introducing a new Extra-Hard Mode, which gives you a time limit to complete the game? Or one that reduces your guesses to five? Or that always keeps one letter hidden? There are, I'm sure, plenty of other options that would still give everyone the same word to find.
So there you go, five ways the NYT could improve Wordle without destroying what made it so special. But whatever happens, I'll definitely keep playing daily. Well, unless I lose my streak, maybe, and then we'll see.