The New York Times looks back to 2022, “Wordle’s crazy year,” to analyze the year’s significant events surrounding the phenomena. A year ago today, when you signed into Twitter, you may have noticed a sudden increase in the number of gray, yellow, and green boxes on your feed. Wordle became an overnight cultural hit in early 2022, making it impossible to avoid unless you hiding behind a list of muted words, despite the fact that it began in 2021 and reached widespread appeal in December of that year. It was one of the few gaming success stories, and its stunning simplicity helped it appeal to a wide demographic.
Wordle’s wealth would grow at the same rate as its popularity. The New York Times bought the puzzle game’s developer, Josh Wardle, for an unknown low seven-figure sum in late January 2022. This was a surprising move that almost overshadowed Sony’s acquisition of Bungie, the studio behind Destiny 2. Some players might concerned that the game’s unique spirit will lost in a corporate takeover of the most decentralized medium possible.
Why Is Wordle So Popular and Why Did The New York Times Buy It?
Wordle still provides the same fun and useful features a year later. The success of the puzzle game has inspired the New York Times to expand its gaming coverage. The New York Times’ Games Editor in Chief, Jonathan Knight, talked with Digital Trends at CES 2023 as the paper prepared to start its second year with Wordle. Knight explains the inner workings of NYT Games over the last year and how they’ve so successful by not trying to dordle repair what wasn’t wrong.
The decision to quickly acquire Wordle by The New York Times was a no-brainer. Even before it launched, the publisher believed the game looked and felt like one of its own games, right down to its understated visual style. The agreement was hastily put out to take advantage of the game’s rising popularity, but the Games staff was just as worried about screwing things up as the players themselves.
How do you play Wordle?
“It took us some time to integrate, and it pushed us,” Knight says to Digital Trends. Should we have prepared for that? Can we handle so many people using it at once? Do we really want to expand our portfolio by include another another game? Was there a ready platform? As a result, we feel more flexible and open to the possibility of repeating the experience.
The Games team decided early on not to make any major changes to Wordle in order to avoid upsetting the apple cart. WordleBot and similar technologies might used to improve the game, but Knight understood that the game’s charm lay in its simplicity.
Building on elegance
According to Knight, “from the very beginning, our objective was to do no damage to the game.” We understood that Wordle was a valuable resource on the web. As much as anything, it was an online thing. Many of us worried about the future when we made the purchase… My first instruction to the squad was, “Don’t modify anything about this game.”
Wordle’s first year operating under The New York Times’ banner would guided by this concept, but the team wouldn’t completely resistant to change. Knight said the group hasn’t ruled out the potential of making alterations in the future in order to maintain interest.
Knight argues that the company would negligent if it did not consider how to make Wordle more interesting and useful for its customers. That’s not to say we won’t do anything similar again. In my opinion, the first cultural phenomena long gone, and we quite delighted with the sustained interest shown by our audience. However, moving ahead, now that the fundamentals established, I believe… There’s room for expansion in this game, in my opinion. I wouldn’t alter the game’s fundamental rules, but I do believe we have room for improvement in other areas.
Expanding on grace
Wordle’s interface may not appear to have changed much in the last year, but a lot of work has done behind the scenes. Minor adjustments to the game’s back end have made it simpler for players to safeguard their data. The game became its own brand thanks to a deal with Hasbro, and it will taken into the air thanks to a new deal with Delta Air Lines.
Wordle’s developer, Josh Wardle, had previously relied on a preprogrammed list of words, so The New York Times’ Tracy Bennett was brought on as the editor to supervise the project. The concept of having an editor go over a game that only uses one five-letter word every day may seem absurd to someone looking in from the outside. The New York Times, however, immediately realized that this was a vital step in covering the phenomena.
Knight explains that “it’s crucial for us to have someone who has that daily accountability for what that term means.” When we bought the game, Josh Wardle had already coded in the solutions for many years in the future. Your browser already has the answers pre-filled. We had no clue that Wordle would become so popular that Anderson Cooper would interview Monica Lewinsky about it on CNN and the world would end in chaos. Well, that didn’t just happen!
The next big thing
Last year, the seemingly harmless game was the center of its only serious controversy, proving Knight right. Wordle users encountered the unfortunate answer of “fetus” not long after it was leaked that the Supreme Court intended to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Games team knew the term was on the way days in advance, but there was nothing they could do about it because of the way the word list was set up.
According to Knight, “at that point in time, we had not yet linked it into our back end.” Technically, we couldn’t have flipped the answer on a dime. On that day, over a year before, the fetus was programmed. A programmer alerted the team, “Hey everyone, in two days the answer is going to be fetal,” only two days after the leaking of the Roe v. Wade ruling made news. As editors, we decided that day that that shouldn’t the solution, and if we completely integrated, we could have easily switched it out and no one would have noticed.