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In the wake of Worldle's success, a million variants on the genre slammed into the market. Here's what inspired their creators.

Barry Levitt, Contributor

October 4, 2022

8 Min Read
A screenshot of Qwordle.

Before the year started, if you thought of the biggest game of the year, could you have predicted a small mobile puzzle game? Wordle has taken the world by storm since it was released at the end of 2021, but it really took over in 2022. The game, created by Josh Wardle, was bought by The New York Times just weeks after it became a viral hit. Most simple puzzle games fade from public consciousness after a few weeks, but Wordle has had extraordinary staying power.

The impact of Wordle—which gives you six attempts to deduce a five-letter word each and every day—has been significant, and has caused an influx of daily puzzle games. Various developers have used Wordle as inspiration to create their own games, taking its simple format to infinite places. 

We spoke to some of the developers behind some of Wordle’s biggest variants to explore the craze, and what it all means for the future of web-based games.

Wordle of mouth

What’s behind Wordle’s incredible popularity is the aspect that sets it apart from everything else: shareability. “What made Wordle unusual and successful is the social aspect. It’s a daily challenge – the same game for everybody, every day, which makes it a shared event, and even a little bit of a competition. The real hook, in my opinion, is those shareable replays. I hadn’t seen those before,” explained the creator of Absurdle (who creates under the moniker of "qntm"). 

The game is a self-described “adversarial” version of Wordle: to put it simply, it deliberately tries to avoid giving you the answer, making it as challenging as possible to guess the right word.

Making Absurdle was exciting for pseudonymous developer Qntm, who had created adversarial games in the past like HATETRIS, a Tetris variant that always gives you the worst possible piece. “When Wordle came around I realized that it would be perfect for the same treatment. Reimplementing Wordle is trivial. Writing an algorithm to manage the secret words and flummox the player was much more entertaining.”

Another pseudonymous developer known as "Teuteuf" created a variant called Worldle. He also said he was drawn to the format's shareability. “I really liked the game, and really loved how simple and fun it was to share with friends,” he said. 

Teuteuf’s game is like Wordle for geography fans, giving players an outline of a country and giving direction-based clues to help participants solve its daily puzzle. He was looking for a new job and wanted to practice his web development skills, and the rest is history. “I had originally wanted to make a French version of Wordle to play with my family who doesn’t speak English, but somebody had already done it.”

Freddie Meyer is behind Quordle, which according to him “turns Wordle up to 11.” Meyer, who’s drawn to notoriously tricky games like Demon Souls, explained that “If there’s not really much of a challenge, then I don’t have as much fun. That was the inspiration when I was originally playing Wordle – this is fun, but not much of a challenge. I can pretty much get it every time for sure, so what if we did four?” 

The ante is certainly upped in Quordle, which gives players just three more guesses to solve four words instead of one. “That’s why we did it in the first place, I was looking for that extra challenge.”

A screenshot of several websites' Wordle tip stories

Meyer’s inspiration for developing Quordle also came from the shareability of Wordle: “There’s something special about the shareability. There are not a lot of games that are very collaborative.” This very idea of sharing your results, whether on social media, private messaging, or otherwise, has encouraged people from all over to participate, from hardcore gamers to people who’ve never played a game before. 

It’s also helped become Wordle and games like Worldle and Quordle sensations (as you can play Abursdle as many times a day as you want, it lacks the shareable results of the other variants).

Attack of the clones

With popularity comes opportunity; specifically, the opportunity to profit. When Wordle started its meteoric rise at the beginning of the year, it was practically inevitable that people would attempt to profit off the situation despite having nothing to do with creating the game. 

Almost immediately rip-offs of Wordle flooded app stores, and though there was a backlash, a quick search of Wordle on the same app stores today reveals endless lists of clones full of in-app purchases.

While variants like Quordle, Worldle, and Absurdle have remained completely free and accessible, some have attempted to clone them for profit. Absurdle developer Qntm finds the idea of cloning a title to make a quick buck incredibly distasteful, and was “pleased to see whenever the scummy paid ripoffs are taken down.”

Both Teuteuf and Meyer have similar strategies to address the fact that their work has been cloned: be better. “There are Worldle clones with ads on app stores, but to be honest, I don’t really care” explained Teuteuf, who was quick to point out that this sort of thing happens often, like when the game 2048 became all the rage a few years back. He continued, “Sometimes, I receive messages from people using these clones to ask me to fix issues on their version… I simply explain to them that it’s a mean clone and that they should use my version instead.”

“Nothing against who want to monetize their creations,” said Meyer, “but at the same time, if you see a word game like Quordle that’s free on a website, and you make a mobile clone with a whole bunch of monetization garbage around it, you’re not exactly monetizing your own ideas. I think it’s much easier to just be better, and destroy the clone by being better.”

There is, then, a clear divide between taking inspiration to create a unique variant and outright cloning. A lot of it comes down to what a game offers. When it comes to games like Absurdle, Quordle, and Worldle, they offer something unique to what Wordle offers, allowing players to have new experiences that have a level of familiarity thanks to their connections with the one that started it all. 

Cloning takes a different approach, simply taking an existing idea and adding a new coat of paint (or in particularly lazy cases, changing nothing at all), in an attempt to make a quick buck.

It’s telling that Wordle and its successful variants have remained free and accessible. There was a concern when The New York Times bought Wordle that the game would no longer be accessible, but thankfully it’s remained in a practically identical form since moving sites. That isn’t to say that it’s unethical to profit off your own creations of course, but there can be ways of monetizing that don’t directly interfere with the game itself.

None of the creators we spoke to had plans to change their games when it comes to price. "There were a lot of people saying I should monetize it immediately," Meyer explained about Quordle. "But I didn’t want to ruin the game by putting ads everywhere or some sort of currency. I’ve considered fun ways to monetize without damaging the game like merch, and obviously, the donation button is there.” 

A game of Worldle in progress.

Teuteuf has no interest in adding monetization to Worldle, explaining “I already receive a lot of support with donations through Ko-fi. I prefer to keep it playable for anyone, for free and with no ads!”

Wordle and its variants are here to stay, which is certainly surprising to Qntm. “I’m surprised this is all still going, to be honest -- in my mind, Wordle was very much a flavor of the month thing.” 

Shareability has been a big reason why, but these games hit at a long-lasting desire for word games. As Qntm says, “That the world has a huge appetite for simple, casual word games is very well-known." While that's true, no particular word game has captured the globe's attention quite like Wordle, and its most popular variants also enjoy millions of daily players.

The future is bright for the future of these games, though creators are divided on what the future will look like. "Game companies and other game creators aren’t going to ignore Wordle’s success," explained Meyer, "and aren't going to try to make games that are very shareable. I’m super excited to see what gets created – a shareable, collective challenge to society." The opportunities are endless, but there's a legitimate risk that things will run out of steam eventually. 

As Qntm warns, "the world may only have so much room for shareable replays and the like. So, it might be that the lesson game developers learn from Wordle may be the same lesson they learn from other popular fad games: "It's been done — you have to think of something else."

No matter which direction things go, there's an undeniable excitement as to what these games are doing to change the industry landscape landscape. We can’t wait to see where it all ends up.

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