Wordle: Why UX matters for Game Design

Let's unpack what Wordle is, how it shot up to global success and how UX can be used to craft more memorable game experiences. This is part 1 of our 2-part series to unpack Wordle using UX. To read the second article breaking down Wordle UX, head over here.

UI/UX Design
Choo Li Ying

People who know me personally know that I’m a loser at games.

My involvement with any sort of game is limited to rare social occasions. However, since being introduced to Wordle, I have always looked forward to midnight each day when a new word comes out. And I have been hooked for weeks, to a point where even my mother has joined me in the daily Wordle hunt.

Wordle in personal chats
Presenting, my proud mother

What is Wordle?

Wordle is a simple online word puzzle. Every day, you get six chances to identify Wordle’s five-letter word of the day. If you have the right alphabet in the right spot, the box turns green. An alphabet in the wrong spot would show up as yellow. An alphabet that does not exist in the word would show up as grey. It is that simple.

In his interview with the Guardian, Josh Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn, mentioned that it all started from partner, Palak Shah's, love for puzzles and word games. She was a huge fan of the New York Times Spelling Bee and the daily crossword. This led to him creating a word game for both of them and their loved ones to play, and of course, he had to call it Wordle!

The Boom of Wordle

Wordle sharing
This was what inspired how it's shared today | Credit @irihapeta via Twitter

Josh released Wordle to the world in October 2021. By mid-December, players were sharing their results using a sequence of emojis on Twitter. This prompted Josh to build a function that would enable players to share their results easily, as seen all over the internet. With that, it went from 90 daily players in November to at least a million daily players from all over the world at the point of writing. Just a few days ago, Wordle was acquired by the New York Times Games. Fret not, Wordle will continue to be free to play and there will be no changes to its gameplay.

Why UX matters in Game Design

Mastermind Board Game
The classic OG Mastermind

Before Wordle, we were introduced to the classic code-breaking game Mastermind which follows a similar gameplay. For the uninitiated, there are two roles in Mastermind: the code maker and codebreaker who are seated across one another. The rules are very much similar to Wordle, where the code maker reveals whether the balls of the correct colour are in the right or wrong position using coloured pegs. The trickier feat, compared to Wordle, is that the placement of the pegs does not indicate which ball it is referring to. Codebreakers must thus rely on deduction and reasoning to get closer to the correct combination.

Wordle is intuitive and simple, yet challenging at times. People often are hooked on games due to the experience and feeling they get from playing it. This is also known as User Experience, where you focus on improving the experience when people interact with a product which could range from a website, to an application, a physical product, a service, a game and pretty much our everyday life. When designing the UX, it is important to focus on cognitive psychology which can bring the product from a functional state to one that provides a subjective feeling to the user.

Objective vs Subjective Characteristics | Credit UX Collective via Medium

Particularly in game design, you will need to include good feedback. Feedback refers to the response to an action that has been performed, be it by the player or the game’s system. This would indicate whether the action has led to a success or failure. Feedback could come in the form of animations, visual/sound effects, camera behavior, animated post-process, and more. Besides, you would want to enjoy the rewards of the action, making the game more enjoyable. These feedbacks are what game designers term as “game feel” or “juice”.

In the case of both Wordle and Mastermind, the feedback (and reward) comes in the form of telling the player which of their next moves is getting closer to the correct answer.  Through this feedback, players feel rewarded and get a sense of fulfilment, enticing them to continue playing.

This is part 1 of a 2-part series to unpack Wordle using UX. To read the second article breaking down Wordle UX, head over here.