After just a few months of being public, viral game sensation Wordle was acquired by the New York Times for a 7 figure sum. According to the times, the game had 90 users on November 1st, 300,000 in mid-January, and a million daily players at the end of January. Hypergrowth! 
Wordle’s growth was no accident. Even a Tweet by Jimmy Fallon certainly accelerated growth, the game has the growth mechanics of fast-growing tech startups.
Wordle’s growth mechanisms
Wordle’s growth and virality is due to specific mechanics. It might seem like an “accident” but when you dissect the user flow and experience with the app, you quickly understand why the app went viral.
Wordle’s virality is engineered:
First, the app doesn’t have any barrier to entry. You simply go to the web page and can immediately play. No need to sign-up.
Second, the game is easy to pick up. It has a minimal set of rules.
Third, users get a quick feedback loop. You try one word and immediately know if you’re on or off track. The whole game might only take a few minutes, which makes it playable any time of the day.
Fourth, and this is the crucial part, the dopamine hit from Wordle is quite strong. You’re either very proud of “figuring it out” or upset about the difficulty. Either way, the urge to share your success on Twitter or text is high.
Fifth, sharing your score is simple, recognizable and doesn’t spoil the game for other players.
The shared score is so easy to recognize that some Twitter users started blocking any Wordle Tweet.
The beauty about the score shares is that every player understands what they mean but they don’t give the solution away.
That’s a powerful referral loop built around social capital. Wordle players want to “show off” how good their score is.
Sixth, it’s not bingeable. You can only play one Wordle a day. That healthy friction avoids user burn-out. InStead, users develop a habit that carries them from one dopamine hit to the next and keeps them playing.
Wordle’s missing growth loop
What’s missing for Wordle, and one of the reasons I believe the founder sold to the New York Times, is a monetization loop. As with many games, user acquisition is easier than monetization because good games are inherently addictive. But growth isn’t complete without monetization, which adds friction to the loop.
The New York Times has four options for monetization:
- They make Wordle available for free but display ads on the page
- They put Wordle behind a paywall and make it exclusive for paying readers
- They do both and allow paying users to remove the ads
- They figure out a usage-based model. For example, users pay for saving their score
Either one comes with trade-offs but I still think the acquisition was lucrative for both sides.