You will never guess Wordle’s terrible, hilarious original name

Wordle is a pretty clever name for the very good word game created by Josh Wardle. But when he was first working on it in 2013, Wardle had another name in mind that isn’t quite as catchy.

“This is true: I was going to call Wordle, Mr. Bugs’ Wordy Nugz,” Wardle revealed as part of a presentation about Wordle at Figma’s Config conference on Wednesday. He also showed a slide that spelled out the name in big yellow letters. “Had I called the game Mr. Bugs, I like to think it would not have been successful.”

During the presentation, which was about the development decisions that he said “are the opposite of what you’re meant to do” but ultimately contributed to making the game a hit, Wardle also discussed the history of the game and showed off a bunch of early prototypes. Wardle had wanted to make a game for his partner. He liked words and liked the game Mastermind, so in 2013, he mashed the two ideas together and started making what would become Wordle.

His first prototype was for Android, and much of the core game was there: you had six guesses to figure out a five-letter word. But this early version was an endless game, meaning that as soon as you figured out one word, you could try and solve another. It also picked from five-letter words at random, meaning you might have been trying to figure out more obscure words like “zizel” or “yrneh.”

Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

In order to whittle down the word list to a set of words that “people could reasonably know,” Wardle then built another game where you could press a button to say if you knew a word, didn’t know it, or maybe knew it. This helped him winnow the list down from 13,000 to about 2,500 words.

Wardle says his partner categorized all 13,000 five-letter words.
Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

He also kept working on the game’s design. In some older iterations he included with his presentation, the game had things like a score or red X marks to denote “lives.”

Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

This all happened in 2013, when he was also considering the Mr. Bugs name. But then, Wardle said he lost interest in the game, “put it on the back burner,” and didn’t touch it for six years.

In early 2020, Wardle and his partner were playing a lot of The New York Times’ crossword and its Spelling Bee game. He noticed that they were both once-a-day kind of games — there is only one Spelling Bee a day, and the day’s crossword must be completed on the same day in order to maintain a streak. He decided to make a similar choice for what would become Wordle.

In 2021, he built a version of what would become Wordle that lived on his personal domain (which is where you might have played Wordle before The New York Times fully took it over).

“This was something else I did that you’re not meant to do. I made a website,” Wardle said. “I think a lot of the thinking around games was that you want apps so you can catch your audience. You can send them push notifications. I didn’t want to do any of that. It was just [my partner] and I playing the game. So making a website seemed so obvious to me.” He thinks being a website helped the game, as you could just share it with someone and they could play it.

Wardle’s version of Wordle on his personal domain.
Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

For about six months, Wardle said it was just the two of them playing the game on his website. Then, he shared it with family, they shared it with friends, and it started to grow from there. After seeing people post their results in emoji form, he formally added emoji results as a feature to the game in late 2021.

On January 31st, The New York Times announced that it had bought Wordle from Wardle. “I think this took a lot of people by surprise,” Wardle said in his presentation. “It was a very clear decision for me to make to sell the game. I didn’t want to run a games business. I’m interested in creating things.

“It was obvious due to the success of Wordle that I could make my life if I wanted to,” Wardle continued. “But there are a bunch of things that I wouldn’t enjoy about running a games business. And it just felt so clear to me that that wasn’t something I wanted any part of.”

He also said that he didn’t want to monetize the game. “All of this comes back to [that] I’m building the game for my partner. I’m not going to show her ads or try and upsell her on a premium subscription. But it’s even though I didn’t want to make money from Wordle, it quickly became apparent to me that there were other people who were going to make money off Wordle, whether I was involved or not.” Wardle said that “selling to The New York Times was a way to just to step away.”

Wardle concluded by saying that, if he had wanted to make a viral word game, he wouldn’t have made Wordle. “I was trying to do something that was authentic to me. I was trying to build something for someone that I loved. It just so happened a bunch of other people loved it.”

His advice for other people trying to make things? “Don’t try to make Wordle. Make the thing that you’re passionate about that is meaningful to you. And then everything else will follow from that.”

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