The world of Wordle
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The world of Wordle

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Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from Wordle’s legacy to Sony’s future to the shapeshifting state of the metaverse.

Also, this weekend marks Protocol’s second birthday! We rounded up a few of our favorite stories, if you’re looking for something to read. And mostly, thanks for being with us these last two years, and we’re looking forward to spending the next two with you as well.

It's all fun and games

A few weeks ago, Vivyan Tran, Protocol’s head of Digital, started a #wordle channel in our Slack without telling anyone. The only rule: “spoilers in thread pls.” Our whole team instantly understood the assignment, and ever since the channel has been an endless stream of black, yellow and green squares. People who get the answer in one or two tries get praise; the X/6 losers get sympathy.

The story of Wordle, at least the delightfully fun part, probably ended this week. What was once a game a developer made for his partner and buried on a hilariously unassuming URL will soon be a New York Times game, in there along with Spelling Bee (also super fun!) and the crossword (fun until Thursday, infuriating after that).

But the Wordle Effect will outlive Wordle. For one thing, Wordle is now a genre of games: you can play Wordle But Just With Dirty Words, Lord of The Rings Wordle, Taylor Swift Wordle, Pokémon Wordle and countless other spinoffs and knockoffs. You can even download the next 2,000 days of Wordle just by grabbing the existing site’s data, and play it yourself.

The game’s more important legacy, though, will be the things that made it work. (The Atlantic has a really good dive into the game’s mechanics, too.) Wordle was just a website: It required no log in or subscription, no onboarding flow, no nothing. It was a finite, universal experience: Once a day, everyone played the same game. And it really exploded when it became inherently social: Sharing and comparing your Wordle score is half the fun.

These aren’t just lessons for game developers, by the way. Lots of app-makers have discovered how useful it can be to let new users actually use the app, even with dummy data, before they sign up. And the internet as a whole is becoming more multiplayer, as people physically far apart look for ways to connect.

But there is definitely going to be a whole genre of games that take the Wordle magic and apply it to other kinds of games. One I’ve been enjoying this week is The Wikipedia Game, a dead-simple app created by Matt Morrison, who is by day the co-founder and CTO at Morta. The game is simple, and one I bet you’ve played before: You start on a random Wikipedia page and try to get to a specific other page in as few clicks as possible. I used to call it “Six Degrees of Wikipedia,” but most people know it as The Wikipedia Game.

“What I thought Wordle was amazing at was being non-addictive, and the mechanism for sharing,” Morrison told me this week over Zoom. He’s a Wordle fan, you might say, without being a total obsessive. “But I loved the concept. And then I thought, OK, what games did I used to play that I found really fun?” He landed on The Wikipedia Game as the perfect mix of social, competitive and inherently internetty. He built it with a similar sharing mechanism, which tracks both how long it takes you to solve the puzzle and how many steps it took. There’s a new puzzle every day, which Morrison and his wife cook up every morning. (“Which is quite fun itself,” he said.)

So far, Morrison said, around 1,500 people have tried their hand at The Wikipedia Game. He’s already getting player feedback: Some people are cranky about Wikipedia’s “did you mean” pages counting as an extra click, and the back button doesn’t always work as intended. And, just like Wordle, if you really want to cheat, it’s not very hard. There’s even a website for it. But “you’re only cheating yourself,” Morrison said. “You can also just copy and paste the [Wordle] squares however you want, right? That’s not fun.”

Morrison told me he doesn’t have any dreams of a Wordle-style seven-figure exit. (Though, to be fair, neither did Josh Wardle.) He just wants to make your group chats a little more fun. “If it can bring people together for three minutes a day, that’s actually probably enough.” That, right there, might be the true enduring legacy of Wordle: finding ways to bring people together, even for a few minutes a day, is a bigger deal than you might think.

A MESSAGE FROM SAMBA TV

Samba TV operates the world’s largest independent source of first party connected TV data helping brands, agencies and content owners to plan, buy and measure all in one place. The State of Viewership report offers the industry’s most accurate insights into television viewing and advertising engagement. Download the report at www.samba.tv

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You tell us

We asked you to tell us your favorite online game, and you responded! Thanks to you we now have enough fun and funky games to prevent us from ever doing any work again. Here are a few of our favorite responses:

“My go to ‘game’ is a paint-by-numbers app called Happy Color that is both meditative and creative. I get some insight into how a picture visually breaks down into components, which is great design training. It’s the perfect activity to give part of my brain something to do while I listen to podcasts or wind down at the end of the day.” — Susan Kimberlin

Doing the Daily Set is just as fun as doing Wordle and it's been around for much longer.” — Simon Zhang

“My fav online game is Curvy.” — Chris

“I have been obsessed with crosswords since my 20’s. The NY Times is my favorite but The New Yorker has a new one that is growing on me. Once in a while there is a Sunday LA Times one that gets reprinted in a throwaway paper that is pretty good. Vox has decent ones online but doing it virtually doesn’t cut it for me. I much prefer to use a certain kind of pen (BIC Velocity) on real newspaper.” — Amy Malina

“My favorite on-line game is: RealSail, a virtual sailing game.” — Ard Sur

The best of Protocol

Who owns your address in AR? Probably not you, by Janko Roettgers

  • It’s one of those things you never think about until it happens to you: What if someone buys your house in augmented reality? It’s not like there’s regulation or a clause on your deed covering what people do in Upland. But as digital real estate of all kinds continues to boom, that’s one of many questions that will need better answers.

What Sony sees in Destiny developer Bungie, by Nick Statt

  • Next to Microsoft’s $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard, Sony dropping $3.6 billion on Bungie seems downright cheap. The bet here is just as big, though: Sony is relying on Bungie and Destiny to bring it into a live, cross-platform, always-on future of gaming.

Coinbase: Give crypto its own regulator. Everybody else: Are you crazy? by Ben Pimentel

  • Regulation is coming for crypto. That seems to be nearly certain. What it’ll look like, how it’ll work, who will oversee it? Shrug emoji. Faryar Shirzad does a good job here of explaining the current state of things, and why Coinbase is fighting for a single agency to oversee the whole industry.

Gaming companies never unionize. Call of Duty developers decided to anyway, by Anna Kramer and Nick Statt

  • Consolidation is one of the stories of the gaming industry right now. Unionization and worker empowerment is the other. This is a good look at the movement happening inside Raven Software — a division of Activision Blizzard — and why it seems to have gained momentum where others failed.

Profits over politics: AWS and Microsoft execs warn of China’s AI threat while growing AI hubs inside China, by Kate Kaye

  • Amazon and Microsoft: China’s AI prowess should worry the U.S. tech industry, and others around the world! Also Amazon and Microsoft: *quietly ramping up their own AI efforts in China.* Is that OK? Is that a problem? It’s complicated.

The Prop. 22 battle got ugly. The re-do in Massachusetts will be so much worse, by Hirsh Chitkara and Anna Kramer

  • When Uber, Lyft and the other gig-work giants won the fight in California to continue classifying gig workers as independent contractors, they promised to bring the same fight elsewhere. It’s now underway in Massachusetts, and it’s already getting ugly — the state is bent on leading the fight against tech, and tech won’t give up easily.

The best of everything else

How one company took over the NFT trade — The Verge

  • A few months ago, a tech exec told me off-handedly that OpenSea was a house of cards and nobody had realized it yet. This is a deep dive into what really underpins the biggest name in NFTs, as the company deals with an onslaught of hackers, scams and other problems.

American spy agencies are struggling in the age of data – Wired

  • You’d think this would be a golden age to be in the intelligence business. There’s data everywhere! But that’s precisely the problem: This excerpt from Amy Zegart’s new book, “Spies, Lies, and Algorithms,” makes the case that a connected world and endless data actually make it harder to make sense of anything.

Inside Microsoft's mixed reality mess, where confusion, rivalries, and canceled projects have roiled the company's metaverse strategy — Insider

  • Microsoft has been loudly betting on HoloLens and the rest of its AR, VR, XR, MR, whatever you want to call it, for years now. So … where is it? Turns out even Microsoft isn’t sure exactly what it’s building, and that threatens to keep the company from building much of anything.

How Facebook is morphing into Meta — The New York Times

  • Meta needs to make the metaverse happen. Like, fast. That requires shifting product roadmaps and reorganizing teams, but it also means pivoting corporate culture, massive recruiting efforts and essentially rebuilding the company on the fly. But as Facebook begins to die, there’s no time to waste.

How the snowflakes won — The Atlantic

  • This isn’t quite a eulogy for Tumblr, the once-thriving social network that has since faded into tech obscurity. (CEO Jeff D’Onofrio left recently, and nobody even noticed.) It’s more like an exegesis of what made Tumblr special, and ultimately why that kept Tumblr from winning.

Microsoft’s videogame boss and the long battle to reinvent the company — The Wall Street Journal

  • All of Phil Spencer’s chips — and thus all of Xbox’s, and increasingly more of Microsoft’s — have been pushed into the middle of the table. Spencer fought hard to chase a new vision for a cloud-first future of gaming, even over the objections of others at Microsoft. It’s too early to know if he’s right, but the industry seems to think so. And Spencer better hope so.

A MESSAGE FROM SAMBA TV

Samba TV operates the world’s largest independent source of first party connected TV data helping brands, agencies and content owners to plan, buy and measure all in one place. The State of Viewership report offers the industry’s most accurate insights into television viewing and advertising engagement. Download the report at www.samba.tv

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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