mmm whatcha heard

Spotify Buys Wordle Clone

Photo: Spotify

Spotify has had an obscenely spendy few years. First it purchased a barrage of podcast companies, plus an audiobooks platform somewhere along the way. And more recently, it acquired some obscure start-up with voice-AI capabilities … that might someday allow the company to maybe automatically generate content such that it doesn’t necessarily have to rely on human talent any more. (Just spitballing here.) But its latest deal doesn’t sound like the others. Can you guess? We’ll give you six tries.

For those unfamiliar with Heardle, it’s a variant of Wordle, the word-game phenomenon created by Josh Wardle that launched in October — does it unsettle you to remember that Wordle is less than a year old? — and was eventually acquired by the New York Times back in January. As the name suggests, Heardle is auditorily themed, specifically taking the shape of a music-trivia game in which players are given short snippets of the start of a song and six chances to guess the track, with each wrong guess unlocking another few seconds of the song. (Relatedly, that snippet framework is an interesting way to get around music-licensing issues.) Once the player guesses the right song or runs out of tries, they’re linked out to the full track, though in the wake of this acquisition, that now means they’ll be directed to the song on Spotify. Heardle, which went live in February, is a fairly prominent member of the extended universe of Wordle clones that mushroomed into existence in the wake of the original game’s popularity, more or less cornering the market on the Venn diagram of Wordle heads and music nerds.

That broader universe of Wordle spinoffs is shockingly expansive. Even a cursory look around the internet would reveal an impressive range of variations on the core Wordle formula, not to mention the Wordle name. To take just a handful: the geographically themed Worldle, choral-music-themed Byrdle, and the portmanteau-tastic Taylordle, which is all about Taylor Swift — natch. Being an NBA fan, my favorite has been Poeltl, named after San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl, in which you guess the names of various NBA players. (It’s harder than you think.) Poke around even further and you’ll find deeper, occasionally fascinating variations on game play. Sometimes it takes the form of reshaping the original Wordle premise, as in the case of Quordle, which makes you solve four grids at once. Sometimes it’s swapping out the objective for something more impenetrable; see Nerdle, which reconstitutes the grid as a math game, or Semantle, dubbed by the Washington Post the “Dark Souls of Wordle,” in which you’re made to guess a word through others of similar meanings as determined by Word2Vec, a natural-language-processing model owned by Google. (Which is to say, you often find yourself wrestling with a machine on the subjective matter of “equivalent meanings.”) It’s all a little wild and unwieldy, but what’s fascinating is how durable the popularity of these Wordle clones seems to be: Many of these variants continue to drive SEO-baiting “solution of the day” posts all across the internet.

Photo: Screenshot

Why has Spotify bought a music-trivia game? Well, presumably for the same reason the Times bought Wordle: These simple, sticky games keep people engaged on the platform, and the longer they stick around, the more valuable they are and can be to the company. In its press release, Spotify also mentioned that it sees Heardle as a possible tool for music discovery, something that might cause players to remember old songs they used to love or discover new ones. Which, sure, though the nature of that kind of discovery doesn’t seem all too different from learning about a song off a TV ad spot or something like that. There’s some language in the announcement suggesting potential expansions down the line, but for now, there are the usual transitional kinks to be sorted out. Like, as the BBC notes, the fact that some users have found their historical stats to be wiped. Also, it would be great if options for guesses weren’t so limited, given that players can only choose from songs that are indexed in the answer database. Just five tracks for Rihanna? C’mon!

Still, Heardle is one of the spiffier variations. Most Wordle clones have a fresh-out-of-Github aesthetic, but Heardle, largely owing to its dark — some would say already Spotify-esque — color scheme and cool-looking progression bar at the bottom, looked pretty sophisticated right off the bat. Plus the actual game is viscerally sticky, latching onto the pleasant Pavlovian response you get from hearing the first few seconds of a familiar song … provided you actually know the track, of course.

Spotify Buys Wordle Clone