Racing Through Hyperlinks in The Wiki Game

Published Jan 30, 2024

Hi! Can you tell us who you are and about your game?

Right! I’m Alex Clemesha, the creator of The Wiki Game—a Wikipedia-based game where you race to reach a target page through hyperlinked terms and phrases. I’m a full-stack software engineer by trade and I’m currently based in San Diego, CA. I’ve been developing for almost 20 years now, and my area of expertise is backend development. Currently, I’m working as a Lead iOS Developer as an independent consultant.

The Wiki Game is played by giving you a starting point article. Then from that starting point article, you have to reach the target article by clicking through hyperlinks. These hyperlinks are interconnected to one another, and even the most obscure and completely different things can be connected in some way or another with a common term or phrase. The game is available on the website itself, www.thewikigame.com, and the iOS app.

When did you start programming?

Around the 2000s, when I was in college. I actually took on computational physics, but I just really liked learning stuff. I wasn’t aiming to be a physicist or something, I just wanted to learn. Anyway, so I was a physics major, but programming was the way to make money. And I was just so in love with the concept of the internet. Imagine having all these possibilities and things that could be accessed through it… I was just, wow. So love of the internet, added to my knack for learning and interest in technology and programming… it just went off from there!

What was the reason behind the creation of The Wiki Game?

I’m an avid tech and software guy, and I liked spending time reading and learning more through Wikipedia. And the reason why The Wiki Game was created is because, well… I just wanted to find a way to spend more time on Wikipedia and look through a lot more articles! Exploring Wikipedia on its own was cool, but I wanted to make it more interesting. Incidentally, another primary motivation for making it was that I wanted to create a real-time multiplayer web game, and there it went off

I started on The Wiki Game back in 2010, and while it caught the most interest around 2019, I’ve been working on it back in 2010 or so. It has a lot of history behind it, and I’m proud of what it has achieved to this day. Sure, I mean, it didn’t blow up like some browser games, but it has very steady traffic that numbers around tens of thousands per month. 

And it did spike a lot during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like, whoosh! Numbers soared, and I had the web and iOS app, so sales were like, five times than the norm for a couple of months. While the numbers did soar, The Wiki Game doesn’t sell that much regularly, but those numbers make me happy a lot, and I’m glad my creation can entertain many people around the world.

Can you tell us more about the current game?

Sure! The website for The Wiki Game came first. As I said, I wanted to create a multiplayer web game, and at the time I started working on the game, it was the pre-web socket era. Web sockets are kind of the way to do real-time web functionality these days, but back then, it was more difficult to do that, so I had to find a way to make it work, and I did.

Regarding the multiplayer aspect of it, let me get a bit technical. The Wiki Game basically plays you with other people with the same objective. However, it’s a casual game, and not everyone has the time to wait around and play. I actually got a lot of complaints back in the day that it was kind of a multiplayer game but there weren’t enough people in there and stuff, and traffic tended to be unstable as people just came and go as they pleased.

The first version which was built in 2010 had true, real-time multiplayer, while the second version has kind of a pseudo real-time multiplayer that had a polling effect. To improve the overall accessibility to both single and multiplayer aspects some more, I added a function that allowed the creation of private group rooms. These private group rooms allowed people to choose their own challenges, create their own start and end points and so on. This was my response to the numerous complaints and that’s what the current live game is right now.

So to sum up, the way The Wiki Game site is right now, if you play anonymously, you’d be defaulted to the public group where you can play with anyone. But you also had the choice to join or create private groups where you could basically fiddle with the settings at your own pace and preference.

Can you tell us more about the native app?

The Wiki Game, around the time it launched, didn’t see much numbers. So yeah, after the first version of the game launched on the web app, I wanted to gain experience creating an iOS app. I created the iOS app shortly after the website with my friend who’s a designer, and we had to learn iOS programming, which took about a year.

How’s the reception of the game so far?

As for traffic, I had around 45,000 people a month coming in when I wrote my public case study about The Wiki Game. Right now, I’m seeing around 60 to 80,000 unique players a month, and they hover around the site for an average of 10 minutes or so. 

Though like I said before, it didn’t blow up, but I do get a steady number of players coming in every month. And I did think about marketing it and doing stuff to attract and retain players, but to be honest, I’ve done nothing to do so. 

Funnily, not doing that worked to my benefit as the game spread around semi-virally through social media, blogs and sites like Reddit. Everything’s organic, so without me doing anything, the community retains and promotes itself.

Another thing that comes into mind is when I started the game, like, only a few people would come on and play it. So back then, like, to reach a thousand users to play the game, I would actually attend developer meetups and such to talk about technology and I would slide in The Wiki Game from time to time.

Since the game is centered around Wikipedia, have you reached out to them at some point?

I have a good story on that. So back around 2009 or 2010, Wikimedia themselves contacted me, and their lawyer at that time was Mike Godwin. You know, the lawyer that made Godwin’s Law. Godwin’s Law is, in layman’s terms, the longer an online discussion lasts, the more likely someone will end up bringing Hitler into it. Anyway, so Mike Godwin ended up contacting me because when I created the first version of the game, I was running off of wikipedia.game.com, which breaks their trademark on that.

But they were nice to me about it, and they just wanted me to change the domain to something else, namely, just “wiki”. They even told me that they play the game internally in Wikimedia, and four months ago, one of their senior staff told me that they regularly use The Wiki Game in a Wikipedia meet-up for hundreds of people, and it just really felt good to hear all that.

What’s the monetization scheme behind your game?

I do make money off of it through sales, in both the site and the iOS app, but it’s not, you know, enough to fully support me completely. I primarily use the game as a resume piece, though I did sell the game data to several universities before. It’s totally anonymized data, and they use it for academic research purposes. There are actually at least six or eight legitimate academic papers using The Wiki Game’s data to study how users traverse and explore web links.

As for why I didn’t put ads on the website and monetize it through those, it’s simply because I just don’t like ads. The game is based on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia’s content is basically owned by everyone and it’s a place where anyone can get access to educational content. So I felt that it was just not right to go that way of commercialization. I do plan on adding some premium features to the game, but ads are just not really going to happen.

I’ve been contacted by many ad agencies already because of the traffic and the retention and all that, but it’s still a no and will always be a no for me in terms of monetization through ad revenue. It’s extremely intentional that there are no ads on the game and it’ll stay so.

Are there any memorable things in mind when you were developing the game?

Definitely! One of the most enjoyable aspects of developing and having this game is the constant stream of all these different people that will come to you. From hardcore researchers at Stanford to Mike Godwin, THE Mike Godwin, himself… you just encounter all these interesting people from all walks of life, and that’s so refreshing and rewarding for me.

Another thing is that The Wiki Game has been used in a classroom setting already! Some teachers want to be able to control the start and end points of their games, and I had several email dialogues with them. Since it’s a casual game, there isn’t that much depth to it, but they’re still using the game for edutainment, which is great to hear!

But there are also the rather bad times as well. As I told you, I got a lot of complaints back then, and a lot of them were messages that were just downright immature. I mean, I get it, some of them may be actually ten year olds, but a lot of them were mean and childish. Though it doesn’t affect me one bit, they were notable in their negativity. I think this comes with the package of being a creator, you know? I feel it’s like an indicator that you’ve created something meaningful. If you’ve done something that’s noteworthy and has weight, there will always be people loving and hating it at the same time.

Do you have a process for validating what might work if you were starting something new today?

I think I don’t have any complex process for that. In my honest opinion, I think the best way to do it is just to delve into the communities and subcommunities and learn more there. It may sound too simplistic, but really, find your niche, learn what the geeks want or are talking about, pitch or promote yourself there and you’re bound to get traction one way or the other.

If you could have done something differently this time around, what would it be?

If I had the chance to, I would have done everything differently back then! Like, add more features, be more aware of accessibility and playability and all that. Heck, I’m still working on it even 13 years later! I’ve tried a lot of things on it that didn’t work, so I think if I could do it all again, I would really polish it from the get-go since I already know what I lacked or did improperly.

What advice can you give to new developers?

I’ve been programming for almost 20 years, so I have this to say:

1. Never stop learning

It comes with the package of being a developer that you have to constantly learn. I’d been doing a lot before I even got to making The Wiki Game, but I still had to learn iOS programming to create what I wanted. So don’t stop learning and keep yourself sharp.

2. Don’t be afraid to geek out

The Wiki Game itself is a geeky game, and while geeky stuff is definitely not mainstream, there’s always a community for something. I learned through experience that there’s always a dedicated group backing something up, and in my case, fellow geeks flocked towards my work.

3. Be proactive in making connections

Creating The Wiki Game allowed me to connect with people from all walks of life and all over the world. Making these connections not only broadens your knowledge and career opportunities, it also helps you see things from a different perspective, allowing you to further improve in many different aspects.

Are you playing any game right now?

Alright, I’ll have to be honest, I’m not a hardcore gamer. I haven’t played too many games, really. Though I did use to be obsessed with Nintendo games in particular, but really, I’m more of a technology tinkerer than a gamer.

What’s your plan for the future?

I’m currently working on the third version of The Wiki Game, and I’m going to add a lot more premium features to it. My aim right now is to keep the game free for most types of usage, but when used for large private groups, it’ll work off of a freemium model. I’m slating it for release by March 1, so I’ll be hard at work to make it so!

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

For any inquiries or suggestions about the game, you can contact me through my email, alex@thewikigame.com, or through my Twitter/X account. Beginner programmers also contact me regularly asking for pointers and stuff, and I’m always happy to share what I know with you! 

And if you enjoy playing my game or use Wikipedia regularly, donate to them as I do and support furthering free educational content for everyone!

Have a game to sell?

Let’s find out if we play well together.