The Game That Puts the “World” in Worldwide: Globle
Published Jan 16, 2024
Hi! Can you tell us who you are and about your game?
What’s up! I’m Abraham Train, the CEO of Trainwreck Labs, and you can call me Abe. Trainwreck Labs is an indie game studio that specializes in creating games that are focused on providing free-to-play educational entertainment and challenges. You may have heard of a country-guessing game called Globle, and it’s one of my most well-known games!
In Globle, there is a new mystery country to guess for every day. The goal is to guess which country it is using the fewest number of guesses. Each incorrect guess will appear on the globe with a color indicating how close it is to the mystery country. The hotter the color, the closer you are to the answer!
Aside from the standard Globle, there’s also Globle: Capitals, where you guess the capital city of a country. There are also other exciting games you can try out in Trainwreck Labs and learn something along the way too, like Metazooa, a species-based animal guessing game, and Genitle, a sex education game!
For a full selection of games, check out the Trainwreck Labs website!
Can you tell us how you got interested in game creation?
Sure! I’m a game developer right now, but really, when people hear that, the first thing that comes to their minds is Call of Duty or other AAA games, but I built myself with trivia games in mind. In high school, I was actually a member of our trivia team! We didn’t do well in competitions, but I enjoyed my time participating in trivia challenges. Then when I got to college, I became the crossword designer at the University of Waterloo, and I think they published 15 of them in total.
But in actuality, I cheated back when I created them, and I used stuff like crossword-generating tools and apps during my first days. But when I got better at playing and creating them, I stopped relying on these tools and had more fun and really, really enjoyed doing everything when it started to click with me, y’know? I think that’s the spark that got me interested in making games for other people.
So when I graduated, I entered corporate jobs before I started going all in with my game development career. And when I launched Globle in 2022, that’s when things started to become a lot more interesting in my game development journey.
What was the first game you built?
Before we continue, I really have to tell you all—I didn’t study computer science or anything like that and had zero background in anything programming back when I started out. And my first real experience with “building” of any kind that’s related to computers was when I did scientific programming for engineering school, data analysis, forecasting and stuff like that. And no, while scientific programming and computer programming are related, inside of them, like, to their core, they’re completely different things!
So, yeah, as embarrassing as it is to say, Globle, one of my most well-known games, might actually be the very first game I’ve ever built. There might be a few things and steps before I arrived at building Globle, like trying to create smaller apps for people to interact with like my Spotify Prewrapped… but Globle really is my first actual attempt at making a game for other people to play.
Did you expect that Globle would be as much of a hit like it is today?
No! No way! When I first made Globle, I was just trying my hand at programming and wanted to test out my skills. When I made it, I wanted to share it with the world and I posted it in two subreddits—r/webdev and r/geography. In r/webdev, where a bunch of hardcore programmers were, it got absolutely zero traffic and no one looked at it. In r/geography, however, it immediately got some momentum!
So when that happened, I was like: “Oh, people actually were paying attention.” And as you know, when you post stuff you made on Reddit, it’s always a mixed bag. Some people praised it, some pointed out that there were missing countries in it and wanted them added in, and some didn’t even understand how to play it.
Of course, like with most people that create something, if it’s not well-received and brimming with praise, I ended up thinking: “Oh no, people hate it, I suck!” and had a lot of issues to work through. But then I realized, they were making these observations and criticisms not just to be mean, but like, they were actually interacting with it and wanted me to do something about it.
Then with that in mind, I fired up Cloudflare analytics, which was how I tracked it in the beginning. I monitored it and the numbers were going up daily and whoosh. That was it, it became a hit. I really didn’t make it to become a hit, it just ended up like that.
What advice would you give to people who want to get traction on their game like you did?
I wish I had a secret formula for it becoming a hit, but no, I really can’t say that. While yes, posting it on Reddit did start it off, Reddit in itself is not the place for self-promotion and posting solely to get traction. To be honest, I just got really, really lucky with Globle’s first interactors. The problem with Reddit is that most subreddits frown upon and even outright ban self-promotion. Unless it’s done specifically under that particular subreddit’s rules or guidelines, posting something in a peddling or promoting manner will immediately get you swarmed by very heated mod messages and other stuff.
So really, I just got lucky. But there are many other factors that are under your control that can influence how much traction your game will get, such as the title and going along with what trends are strong at that current point. For example, my game, Globle, has a “-ble” at the end because it’s meant to make you think about Wordle. Wordle became a viral hit when it came out as a daily game, especially as the world was also just getting back into the swing of things after the COVID-19 pandemic.
And people wanted more, like, they wanted to play something like Wordle, but not Wordle anymore since they’ve been playing it for months already. Then came the Wordle clones and other Wordle-inspired games, and I rode off of that trend and I got lucky it also got people’s attention and was actually effective in getting traction.
Were you also inspired by Wordle? How did it affect your development plans?
During the time Wordle was at its peak, I had just left my previous job. I was working on data stuff, and I wanted to do something more technical, like some software development kind of challenge. And I thought that I wanted to make a game, and a type of game where you can save your score. With that in mind, I was pondering about the game that I’d like to make when I hear about Wordle.
I was interested, so I checked it out, and I was like: “This is the simplest thing I’ve ever seen! I can absolutely make this!” So yeah, I was inspired by Wordle at that point and wanted to recreate something similar to it with a different twist. A Wordle with another gimmick. Frankly, I’m an avid follower of Wordle’s creator, and treat him as some kind of leader, y’know?
At first, I wanted to create a game related to movies, but I felt like many people would fail and be discouraged by it because there are so many movies out there, and they’re virtually limitless since movies are made constantly. Aside from that, it’d be a lot of work to constantly update it as well.
So movies were scratched out, what’s next? I tried looking closer at Wordle, and it seemed that people were eagerly going at it because they also wanted to learn more five-letter words. So there was a learning aspect to it. And when it came to learning, it just popped into my head that I should try something about countries of the world, and I stuck to it, creating the Globle that it is today.
Can you give us insight on how it is to be a full-time developer?
Sure, no problem! I left my corporate job at the very end of 2021, so I’ve been a full-time developer for almost two years now. Initially, when Globle started popping off, I didn’t plan to monetize it, just like what the Wordle creator did to preserve the pure experience of the game, but he ended up selling it anyways.
Anyway, so when my savings started to dwindle, I was at this fork in the road. I had to decide to either go back and look for a corporate job that got profit from website ads or monetize Globle. I decided that, if I was going to make money in a corporate job through site ads again, then I’d rather have everything under my control, so I took the leap and became a full-time developer and officialized it all by creating Trainwreck Labs!
Along with the creation process, the domains for the games also present a challenge, as domain names can significantly impact how well your site gets traffic. Most of my other games have their own domains, no problem, but Metaflora, the plant version of Metazooa, is attached as a subdomain as flora.metazooa.com.
Metaflora and Metazooa share the same code, so when I update one, it also updates the other. This is beneficial for me, but there are always trade-offs in these kinds of things. So development-wise, there are a lot of things you should consider, especially on high-traffic games or sites that constantly need updates or monitoring, and it does get pretty hectic. This is especially true for Globle and Globle: Capitals, which I need to keep in sync, and I’m not the best at that, really.
How does your monetization scheme work?
Originally, there was a Ko-Fi link to Globle when it was still starting out, but in time I removed that. When I went into this seriously now, I started to talk with different ad partners and providers and learn more about putting ads on my work. During the process, I was at yet another fork in the road—do I build the tech myself or do I partner up, make gains and just make more games? So I chose the latter, but frankly, I should’ve studied more about Google AdSense and all of that, though that doesn’t mean I regret partnering up with ad networks. Never.
On the ads side, I was originally working with a great company based in England, and I was generally satisfied with everything all throughout. However, another company reached out to me and offered a couple of different things that I wasn’t getting before, including more customizability and how the ads looked like… they felt like they were just tailored better for games in general, really. I made negotiations with them, exchanged great communication, struck a new deal with them and I’ve been very happy working with them ever since.
As for how much each game makes, right now, I’d say that Globle counts as over 50% of the revenue that I get, the next game behind it is Metazooa, my most recent release. Globle: Capitals and Chronogram also make money, but not as much as the others. It fills me with pride knowing that I’m not a one-hit wonder, and I’m actually making a living out of something I love doing!
So with that settled, I am continuously learning more about running a business and being more business savvy in general.
What’s your opinion on ads in general for games like yours?
One of the biggest appeals of my edutainment games is that they’re free. People can keep coming and going as long as they don’t mind the ads. This might be controversial to say, but nowadays, people already expect to be bombarded by ads. For better or worse, people are already accustomed to things on the internet having ads.
When I first implemented ads on Globle, I thought people would hate it and never play again. But really, nothing much happened, it just continued as it is, and in my opinion, it’s because everyone is so desensitized to seeing ads even in the most mundane things on the net.
Can you tell us more about your other games?
Definitely! You may have seen one of my games, Genitle, and this one is quite different from my other ones. You see, during the peak of Globle and a huge amount of players around the world were communicating with me, a filmmaker named Alex Liu reached out to me. He had just finished making a film about sex education and wanted to hire me to create a game to promote his movie.
This is the only game I’ve actually made with other people on board. Alex had an idea of the game he wanted to have for the game, and I designed it for him. We did a lot of back and forth regarding the coding and design, and it was a great experience! He had an amazing vision and he was very creative, and he knew what he wanted represented in the game.
The artwork in the game was made by someone named Kylie Millward, who works for Planned Parenthood in Utah. Alex hired her before to work on the film he made and also hired her again to work on the diagrams in the game.
The way she created the pictures was through the use of plasticine, and she took photos of them and put them into Photoshop files. I would then take those files and separate the background, leaving the plasticine figures. Using CSS, I gave all of them a shadow of some sort.
Every part that we talked about in the game would be represented through diagrams, and the whole game’s background was like paper. The purpose of this was to project the educational purpose of the game, and having the plasticine diagrams placed on top of a paper texture background was an essential factor to it.
This is the sole game in my current game selection that’s made in a different way, and the only one that doesn’t have ads. I didn’t put ads in it because the game itself is a promotion already, plus it doesn’t get the same traffic as my other games.
How did that partnership between a film director and a developer work?
When Alex came to me with the idea, I was still not firm with me making my game development career a business, so I presented myself to him like a freelancer would. When we struck a deal, it was very simple, monetary and process-wise. We talked, we planned, he gave me a lump sum and I created the game for him. This is also another reason why I didn’t put ads into it, it just didn’t feel right. And even if Genitle is my lowest-grossing game, I’m still very proud of it and I would love to have another partnership like that again!
What advice would you give to new game developers trying to create their games?
Since I’m also quite new to this industry myself, I do have some pointers to share with you all!
1. Know the categories of players in the game you’re making
See, not all gamers are equal. Some are casual and like arcade-y games and take it easy, some go all in seriously and try to be competitive, y’know? Nerds, as most people call them, are very interesting as they provide a lot of passionate insight about something. My game Metazooa, for example, has a lot of nerds playing it and the information they give is just phenomenal.
2. Learn current trends and use them to your advantage
For me, riding off the success of Wordle and attaching that familiarity with the title of my first game got them interested and curious to try out my game, which ended blowing up in a good way. So if there are good trends that will work with your project, make the most of them and use them to improve your chances of getting traction.
3. People always want to learn something new
You’d be surprised at how many people want to learn something new, and that’s one of the most prominent driving forces behind the players who constantly interact with my games. The natural curiosity of humans, paired with fun entertainment, always ends with a good time for everyone involved.
Are you hooked on a game right now?
Oh yes, definitely! While we’re all in the indie game industry and love to support one another, this game is from one of the big names— The New York Times. They have this new word puzzle game, where you have to guess something by connecting four words together called “Connections”, and I’m really enjoying this game right now!
What’s your plan for the future?
As you can already realize by now, becoming a developer and creating Trainwreck Labs… I just sort of stumbled into it and blasted through success with extreme luck and making use of chances. But now, I can easily say, 100%, that I love making games and will continue to do so. So far the adjustments I’ve made business-wise include creating a premium subscription of sorts through the Trainwreck Club with the help of the same ad network company I’m working with right now.
Joining the club will give you ad-free access to all the games, but for now, it’s just that— a way to support me as a creator and remove ads. I’m planning to add more features in the future, but for now, I have tons of engagement with my community and we’re all happy with our current progress.
As for the games, I have a lot planned in mind. Just like what I did with Metazooa and Metaflora, I want to make spin-offs or games that are related to a parent game placed within a subdomain for better management and easier maintenance. There are also several projects I have, such as a fictional version of Chronogram, which is Fictogram, and the dinosaur version of Metazooa, which is Paleozooa!
Speaking of features, I’m also overdue to add a multiplayer and classroom teaching feature to my educational games. I just love hearing feedback that is related to the edutainment aspect of my games, especially from the teachers! Globle is also a big hit in that regard as well, so I think I’ll probably implement these features in the Trainwreck Club, the premium subscriptions.
I also am starting a newsletter, and I hope to get a sponsor for the newsletter someday, and I’m currently working with Beehiiv since this is all new to me.
Where can we learn more about you and your games?
I used to be extremely active on Twitter, and that’s where most of my early community members were, but right now, I’m no longer a strong fan of the new platform that replaced it. So if you want to hang out with us and our fun community, join the Trainwreck Labs Discord! I’m always responsive there! And don’t forget to visit the website for more games and info!
Have a game to sell?
Let’s find out if we play well together.