Katla: How Indonesia's Wordle gave players a reason to stay connected

Katla: How Indonesia's Wordle gave players a reason to stay connected
Guess where?: A mobile phone display shows Kotla, a homegrown variation of Worldle developed by Jacky Efendi that challenges players’ knowledge of geography. (JP/Vania Evan) (JP/Vania Evan)

Following Wordle's worldwide viral popularity, 30-year-old Fatih Katlifa, a local fan of the online word puzzle, began to wonder if an Indonesian version of the game existed.

After a week of playing Wordle, Fatih began developing an Indonesian-language version using his skills as a software engineer. The game’s rules and features were pretty much the same, and also included dark, colorblind and hard modes.

“I created Katla for my personal amusement in the first place. I simply wanted to play Wordle, but in my mother tongue,” Fatih said.

Even so, Fatih programmed his version of the game so that some of Katla's daily selection went beyond regular, day-to-day words. Unlike the relatively ordinary English words featured on Wordle, Katla is based on Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language). Fatih said his purpose was to allow players to become aware of less familiar words.

“So, if a player loses because the answer is [an unfamiliar] word, at least they’ll still learn something from losing,” he explained.

Katla: How Indonesia's Wordle gave players a reason to stay connected
Fun pastime: Fatih Katlifa, a 30,-year-old software engineer, was not a word puzzle enthusiast until Wordle came along. The rest, they say, is history, and he created the Indonesian-language version of the viral game, aptly named Katla and based on the Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language (KBBI). (Courtesy of Fatih Katlifa) (Personal Collection/Fatih Katlifa)

Staying connected

At a time when virtual communication is the most feasible way to stay connected, Katla, just like Wordle, helps Indonesians stay connected to people they don’t usually keep in touch with.

Gorda, a 23-year-old cinematographer, became obsessed with Katla after a friend shared it with their group.

“I would say that both [Wordle and Katla] have turned into a tool for us to keep talking to each other and to make fun of each other,” he noted.

Fatih takes great pleasure in reading the reactions from players. “In my spare time, I stalk people by searching 'Katla' on Twitter. I find it hilarious how people poke fun at their friends over their Katla score.”

Tifani Lianto, a 22-year-old account executive from Jakarta, says the game has enriched the dynamics of her work relationships, specifically among the people in her division, allowing them to make connections beyond work.

“It’s nice to steer clear of work-related discussions for a while, even while we’re communicating with our colleagues. I’ve always wanted to actually talk to them as friends, outside of work,” she said.

Katla: How Indonesia's Wordle gave players a reason to stay connected
Ever evolving: Katla, the Indonesian-language version of Wordle developed by Fatih Katlifa, follows the original game, prompting players to guess the five-letter word of the day in six attempts. Fatih is now developing a real-time multiplayer mode for launching “soon”. (JP/Vania Evan) (JP/Vania Evan)


In its current iteration, Katla follows Wordle’s model of offering one word each day, but Fatih told The Jakarta Post he was developing a real-time multiplayer mode in which players could play the game as many times as they liked.

The new mode was his response to demand from Katla fans who told him they wanted to play multiple times a day, and while Fatih said it would be ready to launch soon, he didn’t say when.

Overall reception among players has been strong. Two weeks after its launch on Jan. 21, 2022, Fatih installed a tool to monitor user traffic and saw that Katla had garnered 40,000 unique daily visits, with the figure continuing to grow.

Katla has been hailed by Ivan Lanin, a popular Indonesian language educator and founder of Narabahasa, a language consultancy.

“The game’s concept creates a case for experiential learning, a fun one at that,” said Ivan, who played Katla every day before his workday even started. He said he hoped to maintain his winning streak.

Wordle has been adopted into various languages, and its variations don't stop at language. Take Worldle, for example, a spin-off game in which players try to identify the country or territory featured in the geographical map presented each day.

Just like Katla, there is also an Indonesian version of Worldle named Kotla. The man behind Kotla, Jacky Efendi, 26, also a software engineer, told the Post that he developed it on a whim.

“Be right back, I'm building Kotla.” Jacky remembers posting on Twitter.

His tweet began as a joke, but soon turned serious when his followers began asking him for updates. Kotla launched on Jan. 29, 2022, roughly a week after Katla, and logged more than 9,000 unique visits in its first week. And just like Katla, the numbers continue to grow.

“It really exceeded my expectations. In fact, I had zero expectations. I just wanted to play Kotla for the fun of it,” said Jacky.

Katla: How Indonesia's Wordle gave players a reason to stay connected
Joke’s on you: Jacky Efendi, a 26-year-old software engineer, tweeted in jest that he was building Kotla, which prompted strong response from his followers to actually make it happen. (Courtesy of Jacky Efendi) (Personal Collection/Jacky Efendi)

Open source, open community

Fatih and Jacky both say that they don’t feel pressured by their games’ popularity to cater to players’ inputs or criticisms. In their spare time, they respond to bug reports and requests for additional features, like the colorblind mode, but do so without setting a deadline.

They both want to keep the games and their development a fun pastime. Neither have any plans to monetize or register the games as intellectual property.

That might not be feasible anyway, since Katla and Kotla are both based on other creators’ ideas. Besides, the KBBI prohibits third parties from using its content to generate revenue.

In the meantime, Fatih and Jacky have both uploaded their source codes to an open-source platform so people can use them freely. In doing so, they say their games have provided a gateway to a collaborative developer community.

Valerie Dante, a 25-year-old content writer, said the game had become a nightly routine that helped end her day on a positive note.

Kevyn Augusta, a 24-year-old e-commerce employee, commented that Katla and Kotla’s appeal lay in the sense of personal achievement they offered, which created a sense of pride and self-fulfillment.

“It’s nice to have different, undemanding, even enjoyable challenges to take on every day [that] makes life not be all about work,” he said.

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