Review: Words With Friends


So it's finally here. Zynga's board game with some eerie similarities to Scrabble has had a talismanic hold on mobile gamers since it took over Facebook. "Does it play Words with Friends?" has been a question many have asked. After all,  if iOS and Android users can play their games on their smartphone, so should those of us with Windows Phones be able to. Now we can.

Author: Zynga

Version Reviewed:

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That first view of Words with Friends is rather disappointing for a Windows Phone such as myself. Words with Friends looks like a direct port of the Android version. A blank tile scores more than the efforts made to add the Windows Design language to this application. Welcome to Zynga's world, where it's done their way or not at all.

The lack of fun doesn't end there. You'll need to sign in to your Facebook account and allow Zynga access to your account to play. Then you'll need to sign in to a Zynga account (or set one up). Neither of these steps are quick to perform and the user interface is rather uninspiring, with no feedback on why you are being asked to do this.

This is of course Zynga's mode of operation, to get users into the Zynga platform with one game, and then keep them playing and playing and feeding them new games and playing and playing... and so on, in a nice little feedback loop.

 Zynga on Windows Phone Zynga on Windows Phone

Part of that appeal, of course, is to keep people playing, and that's something this version of Words with Friends fails to do. It's incredibly laggy, with long pauses throughout the game. Starting up the title, you'll be waiting upwards of a minute for your games in progress to be shown (and even then they'll be mixed in with 'why don't you challenge another friend' prompts to try and maintain the cycle).

Actually playing the game is frustrating as well. Zynga's designers love the bubble look, so everything has rounded corners and faux shading. It's actually a bit of a strain on my eyes, and I would prefer a flatter looking graphical scheme.

You first see the board zoomed out, and if you go for a pinch and zoom to get a closer look then you'll find it doesn't work. It's a double-tap. Moving tiles from the rack to the board is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Either my finger was never picked up, or the tile moved but was incredibly jittery, as if the touch-screen code was overcompensating to get an accurate location. Words With Friends simply isn't fun to play. The user interface should make it simple, and take as much frustration away as possible. Instead it adds much more frustration to something that I know can be done with far less hassle.

As a slight aside, there are two versions of Words with Friends in the marketplace. Everyone has access to the full price version, but Nokia have negotiated a second version that is a free download, albeit ad-supported. The advertising level is rather high, with full screen ads after making each move, and a banner on the lower screen. You're not going to miss any of the marketing going on.

I'd love to see the respective usage numbers and ARPU between the free and the paid-for client on Words with Friends, because I would speculate that people will junk the ad-supported version very quickly... but only if they are already heavy Words with Friends users. For those new to the game, and picking up the free version, my guess is they would be scared off rather quickly and never come back.

Zynga on Windows Phone Zynga on Windows Phone

Words with Friends has not been released into a vacuum of word games on Windows Phone. Words by Post has a far better user interface and is the slickest implementation. If the only consideration was the on-handset experience, Jeff Cole's game would be the winner. WordFeud is a bit more established with a larger player base and better Facebook integration, and there's very little to choose between it and Words by Post.

The only strength Words with Friends has is the huge user-base on Facebook. It took only a few hours of signing up in the client to have a number of my Facebook friends issuing me challenges to play a game. That's a very powerful draw to the Zynga client... but it's nowhere near enough to overcome the poor coding, inaccurate user interface, and general feeling of being sold out by Zynga just to play a game.

There will be many that are glad of a Words with Friends client, and I'm happy for them. For me this is a bad port, with no love, developed at the lowest possible cost, and no respect for the platform. I'll pass.

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