Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Developers of Words With Friends, based out of McKinney, tell us what’s next
The concept of social interaction on an iPhone game has netted them 4 million downloads of Words With Friends alone.
MCKINNEY If you've been playing Words With Friends and tried to start a new game with “Paul,” you may have been surprised to find it wasn't your friend Paul. It was Paul Bettner, McKinney resident and co-creator of one of the most addicting iPhone games on the planet, Words with Friends.
“I have to decline multiple games a day because I have such a common username, 'Paul.' Lots of people start a game with me thinking I'm their friend Paul, when in actuality their real friend Paul is named WORDSMASTER5000 or something like that,” said Bettner of the game that's now tallied 4 million downloads. And sure, Bettner still plays the game plenty: He's currently playing 17 WWF games on his iPhone.
By the numbers with the Words With Friends guys:
What's the highest single score you've seen? 1400+ points. It actually broke the score display in the game (we never anticipated a word score in the quadruple digits.) The word was OXYPHENBUTAZONE.
When did the first version of WWF come out? July 2009
What's your average score when you (Paul) play against your friends? Um ... I'm a 300's player (my average ending score).
Who's better at the game, you or your brother? Um ... Dave is a 250's player. ;-)
Bet you wanted to know ... Are you allowed to play words of which you don't know the meaning? Are you asking me whether I'd actually endorse cheating? What kind of person do you think I am?
If you're new to WWF, it's a crossword-like iPhone app where players make words on a game board. It's akin to a game of Scrabble, except that the points systems differ. And when we learned that this game was created right here in Dallas-Fort Worth, we had to hear more.
Bettner and his brother, Dave, started the company Newtoy in McKinney after working at Microsoft. The brothers were making Xbox games for a living, a vocation they both loved. But when the iPhone came out, they wanted to create games that were more interactive. “When I (used to) tell people what I do – I make video games – they look at me funny. That sounds cool for a 13-year-old boy! Now I make iPhone games, and people think it's cool,” Paul said.
The brothers wanted to release a game that wouldn't cost a ton of money, they wanted to do it quickly, and they wanted it to have a different feel than a Nintendo DS or an Xbox game. Before they knew it, WWF became the kind of game that's more than just a points system; it's social interaction. Players can “chat” with their opponents during games by texting them little notes, and most WWF addicts begin to know the people they play against, even if they've never met them.
“The thing that excites me so much is when you play Words With Friends, it kind of feels like email or text messaging,” Paul said. “It's like gaming meets text messaging. It's this weird cross between communication and playing a game, and the iPhone is the only thing that can do that.”
What they learned is they'd created is a technological phenomenon that had few demographic barriers. “It's everybody: It's housewives, it's older men, it's young kids. I'm actually making a game now that my wife loves to play. She wants me to fix bugs!” Paul said.
The company's most recent news is that they unveiled an iPad version of WWF on Saturday. Bettner and his staff members were some of the first to purchase an iPad at the Apple store at Stonebriar Mall in Frisco on Saturday. Everyone at Newtoy got one, plus Paul bought three more: one for his wife, one for his mother, and one for his mother-in-law. The first thing they did after grabbing it out of the packaging? Download Words With Friends! “None of us had actually seen it on the iPad. We had to submit it sight unseen,” he said.” Because they couldn't work out bugs beforehand, the push notifications don't work. Paul plans on releasing a new version this week to update that problem, plus new releases about once a month from here on out.
Paul plans to add new features to the game, like Facebook integration and adding avatars so players can see who they're playing against. They also just released a Farmville-style game called We Rule. “That's done extremely well so far,” he said. “It's in the top 10 and has over 1 million downloads in just a few weeks.” Next they'll put out “some really killer games with friends” that they can't share more info on just yet.
“As an entrepreneur, you always have dreams about … taking over the world or whatever. But I didn't expect this level,” Paul said, still sounding astonished. “Words With Friends is ridiculously popular.”
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