Category Archives: Zynga

No More Words with Strangers

I wrote about Words with Friends not so long ago, a post titles Word with Strangers, since that is who I ended up playing 99% of the time.

I actually have had a number of things I thought I would write about when it came to the game.  The ads, the type of people you run into, the scammers who will chat you up (the game allows live chat, so I guess you can become friends), all sorts of things.

I was even considering a post dedicated to the various types of close buttons that ads have, ranging anywhere from an actual, human finger sized button that says “close” on it, to buttons that don’t work, disappearing buttons, buttons that looks like an “X” to close but which open up a web page, to those tiny “X” buttons that are so small that you are almost guaranteed to trigger the ad and open up the company’s web site a few times before you’re able to tap in exactly the right spot.

And then there was the creeping monetization.  The game shows you ads as a way to make money, but Zynga really, really wants you to give them some money and have over time added all sorts of dumb things to their cash shop as well as restricting what players can do to push them towards spending.

How about no? Also, that is the normal price, not 90% off.

For $12.99 I can get all sorts of new cosmetics that I’ll never use and get remove ads for a WHOLE WEEK?  Guess which finger I am holding up.  Go on, I’ll wait.

In the end though, all of that fell by the wayside because the game just stopped running on my iPad.  I was willing to make a game of the ad buttons and avoiding the monetization, but when the game crashes constantly, it is time for the end.

Now, I do have a rather old iPad at this point, and iPad Air 2.  That is about five years out of date now, so I cannot expect everything new to run on it… though I ran EVE Echoes on it and a few other more graphically advanced games as well.  And Words With Friends… it is a freaking Scrabble knock-off, how do you make that unplayable on any but the most out of date devices?

Well, that was actually pretty easy.  I watched it happen.  I could see it happening.

The Words With Friends team, like any live game team, and games like this are live games as much as any MMO is a live game, are constantly looking to update and improve and add to the game.  This is especially common in mobile games, a constant evolution towards something… or a chaotic grab bag of features thrown at the wall hoping something will stick… I can’t really tell which is a more accurate description sometimes.

Anyway, I could see the Word With Friends team piling on new features, especially over the last year, reworking how some older things played, but often just adding whole new features on top of the game as it stood.

The problem seemed to be in how things were queued up.  I would make a move in the morning and the game would want to tell me about a daily play reward, a weekly task I had accomplished, an achievement I had achieved, a different play mode that they would still like me to try, that it was my move with another opponent, and yet another person was trying to chat with me in hopes of getting me to buy then Google Play gift cards in exchange for naked pictures… all while trying to show me another ad, often of a game that wanted to load up a playable demo.

And it wouldn’t do this all nicely, one at a time.  It would pop a message for one thing, send me to another, then finally pop the ad for the last move I made… but not before freezing up for 5-10 seconds while it tried to get its act together.  (I want to say it would freeze up for 30 seconds or more, but I know that most people drastically overestimate how long they wait for something to load.  I’ve seen the studies on that sort of thing, and they are usually spot on… except for Lost ArkLost Ark does take freaking minutes to launch.  I’ve timed it.)

If had just be some lag, waiting for the app to sort itself out and get rolling, I could have probably stuck it out.  I had been a very regular player, generally play a bit in bed in the morning, then while watching TV in the evening, where I am generally only semi-attentive to the game so waiting out lag isn’t a big deal.

Then they made a big change to the task and reward system, which was not only bloated and annoying compared to the previous system, but also had the side effect of crashing the app whenever I made some progress on one of the tasks.  And since one of the weekly tasks is always “score x points” any move I made besides passing caused an update and a crash.

And, frankly, that is too much.  I can put up with a lot, but the game actually running reliable is kind of a baseline expectation that they could not deliver.  So it got the Farmville response.

Happy FarmVille Memories

So it goes with Zynga.  That always seems to be the final play.

Words with Strangers

It has come to this.  It is 2021 and I am writing a blog post about a Zynga game.  This time it is Words with Friends.  Though I guess I do have a Zynga category on the blog, so at least there is some history there.

Happy FarmVille Memories

Stranger still is that this is my third attempt at a post about the game since 2019, at least one of which got bogged down in a 750 word aside about Zynga, Mark Pincus, and that time Richard Garriott thought it would be a great idea to get in bed with the company, which all took on a life of its own and had to be abandoned.  I’ve written about all of that before.

Time to start with a fresh page.

So what is Words with Friends?

It is a blatant rip-off of Scrabble, but in this day everything is a blatant rip-off of something else, so it is hard to hold that against it.  If we turned our collective noses up at that sort of thing there would be little new to play.

And I like Scrabble.  We used to play it after dinner at Thanksgiving until it began to turn into a blood sport and we had to stop to maintain family unity.  Unfortunately, on mobile, EA holds the rights to Scrabble and have produced a monstrosity that is both buy to play AND littered with ads AND is broken every other build according to a friend who persists in trying to play it, having spent the money.

Instead I play Words with Friends because at least you don’t have to buy it up front.  Also, my daughter started playing it and asked my wife and I to play and then they both stopped after two weeks and I kept on going.

At its simplest it is an only rip-off of Scrabble, so the board will look familiar to any who have played the old staple.  And all the usual moves are there.  You can play a word, pass, swap out tiles, forfeit, or piss off the other person who is winning by taking your damn time to play.

The Words with Friends screen

I play on the iPad in landscape mode, which I find optimal, but you can play on your phone if you so desire.  Just make sure you have unlimited data or a WiFi hot spot nearby.

However, this being the online version of a board game, there are some differences and quirks.

To start with, you can only play against a single opponent.  That keeps everything simple, keeps one slug from holding up a whole group, and all that, but it does cut out some of the interesting flavor that a multi-sided game can bring.  I have been known to feed the person to my left big scoring opportunities just to be sure the person to my right… usually my mother-in-law…. won’t win. (She is a bad winner and a worse loser… but more entertaining and less insufferable as a loser.)

And then there is the fact that you can only play valid words.

This might seem like a “well, duh” to the uninitiated, but there is a whole dynamic to words and bluffing that comes into the live board game.  I once played the word “ponys,” declaring it to be the plural of “pony” in a game and, because nobody had successfully challenged one of my words up to that point, the rest of the table let it pass fearing I might pull some sort of Old English variation out of the Official Scrabble Dictionary sitting there on the corner of the table. (I was bluffing.)

So there is no bluffing in WWF.  But, beyond that, there is the opportunity for what I call the “brute force” play, where you just shove letters at the board where you have something like a triple word score hoping you’ll find something that sticks.  And since WWF uses a combined US/UK dictionary, and the two countries divided by a common language can’t agree on how to spell anything more complex than “cat,” brute force opportunities abound.

And then there is cheating.

It is certainly easy enough to put your letters into Google and see what words will show up.  And I am sure if you Google “Scrabble cheat” you will find sites to help you, or lists of words that have a “Q” and no “U,” or even apps that will help you find the optimum word.

Top of the results in the App Store

I am always mildly suspicious of people who never have a turn where they end up playing that 5 point, two letter word.  But they can be hard to suss out because the game has its own, built-in, monetized cheating as well.

Up at the top of the board you may have seen these three tokens.

The Three Sanctioned Cheats

Those three are, from left to right, Word Radar, Swap+, and Word Clue.

Word Radar shows shows you all the possible places you can play one of your tiles based on the in-game dictionary.

Word Radar in Action

It will also sell you the best scoring moves for 30 coins, coins being the primary in-game currency, which I will get to in a bit.

Word Clue will offer you a moderate good word to play, highlighting the spot on the board and the letters in your hand.

And then there is Swap+, which lets you swap tiles without losing your turn.

As you can see, I have 99+ Word Radar tokens, 99+ Word Clue tokens, and 30 Swap+ tokens, so you can probably figure out what I use the most.

There is also one more token, Hindsight, which will tell you what the best move was after you have played.  I have 99+ of those as, in most cases it isn’t much use.

Which brings us to how the game earns money.

Ads.  The game is mostly about serving up ads.  When playing against another player, after each move, you get an ad.  I may write a post about the wide variety of ads that come up, the ones that are good, the ones that are bad, the ones that are broken, the devious and downright shitty things they do with the dismiss button, and how I can tell when my wife is looking at the Macy’s web site on her computer because I start getting Macy’s ads for the things she is searching on.

The ads are a deal breaker for some.  For me they are part of the challenge, and I am well practiced in spotting how to dismiss ads in the quickest possible fashion.  The biggest downside of the ads is that they require constant network traffic to load them up which will eat into your battery run time.  Not as bad as Pokemon Go, but it is noticeable.

Ads are the baseline revenue stream, but Zynga will also happily sell you things.  Coins, for example, to buy those sanctioned cheats.

Fortunately you can also earn coins by completing daily and weekly tasks, which I always go out of my way to do.  I save up my coins and spend them on Swap+ tokens.  You can also earn the tokens themselves, which is why I have 99+ of the other three tokens I so rarely use.

And then there are whole packages you can buy with special portrait frames, colorful tile sets, emojis that you can send to your opponent with your play (which I have never seen anybody use ever), and even some ad free time, though the prices are ludicrously high.  I think the last time I saw an ad free package it was $39.99, which is a screw job level of price.

But that is all there to harvest whales.  The ads are where the steady income flows.  And you can tell that they worry about that.  Apple’s new opt-in requirement for ad tracking has them fretting a bit.

If you have 82% then you don’t need me, right?

Anyway, with all of that I still play daily.  You can find me using my usual handle, Wilhelm Acturus, if you are just dying to beat me in Scrabble.

Now that we’re here at the end of the post, I realize that I have left the title somewhat unexplained, though I imaging that you can probably guess the meaning.  Since my wife and daughter stopped playing I have ended up in matches against a host of random strangers.  There is a whole match making mechanic and it pushes likely opponents at you, so I have ended up playing against a regular group of people who are mostly women whom I tend to think of as being my grandmother’s age.

And then I remember my grandmother would have been 102 last week and has been dead for 25 years and that I am now the age I remember her being, so perhaps I have found my demographic.

Friday Bullet Points on a Tuesday just to Catch Up

Basically, the month slipped by and ends tomorrow and there were several things I think I should have mentioned, if only to set their place in the timeline of what happened this month.  So on to summaries and links and bullet points.

  • LOTRO Planning a “Mini” Expansion

Standing Stone Games announced that Lord of the Rings Online will be getting a mini expansion pack titled War of the Three Peaks next month.  SSG will be treating it like an expansion in that it will be available in three different versions:

  • Normal Edition – $20
  • Collector’s Edition – $59
  • Ultimate Edition – $99

SSG has been less than forthcoming as to what players will get for the extra $39 or $79, aside from the possibility of boar mounts.  Reaction to this mini expansion has been mixed.

I’m holding my own opinion on value until SSG comes out with more details, but my past experience with Adventure packs, an idea that shows up at Daybreak every so often, only to be disavowed, places my expectations low.

  • EVE Online Mineral Redistribution Plan

CCP put out a dev blog on Friday about the next steps in their economic work, calling it a “redistribution” plan.  However, it reads much more like a continuation of the “starvation” plan that they have been working on so far, with more things being removed from various areas of space and reducing yields on what remains.  The forum thread regarding this change exploded, which was no surprise.  Likewise, the chat in the live stream discussing the changes blew up as several devs tried not to pour gasoline on the fire and failed. (You can watch a re-run of the live stream or read a transcript if you’re that interested.)

Cutting through much of the general rage about the changes, it seems like CCP is trying to solve super capital proliferation via minerals.  However, supers use the same minerals as T1 subcaps, so T1 stuff is going to feel the same resource squeeze.  Updates that are all pain for no gain never fly well with the base.

The changes are supposed to come mid-October, so look for people to be mining heavily until that happens in an effort to try and insulated themselves from the already spiking mineral prices.

  • EVE Online Ship Models

CCP has a deal going with Mixed Dimensions to make models of EVE Online ships that players can buy, who have just added more hulls to those available.

I have always been a bit dubious about the ship models thing since the battleship models from more than a decade ago, not to mention the floating Nyx model that was a bust.  But maybe this time enough players… who always say they want these sorts of things… will actually pony up and buy them.  For me, however, the prices are a bit rich.  And I have that Rifter model from the 10th anniversary special in any case.

  • Microsoft buys ZeniMax Media

Microsoft agreed to pay $7.5 billion to acquire ZeniMax Media.  That name might sound familiar as they own id Software (Doom franchise), Arkane Studios (Prey, Dishonored), MachineGames (Wolfenstein franchise), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), Bethesda Softworks (Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises), and ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online).

While there will be no immediate change to any of the studios or their titles, it does raise the question as to what in the future will be exclusive to XBox and what will be available on other consoles or even on the PC.

  • Sony PlayStation 5 Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

As foretold by every similar experience in the past, the pre-order process was swamped by people looking to get the new PlayStation 5 console, slated to ship in November, and by people looking to grab one to scalp on eBay to take advantage of desperate consumers as the holiday shopping season begins.  If you Google what happened, the word “fiasco” seems to be a common thread in much of the reporting.  Some of the confusion was caused by retailers putting pre-orders up for sale a day early.  Sony apologized for what happened and promised to do better in the future.

  • Microsoft XBox Series X and S Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

Later in the week Microsoft opened up pre-orders for the coming XBox Series X and S consoles, slated to ship in November, leading to another rush to get in first to claim a unit, either to own or to scalp later.  While things were less chaotic (the news stories rank the event somewhere between “mess” and “debacle,” which is better than a “fiasco” I think) there were still issues and all units were quickly sold out.

The added dimension here is that the XBox One X, a previous generation console, saw a spike in orders at the same time, so it is quite possible that at least a few people are going to be very disappointed to find out that they were duped by Microsoft’s naming scheme into ordering the wrong unit.

  • Foreclosing on your Farmville

Zynga announced that they will be shutting down Farmville at the end of the year.

Farmville, the big break out game for Mark Pincus and Zynga and the poster child for Facebook “social gaming,” which at its 2011 peak had more than 80 million players, was also the standard bearer for annoying garbage games that made you pester your Facebook friends or straight up pay cash to advance and help define the whole genre as spammy pieces of shit.

Of course, that is what you get when your founder doesn’t even really like games all that much.

The surprise here isn’t so much that the game is shutting down but that it was still up and running.  Then again, literally the most profitable thing that Zynga has done during its entire existence was buy property in the SF Bay Area.  I am told that selling their building earned them more than all of their games combined over the last decade.  And, as they lucked into the social gaming on Facebook trend, they managed to luck into the peak, pre-pandemic real estate market in SF.  Good for their investors I guess.

I expect I will come up with a few choice words for the game, the company, and the genre to mark the final passing of the game in December.

  • EA Secretly Craves Lockbox Regulations

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

I’m throwing this one in here at the last minutes just to keep me from writing another two thousand word screed on the self-destructive behavior that greed drives this industry towards.

According to a story over at Massively OP, EA decided that advertising their FIFA 20 lockboxes in a children’s toy catalog (Smyths’ Magazine) was a good idea.  My bullet point for this section is obviously sarcasm, but only just.  The only other reason I could imaging EA thinking it was a good idea to effectively throw some red meat in front of legislators keen to declare lockboxes gambling targeted at children is that they believed that the current pandemic and political unrest would provide sufficient cover for their plan… their plan to target lockboxes at children.

This is so dumb, like a dumb sandwich with a side order of dumb and a 16oz cup of dumb to wash it all down level of dumb, that I had to stop and check other sources to make sure this wasn’t a hoax because somewhere in the back of my head something was saying that even EA could not be this dumb.

And yet, here we are.

I mean sure, I guess that the ESA declaration on lockboxes last year, who among the signatories you will find EA, didn’t specifically say that targeting children was bad. But I guess I didn’t think that needed to be said.  As I wrote a year ago, this is how you get your industry regulated.

Quote of the Day – Social Gaming in Hindsight

A lot of people now equate ‘game on Facebook’ to ‘spammy piece of shit,’ which I don’t think is an unfair or inaccurate estimation of the situation

Scott Jon Siegel, quoted at Gamasutra on social gaming

Gamasutra is moving into one of the things they do really well, which is looking at how things unfolded in some aspect of the gaming industry in hindsight by pulling in key players and getting them to talk about their experiences.

The topic of the moment is social gaming… which pretty much means games on Facebook… and articles like the one above are starting to show up to examine the phenomena.

Of course, it is tough to pick just one quote out of that article.  Gems abound, such as:

any Facebook game he tries will be poorly designed, lack invention, try to trick him into spending money and spamming friends, and start emailing him regularly without permission

And the especially damming:

You had a huge population of product managers, game designers, and developers making games that they themselves didn’t like

You hear a lot of “game studios are businesses” and “they have to make money” when anybody complains about monetization in games.  Those sentiments are true enough, if not exactly a defense against any particularly odious money making scheme.   But when your studio becomes all about the money and cashing in and being the next Zynga, well, something is wrong.

And a lot of the blame in the article goes on Zynga, both for their questionable business practices as well as for their huge initial success attracting copycats and wooing Facebook to tie themselves to the Zynga model.  In the end, so-called social gaming went from a giant cash cow, to a more modest one that now requires some originality to stand out.  You can still make money.  Look at Candy Crush Saga.

An interesting read, and one I am sure some people will take a great deal of satisfaction in.  “I told you so!” should spring to mind for some.

Additional fodder: These two videos about Cow Clicker and Age of Empires Online.

Extra Credit Question: Lord British was telling people they would be stupid not to make an MMO when World of Warcraft was the big, big thing.  He then jumped on the social gaming bandwagon and even attempted to hitch his star to Zynga at one point.  Now he has a crowd-funded project.  What does that say about crowd-funding?

Quote of the Day – Bored With All Games

Right now, I’m pretty bored with all games

-Mark Pincus, former Zynga CEO in a Wall Street Journal interview

On the one hand, his longing for the early days of FarmVille, to which he claimed to be “addicted,” is an understandable emotion, at least to me.  I certainly long to relive the early excitement of some games.

On the flip side… really, FarmVille is the pinnacle of your gaming excitement?



But I think it is clear from his history that Mr. Pincus was looking for a way to make money in life, not a way to make games.  I particularly like this old quote:

I did every horrible thing in the book, too, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it


Well he made money and left his mark on an industry.  I still wonder what Lord British thought we was getting into before Zynga pretty much fell apart.

Hat tip: Game Politics

The Zynga Business Plan Moves Forward

My daughter and I were watching Spongebob together when we saw a commercial for this:

Hungry Hungry Herd

Technically, it is not a simple rip-off of some other company’s idea, the classic Zynga approach, because Hasbro owns Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Zynga and Hasbro are in bed together on this one.  But it certainly feels like a poor recycling job to me, with 50 Farm Cash thrown in as a “Digital Value for Parents Inside!”  I suppose at least they are pretending to feed adult addiction to the game rather than overtly suggesting the kids go log on and play.

Of course, in looking this up, I found that Hasbro and Zynga have recycled a few other classic games with a FarmVille theme.

I would add that there is even a CityVille version of Monopoly… but what brand hasn’t gone for their own version of Monopoly at this point?

With the Empire Crumbling, What of Darth British?

Zynga’s Emperor Palpapincus had only just recruited Lord British, turning him into Darth British (yeah, I decided to go with that just to keep things simple), with the promise of teaching him the dark arts of monetization and giving eternal life to half-baked cow-clicking games.

You’re right Mark, these helmets are great!

In the words of recently turned gaming jedi:

“Not just Zynga’s, but lots of social games use monetization strategies that, as a hardcore gamer, I find offensive, frankly,” Garriott admits. “I really don’t like games that constantly pester me to pay. I find it radically interferes with my suspension of disbelief. So, I’m devoted in the Ultimate RPG game to finding novel monetization strategies that don’t offend me like some of these do. Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux (Darth British), on his partnership with Zynga

How often has a hero fallen in an attempt to learn the tricks of his foe by becoming what he opposes?  It certainly seems to come up a lot in juvenile pulp novels, so clearly it is a menace.

Failing to heed the warning of… well… many people… that once you start down the dark path with Zynga, forever shall it haunt your resume, the newly minted Darth British swore fealty to a new master.

And then, as the recruitment of this gaming luminary was nearly complete, Zynga totally took a dump on the living room floor.

There were $52 million in losses, layoffs, and the whole “EA is pissed and coming to sue you” dimension to what can only be seen as a setback for the Zynga empire.

Emporer Palpapincus issued a statement declaring, “While the last several months have been challenging for us, Zynga remains well positioned to capitalize on the growth of social gaming.”  He was then heard to mutter something about the second FarmVille being “fully operational” and there being “no civility in gaming, only ARPU” as he stalked off.

Which leads us to the next cliff hanger.

What course will Darth British choose?  Is he in too deep?  Has he signed in blood?  Has he committed his Ultimate Collector and Ultimate RPG to the fires of the Zynga sweatshop?

And is it ironic that EA, who he was totally trying woo… at least in the press… not only thwarted his Ultima aspirations, but has taken up arms against Zynga?

For whom will our hero(?) show a fondness next?

Question of the Day – What Will Lord British’s Sith Name Be?

The more I think about this, the more the Anakin Skywalker / Richard Garriott de Cayeux parallel fits.

So here we are.  As I posted yesterday, Lord British acknowledges that Zynga is evil, or at least really annoying.  And since they are annoying not only purpose, but to their own material benefit, how does one distinguish that from evil? (See Tobold definition.)  And what is the Lord British response?

I’ll use this knowledge for good!

Knowing the truth, and even acknowledging it publicly and repeatedly, Lord British has still partnered with, and has been accepted as the apprentice of, a card carrying Sith Lord, the man who has admitted in the past that the ends clearly justify the mediocre means (the ends being increasing his wealth and power, as opposed to, say, making good games), Darth Pincus.

(Not to be confused with Greg Pincus, though the methods may sound similar.)

In the words of Lord British, when reflecting on the evil of Zynga:

Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.

Holy crap!

As a rabid consumer of crap science fiction and fantasy in my youth… and my relative youth… and, well, into middle age frankly… I know that this can only end one way.

Offensive monetization strategy? Sounds great!

So the immediate next question for me is, what name will Darth Pincus bestow upon his new apprentice?

And here is where things get a bit fuzzy, as the whole Sith naming structure is pretty opaque to me.  Do they have some deeper meaning?  Are they some sort of subtle mockery of their past, pre-Sith life?  Are they just supposed to sound badass so as to strike fear into their enemies and make it easier for movie goers to figure out who the bad guy really is when they are off screen?

So I can only guess how Lord British will be restyled once his transformation has begun.

Darth BritanniaVille?

Darth CosPlay?

Darth SoyuzVille?

What do you think it will be.  Who will rise up to cast down Darth Pincus and redeem our misguided hero?  And will George Lucas get involved somehow and screw the whole thing up?

This whole thing needs a web comic or something.  And a better version of Darth Vader’s head pasted on Lord British.  I was short on time before work this morning.

Quote of the Day – Lord British and a Fondness for Zynga

“Not just Zynga’s, but lots of social games use monetization strategies that, as a hardcore gamer, I find offensive, frankly,” Garriott admits. “I really don’t like games that constantly pester me to pay. I find it radically interferes with my suspension of disbelief. So, I’m devoted in the Ultimate RPG game to finding novel monetization strategies that don’t offend me like some of these do. Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, on his partnership with Zynga

I suppose we will see who ends up corrupting/influencing who in this partnership.

How are things with Mark Pincus?

Lord British and his company, Portalarium, teaming up with the foundering “Ville” magnate made the news a while back.  I hope he learns the right lessons for his Ultimate RPG.

I guess he must be pretty happy now that EA and Blizzard “let” Zynga have the casual market… such that it is.