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.
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 That is about five years out of date now, so I cannot expect everything new to run on it… though I ran EVE Echoes on it and a few other more graphically advanced games as well. And Words With Friends… it is a freaking Scrabble knock-off, how do you make that unplayable on any but the most out of date devices?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 Ark. Lost 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.
So it goes with Zynga. That always seems to be the final play.