We’ve been waiting for today for quite a while! We’ve been pretty quiet—a lot more quiet than we used to be—about future directions over the past few months. We’ve had a lot of questions, for instance, about “When are new puzzle languages coming out?” and, of course, we’ve had a lot of questions about “When will you be on platform X?” Both of these have been good questions, but we’ve been deferring answering, because we wanted to time our news about Xbox LIVE correctly and we wanted to wait until we were closer to releasing something.
For those of you who’ve played Wordament for a long time, you might know that John and I are both long-time Microsoft employees. And today, we still are, but we now work full-time on Wordament inside of Microsoft Studios. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to spend all of our energies on this really fun game that we love to play, support, and improve! The hardest part of staying quiet all this time is that we’ve made a lot of improvements to Wordament and we haven’t been able to discuss them!
The first thing we’d like to talk about (and the topic of this post) is Xbox LIVE. What does it mean to have Wordament be an Xbox LIVE title? Well, Xbox LIVE brings a lot of great functionality to the table: your Gamertag, Gamerscore, Achievements, Avatars, Friends, and Leaderboards. We will be using each of these great features in an appropriate way, but we also want to stay true to this game that we all play and all love.
To take advantage of any of this functionality, though, means one important change: Moving from your existing Wordament screen name to an Xbox LIVE account and Gamertag. The good news is: Xbox LIVE accounts are free and easy to set up on the Phone, Windows 8, your Xbox game console, the Web (at www.xbox.com) or even on your iPhone with the Xbox LIVE app for iPhone.
This gets to some of the tough questions: what if my screen name is already taken and what happens to the stats from my old Wordament account? We know that there will be cases where your screen name may overlap with an existing Xbox LIVE Gamertag. In those cases, unfortunately, the account is taken. Both “scruff” and “john”, from the Wordament team are in this case, and they will need to get new names when they move to Xbox LIVE Gamertags. We will be providing an optional registry on Wordament.com if you are interested in leaving your old name and your new name, so folks can figure out who’s who and to continue to follow people as Frenemies. We’ll be talking more about that at a later date.
On the stats front, we’ve decided that with the launch on Xbox LIVE, we will be resetting everything to zero and starting a new tournament. Most importantly: We will be creating a “hall of fame” for players to go and see how they had done in our indie version. This leaderboard will be frozen in time, and our new Xbox LIVE version’s leaderboards will all use Xbox LIVE Gamertags and manage your new stats.
Why are we doing this? A lot of reasons, all of which we think are right for everyone: First, we want everyone to be able to experience Achievements. What does that mean, though, if you’ve already played hundreds of games? In many cases, it would mean that long-time players would start with nearly all achievements unlocked. While that would be great for your Gamerscore, we think it’s a lot of fun to earn the achievements.
The next benefit of resetting stats is that we think it will encourage people that have never tried the game to try it… because the playing field is initially leveled. In fact, we are considering making the “reset and archive to the hall of fame” an annual occurrence. If you were the best player in 2011, that’s terrific! And, you can be again in 2012, if you work at it. But, this brings a whole new opportunity for players to compete and best each other. Players that have moved on will not appear in this year’s leaderboard unless they play, but will be visible for all time in the Hall of Fame.
Another big benefit of moving to Xbox LIVE from an account perspective, is that it gives you—the player—all the power to self-service your account. Over the course of the past year, the single biggest support challenge for us has been player account support and management. We made a decision early on to be “as frictionless as possible” during the first run experience. This resulted in us asking you for a screen name, but no password, pin, e-mail address, or other identifying information. This has caused us a bunch of grief when phones got hard reset, when people got new Windows Live IDs, or when people wanted to change their name, country code, or merge an old Wordament account with another new Wordament account.
Xbox LIVE solves the account management problems because they are your single identity across games and across platforms. Now, we don’t need to collect ANY information from you, and you can control your account in all ways: what’s your Gamertag this week? What’s your country? and so on.
Achievements are a really fun way to show yourself and your friends how great you are at a game. Some games take achievements to a level that requires “super human” acts, and while we appreciate the small set of super human players that we have in Wordament, our fundamental principle was to make achievements fun and accessible to everyone. We are not going to list the final set of achievements in this post, but we will say that at least 60% of all Achievements are easily earnable by everyone. The remainder will take some work, but most will be achievable by everyone. We do not, for example, have an Achievement called “be the best in the world” that only would award Wicketewok. Similarly, we have no achievements that are speed based, like “get 80 words in a single game.” We have folks that do that all day long, but that bragging right is already visible in the leaderboard, and doesn’t need to be an achievement.
You may have noticed a “bug” in our Frenemies management page in our existing Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 apps. Some of you have more than the stated “25” maximum Frenemies. For example, you might have 37/25 Frenemies. This is because we are only “sort of” enforcing the 25 limit at the moment. Our Frenemies system has been massively scaled up for the coming release because on Xbox LIVE, every player can have 100 Xbox LIVE Friends.
“But, wait… Friends aren’t Frenemies!” you say! That’s right… They aren’t. And we are going to stay true to Wordament on this point. When you sign in to Wordament with your Xbox LIVE Gamertag, all of your Xbox LIVE Friends will automatically become Frenemies. But, just as today, you will continue to be able to “tap to follow” people without the added friction of having to make them a full Xbox LIVE Friend. If you know (or want to know) the person you are watching, “and they want to accept you as a friend”, then you can also, by all means, send a friend request. But, if you want to keep an eye on someone that plays near your rank, go ahead and tap on them. You will be able to track Frenemies just as today.
Xbox LIVE has a great feature called Avatars, that lets you dress and style a character however you like—in your likeness, or not. With our move to Xbox LIVE, we thought it was really fun to include your Avatar on the start screen next to your stats. We also have a new Frenemies management area where you can see all of your Xbox LIVE Friends and Wordament Frenemies in one spot, and see their Avatars. Ever wonder what Wicketewok looks like? Well, we won’t help you with that! But, we will show his Avatar!
Wordament’s Leaderboards are already great and will continue to improve as we continue working on this game. The launch of Wordament on Xbox LIVE is just the beginning of our next chapter, and not the final page in our saga. We expect to continue to improve and refine Wordament as long as players still come in and play. So, know that we’ve heard all of your requests for more features in the Leaderboards and we will be working hard to deliver many of your requests. Top amongst those that we’ve heard are returning a Frenemies-specific leaderboard, and providing different windows to your personal stats, like Average Score. About a month ago, we moved from “Best by Average Score (last 50 games)” to “Best by Average Score (all time)”. In the future we will be bringing (this month) and (this week) slices to average score so you can watch how you’ve improved. But, that is behind getting Wordament finalized on Windows Phone 7 (with Xbox LIVE) and Windows 8 (with Xbox LIVE).
In the past week, we launched an app preview of Wordament on Windows 8. This app straddles the two points on the timeline where we currently exist: our existing, in-market Wordament app for Windows Phone 7 and our future Wordament for Windows Phone 7 (with Xbox LIVE). The most important thing about the Windows 8 version (other than shipping) was making sure that everyone could play together. This was a huge opportunity for us to begin our quest for “cross screen gaming”—and we did it. If you download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview build, you can download Wordament and play with everyone else on Windows Phone. As we move forward with the transition to Xbox LIVE, we will be migrating everyone across both Phone and Windows 8 so that we can all continue to play together.
With the announcement of Wordament on Xbox LIVE also came our support for new languages: 7 to start: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, and Swedish. That will cover the UI languages for the app. We will also, separately, be launching a Beta of Wordament Spanish Edition when we ship Wordament (English Edition), followed by the other five languages. One of the reasons that language support took so long is that getting high quality lexicons in other languages is very difficult, if you want to do it legally. By having Wordament as a Microsoft title, we have the full power of Microsoft’s language resources at our disposal, including the full lexicons used by Microsoft for things like spell checking.
While this is really exciting, it has taken us about a year to get to the quality of English puzzles that we have today—and that’s been with continuous improvement. When we start in other languages (and we don’t speak many of these languages)—know that it’s going to take a little while to get the puzzles as great as they are in English. We are hoping that starting with Spanish Beta, the community can help us, as you always have, by providing feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
Last, but not least, we will continue to add more languages with time—so be sure to tell us the languages you’d like to play in next!
With the first preview of Wordament on Windows 8 last week, we showed that we can build a game and service that scales to multiple devices and multiple screen sizes. We aren’t announcing any other platforms at this time, but know that our desire to bring Wordament to as many players as possible remains as clear to us as ever. We know you want to see Wordament on all sorts of screens, and so do we.
Thanks for reading!
If you got this far: “Thanks!” It’s been a real pleasure to build this game and play with everyone over the past 11 months. As we move forward, we are looking to make Wordament even better, but not break the things that make it simple, fun, and addictive. This post was really centered on Xbox LIVE integration. In future posts, we will be discussing some of the great new features and improvements we’ve made to the game. We think we’ve added something great for everyone! See you in the leaderboards,
— Black Snapper