When we first launched Wordament, we didn’t have any sort of “social” features. John and I have joked many times that Wordament is the “antisocial network”—or perhaps more correctly stated: Wordament provides “crowd-based gaming.” Everyone is effectively doing their own thing, and trying their best. And, because everyone gets the same board and the same period of time and the game has no chance-based elements, it is possible to rank everyone against each other with complete fairness and correctness.
Because we started from nothing, and had neither a brand, a community, or any idea whether this game would go anywhere, we took took some simplifying engineering shortcuts. In our real-time leaderboard, we simply downloaded the full results of every player into every phone after every game. But, by early summer of 2011 we had a problem. We started getting 110 – 150 results per round. Not only did this produce a large download of text (remember most phones are still on 3G and some are on Edge—and often people are playing in challenging environments like busses and trains with lots of other data-heavy users competing for airwaves). The result was that it started taking so long to download, process, and format the results, that people got about 5 seconds to peek at the results before the next game started.
This led to a feat of necessity: Frenemies. We knew that it would be cool to be able to follow your close friends and family—so that was one component of where the feature came from. We also needed to cull the results down to something manageable if we were going to continue to grow our player base. Frenemies solved this too! By allowing players to specify who they wanted to follow, it meant that we could reduce the results to the three windows that matter:
- Your Frenemies (the people you care to compete with the most)
- The Top players (the folks that all make us feel like we flunked 3rd grade spelling)
- Results near your rank (people that are most likely to be able to compete with you round-over-round in a competitive way.
Beyond these windows of results, we could drop everything else. This means that regardless of how many players there are, you can see results and how you did in the tiny amount of time we allocate for real-time results.
The other thing we really liked about Frenemies was the friction-free experience associated with making someone a Frenemy. Just tap their name in the results. There was no confirmation required from the Frenemy, because we don’t let you communicate.
Players have asked time-over-time: tell me who is tracking me! “No”, we say—for the simple reason that we don’t want Frenemies to become this complicated and frictionful experience when you just want to watch how other people that you know (whether in-person or by screen name) are doing.
One of our biggest concerns with moving to Xbox LIVE was: what do we do with Frenemies? Xbox LIVE has a great system to keeping deep, meaningful player relationships: Friends. We knew that we wanted to support that, but we also really liked the fact that it’s possible to Frenemy people you don’t know. This is where that earlier sentiment of “crowd based gaming” comes in. In a crowd of people, some are “more interesting to watch” than others. Just because you see someone interesting, though, doesn’t mean you want to get to know them. You may not want to engage in chat, or video, or game parties with these people, just because they can find words better than you. So, we’ve always made an intentional and explicit choice to not offer social features that might explode into weird chat room shenanigans or creepy stalker stuff where people would have to be warned and banned for inappropriate conduct.
Xbox LIVE solves this problem for us. In the new Wordament, we get to have our cake and eat it too. When you sign in to the new Xbox LIVE enabled Wordament, all of your Xbox LIVE friends are automatically added to your list of Frenemies. You don’t have to do anything—it just happens. But, you still have the really simple and frictionless ability to follow people that you see in the results without having to make a full Xbox LIVE Friend request. My close friends and family are on my Xbox LIVE Friends list. And others, whose Wordament skills I admire, but will probably never meet, can be on my Frenemies list. To accommodate the inclusion of Xbox LIVE Friends, we’ve now moved the Frenemy limit to 150. This allows players that have a full 100 Friends to also have room for an additional 50 Wordament Frenemies. Beyond that point, we are back to the problem that got us here in the first place: too many results being downloaded and rendered, takes too much time between rounds.
Below is a look at the Frenemies pivot off of Wordament’s new Start screen:
“But what about CHAT?” This is still an interesting comment that we get. Given that we are all trying to focus and do our best during the 2:00 game window, I don’t know how anyone could hope to chat. You wouldn’t. “Make a chat room” some say… we have one: it’s called Facebook. Over the past year, some of our best players have Liked us on Facebook and we have thousands of players that interact with us and each other there. If you want to brag about your score: tell us there! We love hearing about it. If you join our Facebook page, you can meet other players, hear the latest news, and chat.
The last thing we wanted to talk about was our new Frenemies management experience. Because Xbox LIVE has Gametags and Avatars, one of the things that we thought would be really fun, would be to allow you to “see your Frenemies”. Wanna see what Wicketewok looks like? Well, you can’t. But you can look at his Avatar! As you scroll through your list of Friends and Frenemies, you can tap on a Gamer Picture to see that player’s avatar. It’s fun and we think it adds to the Friends and Frenemies experience in a nice way.
We hope you like what we’ve done with Friends and Frenemies. We think it extends an already simple concept without requiring any additional friction or complication. Let us know what you think!
— Black Snapper