Problem (and solution) for poor Words with Friends user retention

Hello, my name is Anton Pronichenko and this is my first Medium post. Mostly an attempt to start writing content and put myself and my ideas out into the world (and community) of the internet. As some background, I applied to Zynga in Nov last year for the rotational product management program and did not move past the online case section.

I was driven to write this as I watched my whole swim team pick up Words with Friends during our on-campus winter training. What I saw as I observed their interactions with the game reminded me of why I stopped playing in the first place, and here is my breakdown of the problem and my proposed solutions for Zynga.

Player:

  1. Logs into Words with Friends
  2. Starts a game to satisfy boredom
  3. Game does not receive immediate response and thus does not fully satisfy boredom/reason for playing
  4. Starts another game, and this cycle continues as the games do not satisfy the player’s immediate need for gaming

Further down the timeline:

  1. Eventually all of the games get responses and come back to the user “seemingly at once”
  2. User is overwhelmed with all the games and cannot fully commit to most or any of their games
  3. User gives up and stops playing

Problem: Users can’t satisfy their immediate craving of playing Words with Friends and thus create a large amount of games, only to become overwhelmed and disengaged once all of the games return to our user.

Although Words with Friends has many users that stay engaged with their games in the long-term, some such as myself and several swimmers are looking for a more immersive and engaging gaming experience in the short-term (in that specific moment). Because the normal gameplay of Words with Friends does not satisfy this need…

Solution: Introduce new types of gameplay within Words with Friends to satisfy the needs/desires of these gamers.

Gameplay proposal #1: Timed/live games

Create a gameplay variant within Words with Friends that has a 2 minute time limit per move for each player. Players who select this gameplay will be matched live, and because of their similar desires of playing a game right then and there, they will both remain engaged in this quick-paced game and refrain from starting many games (which will only lead them to quit later).

I would also add a feature for each player to be able to use one 5 min break in each game, to account for any necessary breaks like a trip to the restroom or parents yelling at a younger user to take out the trash.

*I am aware of Zynga’s “Fast Play” gameplay, which has a 12-hour time limit for each move and was released in July 2015. Although my suggestion is similar to this, a 12-hour time limit is not enough to satisfy the desire of the gamer seeking instant gratification.

Mock-up

Gameplay proposal #2: Mid-game games

Create a gameplay variant with 5 moves per player per game. Players will enter a randomly created mid-game (~30 letters placed as ~3–6 words randomly created by computer) and have a limited amount of turns for a quicker game. Having the player enter into a already developed game makes the game instantly more exciting with many word combination options. The randomly made words should be centrally placed on the board to create the most potential moves for each player.

New 5-move game

I believe that introducing these new gameplays into Words with Friends would cater to the desires of many gamers who end up dropping and becoming disengaged with Words with Friends. Any type of drop-off/disengagement of players is bad for Words with Friends and Zynga, and creating the option of up-tempo gameplay will:

  1. keep users looking for a quick thrill engaged
  2. keep users from starting too many games to handle (which instead leads to their eventual feeling of being overwhelmed by many games and quitting)

I wrote this up fairly quickly in the past couple of days and am very open to feedback and further discussing the stated problem, the proposals, and more. Feel free to reach me at pronichenk@gmail.com as well. :)

Best, Anton

Edit: The solution solves another user concern. A WwF user commented, “I stopped because the exorbitant amount of time allotted to put down a word created the pressure to always put down the best word possible for max points… and that stressed me out and I’d just rather have everyone get 2 minutes to put their best word down like you suggested”.