The life and death of Frienduel

What is Frienduel? With the increased focus on Messenger games that were coming (soon) and the notion of bots in the tech industry Frienduel was a concept to be born. Well…kinda.

Initial thoughts
Bots and Messenger games are going to be on fire! Verizon Labs (Catalyst Foundry innovation team) decided to work in the area with a few games and bots for Facebook Messenger. This was a hot space we wanted to get a jump on in the industry so…..

We went big!

To form concepts, we started throwing things at the wall, the first concept built was Tic Tac Toe. Well not big, but big enough to get started.

The UI/Visuals were created in about 20 minutes, assets handed off to dev and they had it humming within a Facebook messenger test. We then knew we could play in this space quickly.

As the space grew, we moved on from Tic Tac Toe to a more elaborate prediction game based on current events that users could “duel” each other through the messenger platform.

Trial 1 — Frienduel was born

Quickly we realized that with the limitations of the messenger platform, doing a prediction game could be quite a confusing user experience and users would not get a sense of history and/or understand the transition from messenger into the Frienduel app.

Since the passion was still there, we decided to architect a standalone app that would give users the ability to discover, predict and be alerted when friends play each other….properly.

The new version would be successful in that it would eliminate the flows from the messenger platform to the Frienduel app which would help solve confusion points. It would also be a contained experience that would alert the user on the OS level when predictions were being won or lost to bring them back into the app.

Initial concepts were whiteboarded and wireframed quickly since we had the overall concept framed….

Design, build….tweak, design build…tweak more.

Our process was simple, yet fast. We did a limited amount of mood boards and visual explorations due to the fact that we were pressured to keep development working. We knew we could re-skin fast if needed.

First release concepts had most inspiration from the game-like culture with various animations and reward systems. “Leaderboards, experience points, and reward badges.” Very typical gamification.

Pitfalls in the process

We knew that design prior to testing and getting too far ahead of ourselves could come back to bite us, although prepared for this it still did. Our lead designer pushed hard to keep the focus and attention towards the goal that would work if we as a team could keep to the plan. In the end his hands were tied as shifting directions kept it hard to solidify the original idea. We worked tirelessly trying to pull in users, tweak UI and add new ideas on the go. As directions changed and lack of ability to get key features in that held the experience up, the problems started to mount.

“Lack of immediate feedback on predictions. No basic game gratification users are used to” -Tester 1

“ No way to invite friends, couldn’t find the friend section.” -Tester 2

“ Lack of understanding how points are calculated and how friends are incorporated into the leaderboards.” -Tester 3

“What do I do after a prediction, no feedback.”-Tester 4

Trial 2— Less gamification more newsreader approach

As a team we found we were not really staffed to build the best gaming experiences that were possible so we decided to pivot to a more article based news reader approach. Less gamification, lighter look and feel, and a more inviting experience overall.

The new app would give people latest news and stories that they could predict outcomes with friends and also find sources for answers.


The UX approach was to start by make the interactions a bit more simplified by reducing the number of flows, eliminate dead ends, and limit the number of navigation points. The drive was to send users to articles to find the answers to make better predictions against friends.

Visual re-skin

We needed the overall visuals to feel more light, newsworthy and call out aspects of the design that were most important. Our current first implementation was influenced by the gaming world and we wanted to take this to a more “Flipboard” current event approach.

The latest news articles were the focal points, friends playing were enhanced, and the prediction questions were redesigned to make the user feel more immersed in the question.


After the redesign the approach was to continue to grow users with Facebook advertising and pushing various areas of engagement.

Integrating Facebook messaging stickers was another part of the marketing plan. This gave Frienduel another footprint in the app store that users could discover the app through the custom sticker pack.

Sample Imessage sticker

Near the end

As a team we pulled through the adversity of changing directions and quick releases with various marketing efforts to get this idea off and running. It was a success in that sense.

We felt good about the re-release of the new product and as an innovation team knew that we could not live and die by only one idea.

It was time to let it fly on its own, if it couldn’t we would kill it. We sensed the numbers were not dramatically increasing unless we spent more marketing money which was not the goal. If it could live on its own we would see more of an inflection point which never came in the 8 months we worked on this.

Time to put Frienduel to rest.

At the end, it was a small funeral, and it even had a few last breaths as we tried to reach out to sports teams and other franchises to see if they could use it as an in-game experience. We talked to the Golden State Warriors and a few other teams which were initially excited about it but we moved on to other projects. It has since been taken off the app stores but had a good run.

Never be afraid to let things spread their wings and see if it flys. If it doesn’t, hunt it down and kill it, or re-invent it to see if it will fly again.

Some of the Frienduel army

Karan, Preeti, Brian, Rob, Johnathan, Dimitri, Sean (not pictured) Peter (not pictured).
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