Review Fix chats with legendary video game developer Michael Brook to find out about how his game Buddywords continues to evolve on mobile devices.
For more on Buddywords, click here.
Review Fix: How was this game born?
Michael Brook: We first created Buddywords on Facebook as a hobby game for friends and family. We’ve been playing a version of the game for years. A couple of years ago we decided to develop a commercial version of the game, and this turned into a social games platform when we realized how many interesting extensions we could make from the original ten letter scramble game.
Review Fix: What is your role in the game?
Brook: I was the lead designer. My business partner Lun-shin Yuen architected the server side, and we had a variety of people work on the client side.
Review Fix: What has development been like?
Brook: Fun! I play every day with friends and family. We’ve all improved our word proficiency over time, as we developed different strategies to compete. We’ve added new features over time, like the gameplay tools and the dictionary word look up, that keep enhancing play. Probably one of the biggest challenges of developing a hobby game into a commercial game is dealing with legacy code and continually having to upgrade the many libraries and software packages in the game. Turning a game into a platform for many different games has also been a technical and design challenge, and required a heavy upfront investment for features like a single sign-on.
Review Fix: What makes this game special?
Brook: I think there are four main features that make Buddywords special:
Scoring – The tiles and letters have widely different values every round and the goal is to make the longest word you can find in the shortest amount of time, very different from Scrabble or Boggle style games.
Asynchronous play – You can play any time, no need to wait for an opponent to take their turn, and compare your exact game against your friends, send challenges and receive notifications when your buddies have played your games, play against each buddy’s leaderboard of games, replay your past games, etc.
Badges – We offer detailed badges for your accomplishments, combining achievement with learning about different famous authors and philosophers.
Dictionary and word look up – Buddywords focuses on finding long words, up to 10 letters, and offers a comprehensive dictionary of the English language, over 200k words. We let you compare your words to both common word lists and full dictionary lists, as well as offering a “PG” dictionary to use with your kids (or parents!). We even offer translations in other languages.
Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?
Brook: We wanted to make a game that was very different from the standard Scrabble and Boggle knockoffs. Both of these games were influences in terms of wanting a non-turn based game with more tile variety and longer words than Scrabble (and Words With Friends), and less focus on finding obscure three and four letter words like Boggle.
Review Fix: What were the major lessons learned?
Brook: Keep it fun. Keep a list of all your enhancement ideas, and constantly reprioritize as you get feedback or technical hurdles require attention. Development should be a fun process, and you should always be working from a fun, playable version of your game as early as possible. If you are building a platform as opposed to a single game, identify and prioritize features that can be used across products.
Review Fix: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Brook: Yes, good game play mechanics are timeless. Challenge, immersion, intuitive tactile feel, easy access to the most relevant info, timely feedback and progressive rewards are just as important in any new game as they are in video games like NHL ‘94 or daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings. And people expect to be able to shuffle tiles and easily manipulate a word rack.
Review Fix: How have your previous experiences in the industry helped this game?
Brook: I grew up playing word games, and always wished I could make adjustments to them. I have a long history of building immersive sports experiences, from designing and producing EA Sports titles like John Madden Football and NHL Hockey to conceptualizing apps for the ESPN phone to creating/enhancing daily fantasy sports sites at Daily Joust and DraftKings. My sports game background definitely influenced the competitive features of Buddywords, even so far as to add (optional) audio crowd feedback on your word choices – this may be the only word game ever to have audio crowd booing in it J.
Review Fix: How do you want this game to ultimately be remembered?
Brook: I’d like it to take a place in the pantheon of classic word games as THE game if you are into words that are more than 7 letters long, which is a real deficiency of most of the word games out there. And on a more personal level, I’d like my brother to remember this game as the one word game where I finally consistently kicked his butt.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Brook: We’ll be adding Buddywords in other languages. We also have several other word games under development that leverage the Buddywords platform. An Android version. And we are working on some marketing partnerships to leverage existing communities of word aficionados, and get cross-promotion with large mobile game networks. Turn our website into a living community for Wordies!
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Brook: Buddywords is a challenging word game. It is very helpful for improving vocabulary, and exercising your brain through mental gymnastics. We offer a variety of tools to help you find good words and improve your score. I hope people will give it a try.