I feel bad for the employees at Zynga whose job it is to tweak and improve their games. They simply can’t leave a good game alone because if they do, there suddenly won’t be any justification for their employment at the company. This is the reason, I suspect, why they continually add unfortunate features to games like Words With Friends. Their latest ill-conceived idea is the Word Finder Words With Friends feature. It’s the newest “Power Up” option for which players can pay and gain an unfair advantage against their opponent.

Word Finder Words With Friends

Don’t know where you can play a word? Just click on the orange Word Finder button and a word will appear on your board…a word that is playable with your current letters. It may not be the best word you can play. But it will certainly be a playable word.

Once those letters appear on your board, all you have to do is press PLAY. And then you will have successfully avoided the tremendous burden of figuring out a word you can play with your letters. Nevermind that this is the entire point of the game.

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Zynga Further Dumbs Down Its Signature Game

When I first heard that Zynga was thinking of adding a Swap+ feature to Words With Friends, I was openly critical of the idea; Swap Tiles in Words With Friends Without Losing Your Turn? That was 3 years ago. In that post, I sarcastically mentioned a few new features that we can expect to see on Words With Friends in the upcoming years. Here they are;

LETTER REQUEST – “Just tell us what letters you want and we’ll give them to you.”
ANAGRAM MAGIC – “See a list of all the words you can play…and where you should play them.”
COIN CONVERTER – “For every 10 coins you buy, we’ll add 100 points to your score!!”
SKIP THE GAME – “You don’t even have to play the game! Just buy our coins and we’ll just give you the win!”

Again, I just want to point out that I was joking. However, the new Word Finder feature is a big step towards the ridiculous game features I listed above. It may be a little too harsh to say that Zynga is “dumbing down” its signature game. But it certainly isn’t making it smarter.

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Words With Friends Power Ups

Now that the Word Finder is the fourth and latest Power Up feature on Words With Friends, let’s go ahead and review all of them. I already mentioned what the Word Finder does. Let’s look at the others.

Hindsight

After playing a word on the board, the Hindsight feature will show you a better word that you could’ve played instead of what you did play. And when I say “better word,” I mean a word that would’ve given you more points. It’s definitely helpful for those times when you know there was a better option and you’re curious to know what it was.

Word Radar

Whereas Hindsight indicates where you could’ve played after you’ve played a word, the Word Radar feature shows you all the places on the board where you can play before you play a word. It’s a huge assist. Don’t know if you can reach the TW (Triple Word) on the side of the board? Just click on the Word Radar and it’ll tell you if it’s possible. If it’s not possible, then you can forget about it and focus on another part of the board. If it is possible, then you can spend your time figuring out the word that will reach it.

Swap+

The most controversial Power Up is Swap+. It allows you to swap out some or all of your tiles without losing your turn. It cannot be overstated how much of an advantage the Swap+ gives to a player who uses it….especially if his/her opponent is not using it.

Making the most of a bad rack of tiles had been an integral part of the game…not only in Words With Friends but also in Scrabble and every other relevant word game. The decision to swap out unwanted tiles for new ones always came with the heavy cost of losing your turn. That all changed with Swap+.

After using the Swap+ feature a few times in some tight games, I realized that I would almost never lose a game if I continued using it. Of course, doing so would feel like cheating because I don’t know if my opponent is using it. And if I win a game with the troubling sense that I had cheated, then the win isn’t very satisfying.

Contrarily, if I refuse to use the Swap+ feature, that doesn’t stop my opponent from secretly using it against me. I’m sure many of my opponents do use it. Of course, I have no way of knowing that. In any case, I for one am up for the challenge. Come at me with your vocabulary, your word-placement skills, the Power Ups, cheating apps and whatever else you wanna use against me. I still think I have a good chance of beating you…even if I use none of the aides that you’re using.

What Is the Point of Words With Friends?

It’s time for Zynga to ask and answer some fundamental questions; what is the point of this game? What is the challenge it presents? And what satisfaction does a player gain from playing it? from winning it?

Cheats and shortcuts are nothing new in gaming. In Super Mario Bros., going into a secret pipe enabled you to skip forward several levels so you could rescue the princess sooner. In Mike Tyson’s Punchout, you could enter a code which enabled you to skip all the other boxers and go straight to a fight against Mike Tyson.

No one had a problem with those shortcuts because they merely gave you an advantage over the computer. The Power Up features on Words With Friends, however, give players an unfair advantage over another player…a human who may be doing his/her best to win without these features. Not to mention that some players can’t even afford to pay for these Power Ups. That creates a scenario where those who have money have the advantage over those who don’t. How is that fair?

How amusing it would be if EA were to add Power Ups to their popular Madden football games. Pay $2 or $5 every once in a while and your whole team will have 99-level speed, strength and awareness for a few plays. The volume of the outrage would reach the heavens…and rightly so.

An Easy Fix

As controversial as the Power Ups may be, there is and always has been a simple solution to the whole ordeal; have two versions of the game…one with Power Ups and one without them. This way, those who like the new features can use them on the new version while purists like myself can play a bare-bones version where no one is allowed to cheat with those features. Simple, right?

Well, Words With Friends certainly isn’t lacking in versions. There are now THREE VERSIONS of the game in Google Play store and also in the Apple App Store. Indeed, the WWF 2 version has all the Power Ups and the Classic version does not have them.

However, the big flaw in this setup is that those who are playing the Classic version (without the Power Ups) can be matched against players on the WWF 2 version, which does have the Power Ups. That makes no sense. The whole point of having two versions is to separate the players who want to use the features from those who don’t.

So You’re Opponent is Cheating…Yeah So What?

I mentioned this in a recent post; What to Do When You’re Words With Friends Opponent Is Cheating. The main point of the post is this: don’t worry about it…just do your best, play with integrity and let them make you a better player. That’s good advice, right?