For a while now, I’ve been suggesting to anyone who would listen, which is basically nobody, that Zynga, the mobile gaming giant (Farmville, Cityville, Prisonville, etc.) which bought Words With Friends a while back, has built algorithms into the acrostic word maker game that remove some of the randomness from the matches.
I believe that these algorithms* are designed to even out the competition between two players over the course of their matches. And I think the purpose is to keep players playing the game, to keep their eyes plastered to this Zynga channel. Up until now, there wasn’t a clear reason why this would matter though, aside from the fact that users of the free app would be exposed to more third-party ads. But many players get sick of those adds and shell out $.99–$2.99 for one of the paid versions. So once they’ve spent their money, it would seem that keeping them playing wouldn’t be that big a deal because there hasn’t been anything else to buy. Until now.
With their “-ville” games, Zynga has shown a keen ability to turn casual play into something that resembles compulsive workaholism. And a key component is the ability to make in-app purchases to further one’s progress in the game. Crazy as it is for me to believe, people spend billions on these “virtual” commodities. This model is now being applied to WWF. The in-game “store” now lets players buy tokens that gives them access to tools, like a word strength meter, and a remaining letters meter.
I’m about fed up with the game. It really does start to feel like work. I care less and less about whether I win or lose—more so now than ever since I have come to believe the game is rigged. Yet, there is something compelling about it that keeps me playing. God help me if I spend a cent to improve my chances, though.
*I do want to make it clear that I do not know if the algorithms I’m talking about exist. I have no proof, only suspicion.