Last update: May 2021

5 mins to read - 2020/11/20

Words With Friends: A Push Notification Teardown

Splendiferous! For device users who grew up playing Scrabble, Words With Friends is the list-topping mobile game that brings competitive wordplay into the digital age. It’s fully compatible with all of your social media channels, allowing you to compete with friends and post your top scores. Plus, it has all the extra bells and whistles that free-to-play (F2P) games use to monetize gameplay. So we thought we’d take some time to explore Words With Friends and check out its push notification strategy. What we found may flabbergast and bamboozle you…

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words with friends push notifications teardown
Image Source:

What’s It Like to Play Words With Friends?

I’ve never been a fan of Scrabble… I’m more of a Boggle gal myself, actually. So it took a bit of practice before I got into the swing of things. Luckily, Words With Friends offered a full array of side-games and mini-games to work on your crossword strategy. I dipped my toe into the shallow end, with the easiest beginner’s level against a Words With Friends bot called Funny Bunny Bianca. I failed miserably, using up all my turns on two- and three-letter words. Then at the eleventh hour the game set me up to play the word “Zen” for a triple-word score. I felt very patronized to.

It was fun to compete against actual people, however. And the in-app chat function is a nice addition, which has led to real-life friendships, marriages, and even an Australian man having his life saved when his wife’s opponent’s husband diagnosed his 99% blood vessel blockage near his heart.

How Is Words With Friends Monetized?

Of course, Words With Friends offers much more than just your standard crossword games. First of all, it had an in-game currency which let you purchase access to novelty games and higher levels. You could accumulate this currency by completing lower-level games, or via in-app purchases in the store.

words with friends push notifications store
Image Source: Words With Friends screenshot

The game occasionally invites you to take advantage of a sale or new stock in the store. However, the app doesn’t depend much on this, as they have other revenue channels as well. There are banner ads at the top of the screen when you play, as well as quick video ads that play after every move you make. I found these to be quite intrusive, but they were short enough that you put up with them.

The social aspect of the game is especially engaging, as you can challenge your friends or strangers on the platform and having ongoing games with them. You can compete on various leaderboards and enter themed competitions. Words With Friends then sends push notifications to notify you when it’s your turn to play a word.

Which leads me to…

How Are Words With Friends’ Push Notifications?

This was actually the most interesting push notification campaign I’ve seen in a mobile game so far. But did it work? Well… yes and no.

First of all, their pre-permission notification was exactly what it should be.

words with friends push notification pre-permission
Image Source: Words With Friends screenshot

Short, sweet, and to the point. Unlike many F2P mobile games, for Words With Friends push notifications are integral to gameplay and UX. And the pre-permission notification for iOS devices does a good job at communicating that.

Of course, they used notifications for a lot more than letting me know when it was my turn to play. In fact, this is the first gaming app I’ve downloaded that sent me a “welcome to the app” notification, which I found to be a nice touch. What’s more, this is the first app that’s gotten creative with personalized touches. Words With Friends sent notifications addressing me by name, referring to which bot or opponent was waiting in the arena for me, and more. They were also prompt in reminding me any time my tickets refilled, or if there was a flash event to take advantage of.

Words with friends push notifications

words with friends push notifications

Overall, I admired their hustle. They had fantastic use of emoticons, and used positive, engaging language. They helped expand my vocabulary by sending me obscure words with high scoring potential. And whoever was their content writer clearly enjoyed wordplay as well, as can be seen below.

words with friends push notifications

What Were Words With Friends’ Push Notification Fails?

They had a very aggressive push campaign, which did not always hit the mark. First of all, they sent 4+ push notifications per day… and this didn’t even include those notifying me that it was my turn to play! As you can imagine, notifications began to pile up…

words with friends push notifications
Image source: Words With Friends screenshot

Nobody wants to unlock their phone and be greeted with this. What’s more, the careful observer will note that a few of these push notifications arrived at midnight… or even later. Clearly, whoever is behind their push campaign didn’t put much thought into whether unreliable timing of their notifications would inconvenience users. (It did.) Either that, or they use a highly unreliable push provider that blasts out notifications willy-nilly.

Read our blog post to see how OpenBack’s innovative take on the traditional mobile engagement platform revolutionized reliability in push notifications: Reliability in Push Notifications: An Industry-Wide Challenge

Perhaps, since they have various other monetization tactics, they figure there’s no sense in investing too much in push notifications. Still, it’s a shame that UX isn’t more of a priority for Words With Friends, especially since their mobile engagement was so creative and enjoyable in other ways. (“Bonus banana”… pure gold!)

For information on how personalized timing and adapative scheduling of push notifications can boost app engagement, check out our blog post: Notifications Click-Through Rate Boosted by “Adaptive Scheduling”

Or get in touch with one of our experts, and we can chat about different mobile engagement packages OpenBack can provide your app!

To read more about how to use OpenBack to boost player retention and maximize revenues, download our Case Study: Dreamworks How To Train Your Dragon App, School of Dragons

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