No longer will there be tense, clandestine matches between a student and her English teacher. Now Words With Friends devotees can play against one another in approved classroom environments.
Zynga has released Words With Friends EDU, an educational version of the popular Scrabble-esque app on the web, iPad and Android Tablet. The game is aimed at 4th to 8th graders.
“We’ve heard from Words With Friends users for a while now that they’ve wanted this,” Zynga Director of Product Abby Speight They already learn while they play the game. A lot of players are teachers, too.”
The game looks much the same as the original Words with Friends but will come with a new feature set. Words with Friends EDU will incentivize high value academic words, “PowerWords,” Speight called them. They’re words that show up on assessments and standardized tests, most notably the Common Core, with which much of the game aligns. Students will receive bonus points for knowing the meaning of words or can receive hints about them. The point, Speight said, is to be able to progress more quickly with more vocabulary knowledge.
Students will select opponents from within a closed classroom environment set up by a teacher, and the game will still be played one on one. The app will also include “kid-motivated features,” as Speight calls them, such as badges and avatars, that Zynga hopes will motivate engagement.
Parents and teachers will be able to track students’ activity and set goals—what words they’re playing, what vocabulary sets they’re required to master, how many games they need to play—via a dashboard built into the educator-facing side of the app. Zynga will also release supplemental lesson plans to complement the app.
Words With Friends, originally released in 2009, was once a chart-topping app, though now it ranks 168th, according to AppAnnie. Zynga says there are still players who log in daily and that 55 million matches are taking place at any one time. According to its Q1 2016 earnings sheet, bookings—customer commitments—totaled $182 million, up eight percent from the previous year.
Speight was particularly proud of the way the team developed the app. She said that teachers and students had been involved from the beginning of beta testing and that Zygna tested the game in 20 classrooms with over 2,000 students. The process began with a weekly meeting of teachers, students and Zynga product designers, who developed the educational feature set in concert. Zynga then rolled out the features to select teachers nationwide, who tested it in their calssrooms.
“The game wouldn’t be what it is without educator input,” Speight said. “That process was crucial, and I hope it will help introduce a new generation to the game.”