Game Development Reference
Interview with Newtoy, Words with Friends
David Bettner earned a BS in Computer Science from the University of
Central Florida before joining Ensemble Studios as a game developer in
2003. He founded Newtoy in 2008, created Words with Friends , and is
currently a Studio Director for Zynga in Dallas, Texas.
Q: After your work at Ensemble, you guys got in on the ground floor of the
mobile game phenomenon with Chess with Friends . What made you want
to focus on mobile multiplayer games instead of retail products?
PB: I've always been drawn to multiplayer game development. Interacting
with another person (or people) in a game raises the experience to
another level, and I've always been fascinated by those dynamics. Also,
we knew we wanted to create products that leveraged mobile products
that could exist only on a mobile device. That led to exploring the unique
capabilities of the platform, and what stood out to us was the always-
on, always-connected, always-with-you nature of these devices. They are
communications platforms, first and foremost. So we wanted to create a
new type of game franchise that was built around this always-connected
experience. At the time, we called it “text messaging meets gaming.”
Q: With Words with Friends, you took a traditional game concept and
made it socially sticky. What can you tell us about the power of connected
devices that allows players to play old games in new ways?
DB: The smartphone revolution sparked by the release of the iPhone
has changed everything about the way we think about games. Looking
at the iPhone, we thought there was an amazing opportunity to create
a game that takes advantage of the always-on, always-connected, and
always-with-you nature of the device. There really wasn't anything like
that before. Additionally, we wanted to have a personal connection with
our friends through games. Coming from a multiplayer background at
Ensemble Studios, single-player games weren't very exciting to me. They
felt less alive, less fun. Chess with Friends and Words with Friends were our
attempt to create a game that tapped into those unique capabilities. Also,
as simple as it sounds, we just imagined it would be really fun to play!
Q: In the wake of the incredible success of Words with Friends, what les-
sons did you learn? What would you do differently if you were going to do
it all over again?