Lightning Round Multiplayer Mode

“ I have played this game for years and fully enjoy it. Love the solo games and new Lightning Round, and all the people I’ve met from my teams. Great job Words with Friends! “


As Words with Friends entered it's 8th anniversary, the team began plans to relaunch a bigger, better and more intelligently redesigned version of the world's most popular mobile word game. With a close ear to our user's needs, we began crafting new features to solve for some of our most troubled spaces, and increase entertainment value for game loyalists and newcomers alike. A multiplayer game mode was one of our most desired features for the new game. This feature was called Lightning Round.


UX Design
UI Design
Usability Testing
User Research
Market Research
Creative Concepting
Design QA 




Our team began the process of developing the feature by overviewing a massive collection of metrics and information gathered from numerous sources (view below). Because Words with Friends is a live game, our team was able to sift through tons of qualitative and quantitative data that has been collected over years of live gameplay to identify our biggest player needs and trouble spaces. Working collaboratively with our User Research Team and PM's, we identified the trends and prioritized the problems we were going to solve. Here is an overview of some of that research.



User Interviews
Focus Groups
Longitudinal Study (8 wks)
User Surveys (~2k)
Data from live game
Market Research
Prototyping on beta platforms




Main Pain Points 



Many Words with Friends users noted that while they enjoyed playing the game, there were a number of reasons that led them to stop playing. Foremost, many players noted that they simply didn't have any friends that played anymore. Once their friends and family left, playing with strangers felt less satisfying and unfulfilling, and they left the game as a result.  Players also disliked the reliance upon opponents to play, and the unavoidable wait times that accompanied player vs player asynchronous gameplay. 

Additionally, players often felt paralysis in moments when they felt they couldn't play well. Since players are often very proud of their hard earned game metrics, players often stopped playing when they felt they couldn't play well to prevent an effect on their performance stats. This led to many games being left unfinished.  Players also noted that games simply took too long. Few players had the dedication or patience to endure a game match that could last days or weeks depending on gameplay pace. Lastly, users simply felt bored. Lack of gameplay variation between features led to gameplay that felt stale and recycled. Based off of these findings, we needed to create a solution that:

1. Increased sociability within the game, build community
2. Alleviated the sense of waiting between moves (remove reliance on opponent availability)
3. Reduced the sense of pressure from gameplay, but retain competitiveness
4. Allowed players to quickly finish matches
2. Delivered a sense of novel gameplay, distinct from the classic experience




Once pain points have been identified and the UX criteria is established, its time to move to the design phase. I often start my design process with sketching or white boarding to generate concepts. This is often done collaboratively and left intentionally vague to help spawn new UX concepts. Once I settle on a concept, I will move to wireframing to identify base flows, edge cases and information/content structure. Through iterative design sessions, internal reviews and low fidelity prototyping, we can gain conviction and validate our design decisions. Once our UX has been thoroughly vetted, its time to move to interface design.

*Prototyping often occurs prior to final UI design to evaluate UX


Concept Testing

When developing games, it is important to first test if concepts are inherently fun before getting too deep into development. Our team did this by simulating the digital experience with physical game boards and tile pieces. Playing over the course of numerous days with different game types, we were able to get a rough idea of what concepts felt most fun and had the most replay value. 


How it Works

1. Players team up and play on shared boards
2. Boards are swapped after each move
3. The team adds up their point total
4. First team to the point threshold wins!




Once we were confident in our game model and rough flow, I moved to wireframing and rapid prototyping to test our UX concepts. Wireframing starts incredibly rough, and iteratively is refined as ideas are scrapped, edited or developed to a more polished state. Ultimately, I will move to software to wireframe best ideas in much greater detail.




Creating rapid, interactive prototypes is paramount for gaining valuable feedback through user testing. Testing can be executed at any points (sketching, wireframing, paper prototyping, hi-fi prototyping) and helps validate and verify design decisions. Prototyping can come in many forms, but ultimately its about getting hard evidence that your ideas work, or still need work.


The iMessage Prototype

Prototyping and testing for Lighting Round was done numerous times throughout the development pipeline. Foremost, we prototyped game concepts with physical boards and tilesets to validate entertainment value. Following wireframing, I used software to create quick prototypes to test usability, build internal conviction, and simply test the concept digitally. To test a more realistic experience, we created native prototypes on a beta platform to get a more precise read on entertainment value, identify UX flaws and test comprehension.  The iMessage prototype helped us realize the true potential of this concept. With high replay value, players were playing over and over again. However, users did not understand the game mechanics. On the native prototype, we iterated and tested the FTUX (view below) and tested for user adoption at massive scale. Lastly, after insights were gleaned, we fine tuned gameplay variables and tweaked the UI in a scaled soft launch.


Refining User Understanding

Since multiplayer gameplay was so foreign to the traditional WWF experience, it was important that we showed users how Lightning Round worked before they jumped into a game. Many users expected the multiplayer game to function similar to the traditional classic mode, so dispelling user assumptions helped users modify their gameplay behavior for this game mode. The FTUX was iterated and tested numerous times to ensure user comprehension was crystal clear and the overall FTUX experience was succinct.     


Early FTUX Exploration    



NOVEMBER 8, 2017

Worldwide Launch



Easy to Learn

The simple introduction gives players all the information they need to jump in and play right away. With a brief animated FTUE, users can see how board swapping and gameplay works before starting their first match. Additionally, if users are idle for too long, we help them out with gameboard tips that suggest what to do next. 


Fast & Fun 

Lightning Round provides bitesized gameplay that allows players to jump in a round within seconds and finish a game in minutes. With rounds averaging around 3 minutes total, a player can play a complete game anytime they want a quick jolt of fun. 


Make New Friends 

In Lightning round, users are teamed with players of similar skill level. From the Lightning Round Leaderboards, users can view their teammates, see their stats and challenge them to a classic game. 


The Verdict

Old and new players alike applauded Lightning Round, with many players playing numerous consecutive games back to back within sessions. With new ways to play, users were excited about the new variety in Words with Friends and the novel ways to challenge themselves. Additionally, players frequently started new games with their teammates and opponents following Lightning Round matches, which led to an improved the sense of community within WWF.  




Following worldwide launch, we've been gathering user feedback and data to iterate and improve Lightning Round. Currently, we are working on increasing sociability of this feature and exploring concepts on how to make the gameplay even more of a party. Interested in checking out Lightning Round for yourself?