I’m excited (and not just a bit self-conscious) to be releasing TILE for iPhone and iPad. TILE is the first app from the AppsGuild studio I’ve spun up here in Seattle. I’ll write more about AppsGuild (and what makes it a new, interesting, and very different kind of organization) soon, but for now I thought I’d tell you about TILE.
Oh no! Another Word Game?
Even if you’ve played Boggle®, Scrabble®, LetterPress, Words With Friends, SpellTower or any of the other 10,000+ word- and letter-based games on your devices (like I have), I think you’ll find there are several things quite different about TILE, things that I like, things that I think the word-game-hungry might also like. I think this because I really still enjoy playing it, even after playing many hundreds (thousands?) of times while building and testing it, and because my 20 beta testers played an astonishing 6,000 one-minute rounds in the first 30 days of playing with it. Zoinks!
As you might expect from an xBox founder, I like games. I’ve always been a big fan of word- and letter-based games, from hidden-words to crosswords, anything. To me they tap into my reading and thinking brain and don’t feel like a waste of time. I don’t mind my kids play these kinds of games. I have a lot of great memories of playing Scrabble and Boggle board games growing up, and of playing GrabScrab at iLike (though I honestly wasn’t very good at that one). I really enjoy LetterPress and Words With Friends on my phones and tablets. I even like Hangman and still play it with my kids! But my very very favorite games on mobile devices are quick-to-play, like Dots, or combine quick-play and head-to-head strategy and real-time competition (Galcon on iPhone is my all-time favorite). As much as I like LetterPress and Words With Friends and Scrabble (and other turn-based games like Hero Academy), they are just not my favorite pacing for mobile gameplay. I like to pick up my phone and whittle away a few moments if I have some to spare, or to take a break from something and clear my head with something fun. Cut The Rope and Angry Birds are fun and fast to pickup and drop, but they are really about hand-eye-coordination – though I thoroughly enjoy them I honestly feel like I’m wasting a lot of time playing them. In the industry these are the “snacking” games of the “casual games” category, they are a quick bite to eat and don’t take a lot of time or effort. TILE is perhaps a more brain-healthy “snack” — certainly I am pulling words out of my long-term SAT-taking memory to improve my high-scores!
Another impetus is that I find turn-based games just too slow-paced, or I have to start many concurrent games if I want to spend more than 30-seconds with the game. I get irritated with LetterPress opponents who take a long time to take their turn, and the notifications from the game interrupt me over the next several hours – ugh. I have also found most word and letter turn-based games to be full of people who cheat to win – given no time-limit on your turn and an internet full of Scrabble- and LetterPress-cheat sites, I just don’t enjoy playing against people who brilliantly come up with words like “quezal” regularly.
I tried off-and-on for many, many years to build a good version of multi-player GrabScrab for mobile, and I think the solo play version captures the adrenaline while the coming-soon head-to-head Versus version of TILE will capture the true anxiety of that fun game in a shorter time-format.
Building and building and building and building…
Late in May of 2013 I woke up at about 2am with the fully-formed idea for TILE, finally realizing how to marry ideas from LetterPress and Dots and Galcon to yield a GrabScrab-like fun and easy-to-snack game. I cracked open XCode and wrote a quick solo-mode proof-of-concept in about 2 hours and found it fun to play. Shockingly, my wife also found it fun to play! I then spent about 10 days putting together a smoother UI, high-score infrastructure, and a more robust dictionary behind the application before putting solo-play-mode it into beta with about 20 friends. When they played it over 6,000 times in the next 30 days and had friends borrowing their phone to play and sending me beseeching email to add me to the device-limited beta, I was pretty sure it was actually fun and perhaps a bit addictive. In hindsight, I could have (and should have) shipped TILE right then – it was almost in its currently shipping form, minus some scaling and UI tweaks. I was delayed a bit by summer (my wife and I dedicate summer to spending time with our kids and family and traveling with friends) but through the summer and fall I was also delayed by an almost Sisyphean obsession with the head-to-head Versus mode of TILE. After an inordinate amount of coding, test-harnessing, testing, debugging and feedback on the multiplayer match-making and head-to-head mode, I decided I really needed to rework its UI further before releasing it, so it will come in a future update.
Pricing: It’s not free-to-play
For now TILE unabashedly costs $0.99 – you get exactly what you pay for, and it’s more entertainment than 1/3 of your morning coffee. If you like word games at all, I promise you’ll get $0.99 worth of real enjoyment from TILE in the first 10 minutes playing. I don’t run ads between every few games like you get in most word games, and I don’t try to squeeze money out of people for different colors, timers, or cheats. I do hope to eventually come up with an unobtrusive way to charge for useful or fun things within TILE so that you won’t need to pay for it up-front, but this simple low price is where I’m starting because I myself prefer paying for things simply and just once.
To all my beta testers, especially but not limited to my wife, Adam Doppelt (and his wife Shannon!), Hadi Partovi and Phil Kast who gave me such great feedback — thanks so very much for your advice and support, I promise I’ll take more of it to heart more quickly in the future, especially the “ship sooner” advice.
I very much hope you enjoy TILE and look forward to your feedback about it.