Be it Scrabble or Words With Friends, many word games are reliant on players having a big vocabulary. But in the word game Phrazzle, which is available for iOS and Android from GameFly Games, it’s more about how you put all those words together. In the following interview 47 Games’ Benjamin Hoyt, Phrazzle’s lead designer and Executive Producer, explains how this game works, where the original idea for this word game came from, and just how creative you can get with it.
For those who haven’t played it yet, what kind of game is Phrazzle and how do you play it?
Phrazzle is the first in a new genre of mobile games called “social voting games.” The basic idea starts with creativity competitions in which players try to create the most popular submissions in response to prompts. In Phrazzle, the game generates a daily prompt consisting of a “theme” and a string of three to four random letters. Players then have a 24-hour window during which to come up with “submissions” that treat the string of letters as if it’s an acronym relating to the theme.
For instance, if the theme was “Celebrity Marriages” and the string of letters was G-C-F-H, as a player I might submit “Generate Crazy Fangirl Hysteria.” After the 24-hour window for submissions closes, a four-day tournament begins, during which players vote on each other’s submissions. Based on this voting, the best submissions rise to the top and players earn points based on how popular their ideas are with each other.
What other games do you think Phrazzle is similar to, and why?
Creativity competitions have been around for a very long time, in the form of board games such as Balderdash and Apples To Apples. In fact, Phrazzle’s core acronym-based mechanic is inspired by a game from the ’90s called Acrophobia. What social voting games, such as Phrazzle, do differently is they take these fun game mechanics and translate them to a massively-multiplayer, asynchronous, mobile experience that allows you to compete with all of your friends, every day, with a very small time commitment.
Where did the idea for this game come from? Because it seems like the kind of thing you might play with your friends when you’re sitting around, drinking. Though, obviously, not when you’re drunk and slurring your words.
Ha! Phrazzle is actually plenty of fun in that scenario.
Seriously, though, I’m not really sure that there was one precise moment when the idea for Phrazzle originated. And it has definitely evolved over time. I can say, though, that the original Acrophobia was definitely an inspiration for the core mechanic of the game. Another major source of motivation was actually Words With Friends, which I’ve been playing non-stop for years. One of the things that I have always loved about Words With Friends is how it allows me to compete with my friends based purely on each other’s wits, without any rush or time pressure. My complaint, however, is that it’s tough to really play Words With Friends with more than a handful of people at a time, without it turning into a pretty major time-suck.
I wanted to design a game that allowed the player to have a meaningful competition with all of their friends, without taking too much time. I’m proud to say that I think we accomplished that with Phrazzle. It was also important to me to create a game that could be truly fun and challenging to players, regardless of their age or level of experience playing video games, and I think that we accomplished that as well.
So…have you played Phrazzle with your friends when you were sitting around, drinking?
Actually, yeah. I’ve had several fun experiences where I was hanging out with friends and family, and people would start brainstorming about Phrazzle submissions or reading or voting as a group. It’s actually made me think a bit about what a Phrazzle “party mode” might look like. If the game does well enough, that’s definitely something I’d love to try and make a reality.
The game is available for both iOS devices and Android. Are there any differences between them?
There are, of course, minor cosmetic and interface differences that are necessitated by the fact that they are running on different operating systems. But the actual game is the same, regardless of platform, and players compete with each other across devices.
Are there any plans to bring Phrazzle to game consoles or PCs?
There aren’t any plans at the moment, but I’d love to make the game available to more players. Whether or not we can afford to do so is simply a matter of how popular it proves to be.
What about versions in different languages, any plans for that?
Again, if Phrazzle does well enough to justify the cost of localization, and it makes sense to translate the game to another language — as I understand it, acronyms don’t really work in some languages — I’d love to make it happen.
So how long until we can play Klingon Phrazzle?
Ha! Actually, I can’t reveal what’s coming in the next update or two, but that possibility may not be as far off as you think….
Given that this is a word game, is there anything in place to prevent people from swearing like a truck driver or writing something offensive?
We do have a list of banned words, but the truth is that it’s tough to police that sort of thing. People who really want to go there just come up with alternate spellings, replace characters, and do similar things to beat filters.
The good news, though, is that Phrazzle’s design really limits this behavior. Because the first stage of voting involves pools of five submissions, and only the top two in each pool advance to the next round, very-offensive submissions will probably never be seen by more than four other people. Also, we have a reporting system in the game that allows players to flag submissions that they feel are inappropriate so that we can take further action.
It seems, given that the game has other people ranking your phrases, it could very easily slip into the same dark territory as the card game Cards Against Humanity. Was there any thought to making a separate, darker version of Phrazzle, perhaps called Phraking Phrazzle?
You’re absolutely right. There has been quite a bit of thought put into that, and I suspect that you’ll be pleased to see some of the things that are coming in our next big update….
Lastly, there’s a website called Phrazzle Me (phrazzleme.com) where they sell a board game you can use to learn English. Do you think your Phrazzle could teach someone English?
Well, I’m not sure that Phrazzle would be very effective at teaching English on its own, but I actually know several teachers and educators who have expressed an interest in how they could leverage Phrazzle in the classroom as a tool for teaching English. As you can probably tell by now, I’m very excited about the functionality that is coming in our first big update, which would very well make that possible.