Zynga announced the next “With Friends” mobile title today in the form of Hanging With Friends, a social mobile version of the word game Hangman for iPhone and iPod Touch. The app is live in Canadian App Store as of today and will launch globally “in the coming days.”
This is the first game out of the Zynga With Friends studio, which was was formed in December 2010 when Zynga acquired mobile developer Newtoy and its Scrabble-esque iOS game, Words With Friends. At that time, we thought Zyna might focus its mobile efforts more on paid apps as opposed to free-to-play apps, which seems plausible considering that Words With Friends grosses better than Zynga’s free-to-play FarmVille app. But since then, free-to-play has taken off tremendously and now 15 of the 25 top-grossing games in the iOS are free with in-app purchases, up from one-third last November. Zynga, also recently bolstered its mobile talent with the acquisition of mobile developer Wonderland Studios, which made a name for itself with free-to-play iOS game, GodFinger.
We expect Zynga to continue making a push into mobile gaming given slower growth on Facebook. We’ve heard that it paid considerably more for Newtoy than some of the other acquisitions it has done in the past year, and that it is hiring fast for a big new mobile team.
Hanging With Friends will monetize both through a paid version for 99 cents and an ad-supported free version that uses the same interstitial ads found in the free version of Words With Friends. An upcoming feature planned for the game will introduce microtransactions where players can spend real money to buy in-game currency that can be spent on “lifeline” power-ups. Currently, players earn in-game currency when they generate words, but they cannot spend them on lifelines as yet.
Though modeled on the classic word game Hangman, Hanging With Friends incorporates elements from Scrabble to form a unique puzzle-like gameplay experience. Players choose an animated cartoonish avatar with various facial expressions that change as game-play progresses. A match begins with the player’s avatar suspended over a hazard, such as lava, hanging from a cluster of five balloons. When a player starts a round, they are given the choice of a random assortment of letter tiles to place along a row of spaces. Like Words With Friends, some of those spaces contain score bonuses like “Double Word,” which the player can collect only by placing a letter on that tile in sequence with a word.
Once a word is played by the first player, the second player gets a chance to guess at the word by choosing individual letters from the entire alphabet. For the duration of the second player’s turn, they have eight chances (here called “strikes”) to guess at which letters are contained in the first player’s word. If they guess a wrong letter, one of the strikes activates. If the player cannot guess the entire word in that turn, they lose one of their five balloons. Whether or not they guess the correct word in their turn, the round ends on that word and a new round begins with player two choosing a word for player one to guess at. Losing all balloons results in a player’s avatar falling to its virtual death while the other player wins.
The life lines are used during the letter guessing phase of the round. The “suspect” item suggests four letters to the player, only one of which is contained in the word. The “extinguish” item removes four letters from the choices that are not contained in the word. The “revive” item restores one activated strike if the player wants an additional guess. These items are currently available as one-time uses per turn in Hanging With Friends, but as mentioned, they will be available for purchase through virtual currency at a later date.
Like Words With Friends, Hanging With Friends allows the player to run up to 20 games simultaneously with both friends and strangers. Players can enter random matches with other players or import friends using Facebook Connect and their existing With Friends account. Hanging With Friends also has an in-game chat function and push notifications.
Zynga did not announce plans for an Android version, but told us to “stay tuned.” Words With Friends came to Android in April of this year.