Wordament, the first Xbox Live game from Microsoft, hits - and misses on - the iPhone

Wordament, the first Xbox Live game from Microsoft, hits - and misses on -- the iPhone

Microsoft has just released Wordament, their first XBox Live game for the iPhone. Wordament is really well regarded on Windows Phone, but the iPhone version is... disappointing, especially coming from one of the biggest, best software developers in the world, and one that owns its own mobile and gaming platforms.

Despite it being 3 months post-iPhone 5 launch, Wordament doesn't support the new 16:9 screen resolution, so it's letterboxed. The interface is also middling. For example, once you get past the intro screens, you're given a button to sign in with your Xbox Live credentials, but a text link to skip that step and play as guest.

I tried signing in with Xbox Live but it didn't work. (I typed in my login, it spun, gave me the sign-in button again, I tapped it again, then without asking me to sign in again, it just went back to the sign-in button. Over. And. Over. Again.)

If you skip it, like I did, you're then dumped into a screen filled with tiny text and no clear way to start your first game. After jabbing at some names on the board, that either did something, or wasted enough time for something automatic to happen. Either way, a game started with a countdown timer. Here interface elements are unnecessarily crowded together, the gameplay instructions butted against the un-labeled back button, the rotate button crammed between the board and what looks like an add for the game you're already playing (and when the banner goes away, simply crammed against the board and nothing.)

If you're screen turns off, or if you hit the Home button to exit, when you come back to Wordament you're inexplicably shown the Microsoft splash screen and the last page of the intro screens again, where again you're presented with the button/text link login/skip screen. If you had a game in progress, it looks like the timer is still at the same place, so that state is at least stored, but the cruft imposed to get there is flabbergasting.

It's as if multitasking was never introduced in iOS 4.

Maybe that only happens in guest mode but I have no way of knowing, as I'm not able to sign in.

Once a game ends you're shown another screen filled with tiny text and you can swipe around and tap to see words you missed. There's no Next button, however, and [when a tiny timer, lost amid a ton of other tiny text runs out] you're forcibly moved to the leaderboard again, and after a few seconds, you're suddenly playing again.

I might be missing something here. There might be some genius level interface and mechanics going on that I'm too dull to see, or are just impenetrable to me, but given the lack of iPhone 5 support and the ridiculous way Wordament resumes, I'm inclined to think Microsoft simply didn't do a very good job here.

It would be better to present obvious buttons saying "join next game" and "skip next game" so the user is in control of how they move through the app. What if it takes me longer to read all that tiny text? What if I want to play again but would prefer a few more moments to go through the jam-packed stats. What if all that text bothers me and I want to jump ahead to a clear staging area and just wait for the next game to start?

I get that it's real time and you're competing against other people. The idea is fine. The implementation is not good.

Which is odd since, again, the Windows Phone version is adored. And if Wordament really is that good on Windows Phone, Microsoft should have made it killer on iOS to show people how good apps can be on that platform, and entice them over.

In that regard, the real win here is Xbox Live making an appearance on iOS. Apple has Game Center, but it's exclusive to Apple, of course. There are third party gaming networks, but Xbox live has a massive following and being able to game against friends on other platforms will be a huge plus. If there's one ounce of redemption to be found in Wordament for iPhone, it's that.

Perhaps Microsoft will improve Wordament for iPhone with the next release, but frankly Letterpress, made by lone indie developer Loren Brichter, is so far beyond Wordament when it comes to interface and experience, I don't think many people will stick around to find out.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 64 comments. Add yours.

Premium1 says:

Maybe they just figured if they made it suck people would be more willing to switch to wp for the better version?

philpeeps says:

Perhaps you have figured out by now that the games are presented to everyone at the same time, so you get a short period to review the words you got and missed and a short period to review the leaderboard before the next 2 minute game begins...for everyone in the world...

Rene Ritchie says:

That part I understood from the beginning. They explain it well. But that's no excuse for the implementation. You can easily create more obvious, intuitive controls for people. "New game" stages you for the next time a 2 min. game goes live, otherwise you can stay and browse boards.

toddtmw says:

"If you're screen turns off..."

Should be:
"If your screen turns off..."

philpeeps says:

oh, and that would be why there is no way to pause a game or start a new one. They are all time based to compete in real time with everyone else playing at that time. Tapping names (when signed in on WP8), it adds Frenemies to the top of the list so you can see how you do compared to your friends/enemies playing at the same time. Must do nothing when playing as a guest.

iSRS says:

No issues signing in here. But the resume should be better implemented, especially because it is timed.

peeder says:

Doesn't bother going through game tutorial; complains that he doesn't understand how to play... :P

Tomasz S. says:

Would've fit nicely on that meme with the douchy hat.

Seriously, the article should be titled "Hit Xbox Live game Wordament comes to iOS, and I can't figure out how to play it", followed by the excerpt: "I hate that it's completely different than Letterpress and other Scrabble-type games. And my iPhone's screen is too small for it".

Rene Ritchie says:

My iPhone screen is 4-inches. Wordament only supports 3.5-inch screens. That's my fault?

Letterpress is completely different than Scrabble. I loved it because it was an amazingly well done game. Wordament is completely different than Scrabble. It's not anywhere nearly as well done as Letterpress.

Have you played it on iOS?

Tomasz S. says:

Have you played Wordament on WP and noticed any differences in the gameplay?

Josef Herbert says:

I have, there is almost no discernible differences between the two. I agree that it is perhaps more polished on windows phone, for example, on iOS I couldn't locate the 'back' button either because on WP it is a hardware key. Letterpress is okay in my opinion but Wordament bests it and as a result, is a highly popular game on both Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT. I just hope they release an iPad optimised version and I'm sure that they will release an update for the iPhone 5's long screen. (the app wasn't actually developed by Microsoft)

Josef Herbert says:

I have, there is almost no discernible differences between the two. I agree that it is perhaps more polished on windows phone, for example, on iOS I couldn't locate the 'back' button either because on WP it is a hardware key. Letterpress is okay in my opinion but Wordament bests it and as a result, is a highly popular game on both Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT. I just hope they release an iPad optimised version and I'm sure that they will release an update for the iPhone 5's long screen. (the app wasn't actually developed by Microsoft)

Snowman81 says:

Sounds like its a near complete fail as it stands right now.

Tomasz S. says:

There's nothing fail about this game apart from the lack of multitasking support.
The UI is fine, it's the same as in the WP version.
Now the main complaint of the article is that the reviewer couldn't figure out how to play the game - now that is just hilarious, since there are videos of five year old kids playing it.

sshell2u says:

You've got to be kidding me. I mean how could the reviewer not understand this quite straight forward game. Maybe he needs to get his IQ checked!!!! Its quite an interesting game in my opinion.

Rene Ritchie says:

Wait, so you guys are saying that: 1) the lack of iPhone 5 support, 2) the lack of proper multitasking support, 3) the terrible interface design are all because "the reviewer" doesn't understand how to play the game?

Wow.

I can play the game just fine. All of the above, however, makes it a not very enjoyable experience to play.

The user experience is horribly implemented. That's not subjective. That's objective.

Just because games are real-time doesn't mean the handling of it can't be good.

"Next game starts in 30... 29... 28..." "Join Game" "Skip Game". There are all sorts of much better ways to implement this style of gameplay.

It has nothing to do with me.

sshell2u says:

Sir, with all due respect, you totally have a valid point up there. Microsoft did a worthless task in the area of multitasking. However, i did feel that the time given to the app by you before writing the review might not have been sufficient as you were quite clearly unable to grasp the mechanics of the game (initially). I found the user experience to be satisfactory as contrasted to your "terrible" and "not very enjoyable experience". (A personal opinion is all that has been voiced.)

Rene Ritchie says:

Their job is to get me into the game. I spent a couple hours with it, including discussing it with the editors of WPCentral, sharing my concerns, getting their feedback, and trying to figure out how Microsoft got it so wrong.

If you want to disagree with me, that's fine. Personal insults and questioning my review procedure isn't disagreement, it's lack of ability to substantively disagree.

Wordament fails to properly orient, move, and empower the person playing it. That's a fundamental gameplay problem.

sshell2u says:

The game is pretty enjoyable and fun.That is basically what a game is meant to be and Wordament accomplishes it beautifully. If you find the game to be flawed in design you are totally in minority as can be seen by others opinion here.
That aside, the review is a total FAIL and does not do the game justice. Even the only valid argument hurled by you 'Lacking multitasking' does not really directly affects the gameplay.
BASELINE---Your review for the game is BAD and you should feel BAD!!!

Tomasz S. says:

The timer counting down to next game is clearly visible right there in the screenshots above. Did they not come from your phone?

Rene Ritchie says:

I wasn't referring to the one during the game, but the timer between games.

EMPOLLA says:

You read his post wrong. He said the timer counting down to the NEXT game. So you obviously would have to be done with your current game.

It's right there in the very screens you posted. The second picture in the first set of three. It says next game: 31 seconds.

I've had this game for 2yrs on WP and now also have it on Windows 8. For some reason you rushed this piece based on all the misinformation that's in this post.

ymala1 says:

Exactly what I was coming by to mention. This guy clearly decided to not give this game the time of day, and apparently, calling him out on this makes you wrong.

It's particularly hilarious since the screenshots he posted himself clearly show a timer counting off the time remaining till the next game. smh.

Rene Ritchie says:

Yeah, if you read my comment above, I asked for buttons that would let me choose to enter the new game, or skip it.

I'm complaining about the user experience and interface.

If it makes you feel better to think I'm stupid than to think this game wasn't well ported to iOS, that's fine. But I do this a lot and I've done it for years, and now it's over a day since the app came out and I stand by every word of the review.

And again, me being stupid doesn't explain the bad multitasking. So if they got something that simple wrong, is it really hard to believe they botched the UI/UX as well?

Lots of popular games have bad UI/UX (just look at Draw Something). If it doesn't bother people, that's fine, but it doesn't make it good UI/UX.

Tomasz S. says:

The game never had buttons to enter or skip games in the WP version. Beacuse there is only one game - the constant one-year tournament. Reviewing words and scores between puzzles is part of the game flow. That's how it works. That's how it always worked when it started as an indie title long before it was acquired by Microsoft. It still works that wayin WP, always will, and iOS version offers the same experience, which you are not able to grasp for some reason. It's just absurd to call it a "bad port" when it's an exact port. I can't really figure out what the complaint here is - do you think the game should've been dumbed down to cater to the technically challenged folk or something? Isn't the game simple enough? Or are you spreading FUD to keep people away from this game, cause you wish it to fail for some inane reasons?
Every sane person agrees that the game UI and experience are good, enjoyable and even addictive. That's why it was a success on WP and gets good ratings on iOS too.
It's clear the you are the problem and not the "port". And you've really made a fool of yourself claiming there's an "invisible counter", and then lost all the rest of your credibility and dignity while sticking to your nonsense instead of admitting you had a bad day and couldn't see and think straight. You had a chance to redeem yourself and you blew it big time.

Rene Ritchie says:

"That's how it works" doesn't make it good. "This is how the WP version works" doesn't mean that's how the iOS version should work. How would WP look with straight ports of iOS apps?

Usability isn't about "dumbing down". That's the immediate tell of any bad UI. That's the emperor's new clothes. Calling users dumb means the UX is wrong.

The game itself is good. I didn't complain about the actual concept of the word puzzles or the idea of one real-time board.

It's a new day, and I stick by that review. Rather than insult me personally, or insinuate silly agendas, why not explain how the lack of iPhone 5 support is fantastic? Why the lack of proper multitasking support is great? Why jamming tiny text on screens with crammed interface elements is the best thing ever? Why having mixed buttons and text links is smart? Why moving users through screens with no manual control is empowering?

Rather than defending the game by insulting me, why not defend the game by its merits alone?

Tomasz S. says:

Why the frak would Wordament on iOS work different than on WP? It wouldn't be called Wordament, if it was a different game, would it?
How would you expect the cross-platform multiplayer (iOS, WP and Win8) to work if the gameplay was different?
I can't resist insulting you if your arguments are so invalid.

Why can't you just admit that you simply hate Wordament gameplay instead of trying to make up silly excuses for it like "bad port to iOS"?
Nobody would insult you if you just admitted it's not your type of game.

Now about desciribig the merits of the game - now that was your job, and you failed miserably at it. You haven't even tried do describe what the goal of the game is and how it's played. You absolutely left out the gameplay from your so called game review. Instead you focused on ranting about how you hate the layout. Are you honestly proud of it and consider it to be good journalism? Dear gods..

Meanhwile the game can defend itself - there are almost 2000 people playing it right now as we speak.

Rene Ritchie says:

I don't hate Wordament at all. Just the opposite.

The poor implementation on iOS -- no iPhone 5 support, no proper multitasking, the tiny text and cramped UI elements -- all get in the way of what's a great game.

If anything, they're signs of Microsoft not caring enough about the game. And Microsoft is a company capable of making the best stuff in the world.

Gmail 1.0 was junk. Gmail 2.0 is fantastic. Hopefully Microsoft learns that lesson faster than Google did.

The things I'm complaining about might not matter to you, and that's fine. But they matter.

Tomasz S. says:

Never before has anyone complained about tiny text and cramped UI in Wordament. Neither did anyone complain about the game not being intuitive.

toddtmw says:

You are right. You do this a lot. And you make a lot of spelling and grammatical errors.
(Like the one I pointed out above that still has not been corrected hours later.)

I'm not a grammar nazi by any stretch of the imagination. I rarely (I'd say never, but someone would probably scour the web until they found an instance where I had) point out typos and grammar errors in comments left on boards, but when a professional writer and editor of a major web site consistently makes simple mistakes and fails to catch them, and then fails to fix them even hours after having them pointed out, it really hurts the credibility of the web site and the writer.

oddom says:

Why are u replying to these idiots? You're smarter and better then everyone commenting!

Carioca32 says:

I just wish this game had received the same treatment the worthless Avengers Initiative got, a terrible, boring, repetitive, expensive game, with serious tracking problems, that got a widely positive review from iMore.

Rene Ritchie says:

It received exactly the same treatment.

Or did I miss where Wordament lets me play as the Hulk, and Avengers Initiative lacks proper multitasking support?

ymala1 says:

By your argument, all Wordament would've needed to do is let you play as the hulk in order to get a fair shake. Seriously, I haven't read the review Carioca32 references, but your retort is childish as best.

Valid things you knocked Wordament for, The multitasking support? Poor form, lack of iPhone 5 support, totally valid.

But did you actually bother to play the game though? Was it a fun game? Did you enjoy playing it? Did you like the fact that you could pit yourself against players on Windows phone, Windows 8 and Windows RT, worldwide, in real time?

No, you don't look at any of that really, you just seem to look for excuses to hate on this game, and then you chew out people for calling you out on your poor review.

How did you miss the timer that says, 'next game' followed by a counter that counts off the seconds to the next round? It's hilarious because you moan and groan about it, and it's in the very screen shots you posted.

Other comedic gold includes ripping the game for not having, next and rematch buttons, followed by an update that starts off with assuring us that you 'get that it's real time', did you really? You knew this all along?

This review is a joke, and it unfairly reinforces the notion of the average iDevice user that will turn their nose up at anything that relates to Microsoft.

edit: I just realized you're the Editor-in-Chief of iMore. I really hope you were just having an off day and that this post doesn't actually represent the spirit of all the articles on this site.

Rene Ritchie says:

My retort was that way because he's a frequent commenter and I get where he's coming from, so responded in a similar fashion. If you've missed previous comments, that gets lost. Sorry.

Otherwise your comment reflects a reality I'm not familiar with. I wanted to love this game.

Then it didn't support iPhone 5. Then the multitasking didn't work. Then the UX and UI were overladen with tiny text, cramped controls, and poor flow-through.

If Letterpress had those problems, it would have gotten the same review.

My job isn't to jump through hoops to find excuses to like apps, it's to hit them hard and see if they hold up.

This one didn't. Microsoft making it only makes that worse, because like I said in the review, they're one of the smartest, best software companies in the world.

How can they release something that doesn't even multitask?

Metro is one of the most beautiful, usable design languages in recent history, how can they release something with poor element spacing, crammed with tiny text, and with no clear visual cues and calls to action?

Google used to suck at apps. The latest Google apps are all fantastic. That's because Google put teams together to make them fantastic and it worked. Microsoft needs to do the same.

You can insult me personally all you want, but it won't make Wordement any better.

Tomasz S. says:

"No visual cues or call to action" is part of the Metro style. Here in the modern world we click on images and texts, not phony buttons, switches and other skeumorphic kitch. So, Metro is another thing you clearly don't understand.

ymala1 says:

I'll have to use Wordament on an iPhone myself and get a feel for it, so I can't really comment on what you're saying. I've been playing it on Windows Phone for a while and I love it, and I found the UX to be fine, my thoughts were, as long as they didn't change it, it should work out just as well on the iPhone, perhaps something was lost in translation.

My issues were with the review alone, I never insulted you, or if it seemed that way, my apologies. I do respect how you came down to the comments section to engage with the commenters. Something that I'm glad to see seems to be a trend amongst the mobile nation sites.

I guess on some points we'll just have to disagree, for others, I'm going to have to get a first-hand feel for before I can say anything more.

Tomasz S. says:

I think the most ridiculous part of Rene's rant is calling the "you vs. the internet" gameplay a bad port, while it's the same as the original, and it's the MMO gameplay that made this game so succesfull.

Rene Ritchie says:

Part of the porting process is making an app fit the platform you're moving it to.

"Hey, this game doesn't work with my Wii-mote!" "You idiot, it's a Kinect title, you're supposed to wave your arms around." "That doesn't work on a Wii..." "You clearly don't understand and are stupid."

Your argument about Metro (which I understand quite well, thanks) would be more compelling if Microsoft didn't present a sign in button on top of a text link for guest mode on the same entry screen.

And again, you're ignoring the lack of iPhone 5 support, and the multitasking implementation. How are those explainable simply as me being stupid?

Tomasz S. says:

So you are saing that a Massive Multiplayer Online Word Playing Game doesn't fit the iOS platform? Can you please explain why wouldn't it fit? Cause the only two explanations that I can see from your rants are:
- you think your fellow iOS users are too dumb to grasp the concept
- you just hatin and talking shit

Secondly: a button and a text link on the same screen is not extraordinary at all. It's really nothing to complain about and has absolutely no impact on the game play. It's like saying you don't like the colour of the splash screen that appears while the game loads up.

I don't ignore the lask of multitasking support. This indeed is bad. That's the only valid point you made. But every reasonable person would just give the game 4/5 stars and wouldn't make a huge deal out of it.

I don't really care about iPhone's weird streched screen and don't see anything wrong about iphone 4 and iphone 5 users being able to play the same game.

And again, I can't ignore the fact, that all the rest of your so called review is utter nonsense.

Rene Ritchie says:

Lack of iPhone 5 screen size support?

Tomasz S. says:

Initial lack of support for iPhone5's weirdly stretched screen doesn't impact the awesome gameplay. Neither does it justify your "review" being mostly nonsense.

Rene Ritchie says:

16:9 is weirdly stretched?

Tomasz S. says:

Yes, it is. The additional space on the top and bottom is totally useless and won't make Wordament gameplay any better. Could be used to place more adds though.

Now could you please stop with the sidetracking and elaborate on your ludicrous claims, that the MMOWPG mode doesn't fit into the IOS platform?

Rene Ritchie says:

I never said that. Only you can elaborate on stuff you make up :)

Tomasz S. says:

<<""That's how it works" doesn't make it good. "This is how the WP version works" doesn't mean that's how the iOS version should work. How would WP look with straight ports of iOS apps?>>

Your words.

Rene Ritchie says:

Yeah, but that's not the question you asked. Both those things are implementation, not genre.

Tomasz S. says:

The same implementation works wonderfully on WP. Why would the same game be bad for iOS? Do iOS users require special treatment like special children?

kehanra99 says:

This game is awesome, it was one of the few free highlights when I had a Windows Phone. It was my go-to time waster, and now it is again.

Dionte says:

Why come they keep releasing apps that don't support the iPhone 5 screen.

gwydionjhr says:

I bought my wife a Lumia 800 as her first smart phone a little over two weeks ago. She's a total newb, today I had to walk her through how to send a picture via MMS. One of the few things I preloaded on her start screen was Wordament. I don't play it myself (or any other games really for that matter) but she found it on the start screen, opened it, figured it out, and now half jokingly refers to her phone as the "Wordament Machine". If a tech newb as big as her can figure it out on her own, I find it hard to believe that you had that many issues.

BP41 says:

I haven't played the game because there's no iphone5 support. How do you release a game at this point without that?

I can't comment on game play but most of the reviews on the App Store are pretty good. I do agree with the poster about the avengers game. It's Infinity blade with different characters. Same with that batman game. Boring after 5 min.

Rene Ritchie says:

I said the same thing, however being able to play as the Hulk, if you love the Hulk, is a plus. Same if you love Batman.

sentimentGX4 says:

Just to clarify for those who may be confused by the statement, the game does run on iPhone 5. Merely the entire screen isn't put to use.

BTW, the review of Wordament is ridiculously scathing. Most people think its a good game and, even if it wasn't, it's generally bug free.

41BP says:

Rereading that it does sound like it doesn't work on the 5. It does, but why bother with something that was released 2 months after the 5 and still doesn't support the screen size? A bit half assed if you ask me.

@Rene, I can see that. I think the dark night rises is a much better game but then I'm not into the infinity blade rip offs. Not saying its a bad game just not my type.

Rene Ritchie says:

I get the feeling a lot of people love the Windows Phone version, and are upset to see Wordament criticized on iOS.

I understand that.

But that doesn't invalidate the criticism. Personal attacks don't invalidate the criticism.

At it's core, Wordament seems to be a great gaming idea. It's just not very well realized. That doesn't mean it sucks or it won't be successful. Draw Something isn't a well-done app, but it's a fun game and it's been hugely successful.

For Microsoft, one of the biggest, best developers, on iOS, the biggest mobile gaming platform on the planet, it's just not good enough.

I'm not insulting people who like the game, or saying you have bad taste. I have affection for quite a lot of crappy apps and games. Some of them going back to the Palm days.

What we like is different from what's well done. And that's a good thing.

Wordament is not a well done app. Lack of iPhone 5 screen support and poor multitasking alone show that. Would that everything else was perfect, those would remain huge issues.

But it's not just that. Those are symptoms of a great lack of care and focus on details. And that's too bad.

Again, from Microsoft, again, on iOS, that's not good enough.

And none of that have anything to do with me or my review.

EMPOLLA says:

No one called you anything. I know I wanted to but didn't. Thanks to control F I typed in some words of insult and they can't be found on this page because no one called you anything.

You alluded to me calling you stupid. I didn't. Then you called yourself stupid in that same reply. It seems you have a self defeating personality. Someone did say idiot but he was referring to the people going against you.

Basically from what I've read no one has attacked you personally. You obviously in your write up of the game and the comments and reply's of yours, see what you want.

Wordament is a game not an app. You've called it an app about 5 times. Perhaps you like saying it's not a well done app because you can qualify that phrase by talking about multitasking and IPhone 5 screen support. But if you call it what it is, a game, you would've had to admit in your post that it's a good game while missing some OS features.

But I will go ahead and qualify you saying that people were attacking you by giving you your first attack. You're incompetent. Whether that be your review skills or lack thereof, your writing skills explaining your narrowed view, and not even owning up to simple things all just leads to monumental incompetence.

You're on his team but Steve Jobs wouldn't approve.

Tomasz S. says:

Wordament is not an app. It's a fun game. The puzzles, scoring, leaderboards and massive multiplayer system are really well done. But you wouldn't know that, since according to your own "review" you didn't even try to play it. If you did, you wouldn't write bullshit about a missing timer to the next puzzle.

Wordament was not a good idea poorly executed. Your attempt at criticisim was.
You failed at it and instead created a mockery of a stereotype iPhone user struggling to learn to use his phone.

n80721 says:

Actually it would be "swings and misses" not sure if its possible to hit and miss something at the same time

mrbofus says:

"looks like an add for the game"

It's "ad", not "add".

"If you're screen turns off"

"Your", not "you're".