Late last year, we were approached by ElApps to develop their word game prototype into an App Store-ready product.
We combined our mobile development and e-learning expertise to create Owls and Vowels: a word game where players are encouraged to expand their vocabulary by spelling new words such as “jiffy”.
Did you know that a jiffy is an actual measurement of time? According to physicists, a jiffy is how long light takes to travel a distance of one femtometre, which is a millionth of a millionth of a millimetre. #KnowYourWords
One of our core design pillars was to teach players new words. This stemmed from on our own experience playing word games, and how many words we spelled that we wanted to look up the definition for.
This principle was achieved by combining several features: an in-game dictionary, themed topics that introduced new words, and an intelligent letter spawning algorithm.
The main challenges we faced were
- Getting access to and implementing a comprehensive dictionary.
- Identifying and classifying word stems so that we could link stemmed words to the base definition (e.g. mean vs. meaning).
- Controlling the letter spawning so that long and interesting words are always available.
- Teaching the player new words in a manner that felt natural.
Our solutions to the key challenges we faced:
- We purchased the WordsAPI offline database to use as our dictionary. We investigated many other options such as The Oxford Dictionary and Dictionary.com. However, these options required a constant internet connection and annual licensing fees of thousands of dollars.
- To solve the stemming issue we implemented a modified version of the open source Porter2 Stemming Algorithm. This was a quick and effective way to get the required result.
- Spawning long and interesting words was the most difficult problem to solve. We ended up implementing a series of interlocking rules that dictated letter spawning. The high-level process involves: analysing the layout and composition of the game board, choosing possible words from a list, identifying the best letter positions, and finally dropping the tiles into place.
- To help build the player’s vocabulary, we designed many levels around the most interesting topic words, encouraging the player to define them. e.g. jiffy. We also regularly provided hints when specific words were on the board, encouraging the player to explore the topic word list, and spell specific words.
We have had some truly inspiring feedback from players all around the world, and are quite chuffed at the response. Some of the highlights from the launch:
- The game has a 4.8 star rating across 180 reviews on both Android and iOS!
- We were featured on the App Store worldwide in the ‘New Games We Love’ section.
- Though our App Store Optimization efforts we managed to reach #1 rank for “Owls Game”, and top 10 for many more such as “Learn to Spell”, “Vocab”, “Alphabet Puzzle”, and “Bookworm”.
- An average session length of 11 minutes.