Little did the Bettner brothers know, when they quit their jobs at Microsoft Game Studios to form their own company, that their first project would one day be the game of choice for a Super Bowl-contending football team. "Exponential growth looks very, very linear and flat in the beginning," Paul Bettner told Complex. "It was like, 'Oh, we got fifty more users today! Yay!' But Dave and I are looking at that and we're like, we're gonna go out to find real jobs again." But it eventually "just kind of tipped over," he said—John Mayer tweeted about it, Paul and Dave joined Zynga in late 2010, and by now everyone and their grandma enjoys the Bettners' version of virtual Scrabble.
After the Wall Street Journal revealed that the New York Giants have developed a somewhat unusual obsession with the game, we couldn't help but add our own commentary. That's when we realized we just had to find out what the game's creators thought about the whole thing.
Needless to say, Paul Bettner just became a Giants fan. Read on for our interview.
Complex: What do you think about Words With Friends being a Super Bowl locker room sensation?
Paul Bettner: I mean, it surprises me as much as I think it surprises some of the Wall Street Journal readers, and definitely it seemed the author was a bit surprised by it. Because you know, when you picture a locker room, you picture jocks, and kind of—you don't picture this sort of cerebral word game thing going on. I've met some pro athletes and I guess it shouldn't surprise me, because the best athletes in the world are the ones that are just incredibly focused and like, just so smart. They think about the strategy of the game and it's not just about the physical aspect of it. So it kind of makes sense to me that the world's best teams this year would also be pretty good at such a nerdy game.
Giants or Pats?
[Laughing] I've got to go with the Giants now, man. At least until there's another article about the Patriots playing. Like, you know, I don't know how they would top it. Now I'm definitely for the Giants.
What about Alec Baldwin getting kicked off the plane for refusing to stop playing with Tina Fey?
Yeah, when that story came out, it was just incredible, and kind of caught the whole company at Zynga by storm. Everybody was talking about it and super excited, and just kind of like, wow, this is such an amazing moment. And then it just kept going, you know like, I thought that first thing would be the end of it. That Saturday Night Live skit was just the best thing ever, I mean it was hilarious. And then it just doesn't stop, and the Tina Fey thing happened, and then he wins, like, was it the Golden Globes? No, it was the SAG awards, and talked about it there. I mean it's just, it seems to be a big part of his life, which is awesome.
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Besides locker room meditation and air travel disruption, have you heard of any other ways people use the game that surprise you?
The big thing that I hear happening now is it's kind of invading schools. So like, you know, colleges and high schools are sort of getting taken over by the game, and just having these rivalries going on between classmates and between all the various parts of the school, teachers and students, and that's awesome. And I wonder if it could turn into a sport or something between schools? We've been tossing around some cool ideas for that, too.
The other thing that I think is just awesome that we hear all the time is how, you know, the game is—obviously playing it is a big part of it, but socializing using the game is another big outlet. Because it's kind of like Words with Friends gives people an excuse to talk—they might not otherwise challenge each other, but they're willing to start a game with each other and keep communication going that way. So it's almost like this sort of lower commitment version of text messaging or email or something.
Have you heard of people using it as a pickup line?
Oh yeah, all the time. We were just making a joke about this the other day because we've heard from our players, "If I'm at a bar, I won't give somebody my phone number, but I'll give them my Words with Friends handle." You know? Like, "Maybe you could start a game with me, and then we'll see how that goes, and then maybe I'll give you my phone number." I don't know if that's an intelligence test or what it is, but it sounds pretty good to me.
Do you think it's a more stimulating or educational kind of game than others kids in high school might be playing together?
Oh definitely. And there was a thread that was just going on where Mark Pincus [Zynga CEO] was actually talking about his, I don't remember if it was his daughter or—
[PR clarifies:] His niece.
Yeah, his niece was playing the game and, you know, she's really young I think, and was just really enjoying it. And you know, then I've got my mother-in-law who's 85 playing it. A game that spans that sort of, just crosses all boundaries of age and demographic and whatever is—it's just phenomenal. And yeah, I think it's absolutely better for those children's minds than some other things that they might be doing. I mean, I think it's pretty amazing, right?
If the Giants win, will you take credit for that?
[Laughing] Yes. At least partially. I think we've got to share a little bit of credit. And we're sending some stuff their way too, just to thank them for being fans of the game. You know, we love that, and we wish them the best of luck at the Super Bowl.
What kind of stuff?
Some t-shirts and other schwag and things like that.
[PR:] We're sending them shirts with the "New York Giants" in the Words with Friends tiles.
Yeah, actually, I saw that yesterday.
Will you take credit if they lose, too?
[Laughing] Um, yeah, I guess I would have to, if we're being fair about it. Because maybe they were too distracted by the game, and people are going to blame me. I suppose I could take a little credit for that too.
It could backfire.
Yeah, right? And then I'm sorry, I'm very sorry to all the Giants fans out there if that happens.