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When ‘Words With Friends’ Devolved Into ‘Words With Bots’

Victor Westerkamp
Victor resides in the Netherlands and writes about freedom and governmental and social changes to the democratic form of nations.
Published: April 21, 2022
Words With Friends is more like Words With Bots after Zynga introduced bots to keep the matching queue short.
An intelligent vision robot plays Scrabble at the Industrial Technology Research Institute booth during CES 2018 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 10, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven players have increasingly replaced humans as competitors in popular mobile phone game apps like Words with Friends, a game based on Scrabble. (Image: DAVID BECKER/Getty Images)

An increasing number of users of the popular Words with Friends app have realized that they haven’t been testing their skills against fellow humans, but have been playing words with bots.

“I was kind of heartbroken,” Benjamin Arnet, a 24-year-old janitor from rural Kansas, who had been playing an elusive Maria T. for a year, told The Wall Street Journal.

He even developed tender feelings for her. 

“I thought it was an innocent old lady,” Arnet said when he found out the hard way that Maria T. was far from a woman; she was a fembot. 

The Words with Friends app is a digital rendition of the good ol’ Scrabble board game, and has been around for over a decade. The game has always kept a considerable contingent of loyal fans, experiencing a revival during Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdowns, forging social alliances between somewhat lonesome spirits.

At least, that’s what the humans thought it did.

When bots came into play

According to a spokesperson for Zynga Inc., the game publisher, the bots have been around since 2019, proclaimed to make sure there are always fresh players available and prevent queue times, the newspaper reported.

According to the Journal, seven out of ten most popular mobile games use bots in an apparent attempt to ramp up player traffic, and thus add revenues, based on estimations by app-analytics firm Sensor Tower Inc.

The issue of bots being deployed as pseudo-humans in Words with Friends started to get traction when disappointed users began to share their suspicions on the integrity of some player profiles on Reddit.

“I feel hollow,” another player said after finding out he had been fooled. “Thinking I had been playing against another human somewhere else on this planet…35 games later, I find out it’s a bot.”


Only Zynga knows which players are fake and which are not. For players who are uncomfortable with not being sure whether they are pitted against man or machine, there is a community on social media who share their insights about how to tell the difference between humans and the botnet.

Guidelines for players

For example, there’s a hotlist of suspected bot profiles on Reddit created by Words With Friends players who were fed up with being served AI-driven opponents.

Some of the most common names include Tara McCluskey, Carlita Lopez, Ami Jayne, Alexa Dimitrov, Albot, Christine Gordy, Ella Haugerud, Elia Tobin, Emma Radcliffe, and Evelyn Brown.

If the above-listed group is not exhaustive, or your suspected opponent is not on the list, there are several telltale traits to look out for when you’re suspicious of dealing with a bot. These include opponents who: 

  • Can speak and play in six languages or more
  • Have a very attractive, mostly female, profile picture or lack any profile at all or whose picture is typically one from a stock image website
  • Generally don’t respond to chat messages or only in a quirky way
  • Play at any time of the day and usually do not need much time to think about their next move, or require an extreme amount of time to form very simple words
  • Create very odd words
  • Challenge you out of the blue to play even when you’ve disabled the function that allows unknown players to contact you
  • Have an uncanny win/loss rate often when they’ve coffered an incredible amount of wins in a very short period
  • Do not use their tiles to form words
  • Play in low-point letters
  • Fall silent when you ask whether they’re a bot

Paul Bettner, 44, co-created Words With Friends with his brother and sold the app for $53 million to Zynga in 2010. He told WSJ that the introduction of AI-players into his brainchild was just a matter of time, and something players will have to get used to.

Even more so, Betner dared say we will have to regard them as friends.

“We’re heading into a world where the definition of a friend is going to include artificial intelligence,” he said.