UCF alumnus sees success with Words With Friends app
"Wouldn't it be cool if we could play a game like chess or checkers where we didn't have to be sitting at the same board?" said David Bettner, a UCF graduate and co-founder of the Words With Friends app.
When the iPhone came out in 2007, Bettner, who studied computer science at UCF from 1999 to 2003, said it completely changed everything, including video gaming.
Bettner quit his job and started pursuing this new, exciting industry with his brother Paul. After he graduated, Bettner became a game developer with Ensemble Studios.
After five years with Ensemble Studios, he founded Newtoy Inc. with Paul and his cousin Michael Chow.
Of all the classes Bettner took at UCF, he said his programming class with UCF Programming Team Adviser Dr. Ali Orooji was the most applicable experience he received at the university. Computer science can open doors to NASA or even be used to make games for the iPhone, he added.
But his university education did come with limitations.
"I learned math and science and programming, but as far as practical experience, I don't think I learned enough of that," Bettner said, wishing he had been more involved in working on video games and creating projects alongside his computer science work. "Spend more time on side projects. Start building things. It doesn't have to be good. It's very much a craft, and I think the only way to get better at a craft is through practice."
He recommends that students, especially undergraduates, get involved in projects outside of classes.
"There's no better way to learn than getting your hands dirty," he said.
A lot of people whom Bettner has talked to like playing Words With Friends because they say it's a way people can stay connected with friends and family, in a lighthearted form of communication.
The app became public in 2009, and its popularity spiked immediately.
Bettner said that the app went viral, with almost no marketing, because it was an easy game to understand. It was a new concept to play an electronic game with friends who weren't in the same room.
Katelyn Boyden, a sophomore business management major, said she plays Words With Friends because she prefers it over mindless games.
"I also wanted something I could play at my own pace and with real people," said Boyden, who isn't surprised a UCF grad developed the app.
But Bettner has seen his viral app lose popularity among teens and young adults.
"A couple years ago it used to be, 'Words With Friends, oh my God, I play that,' but now it's like, 'Oh cool, my mom plays that," Bettner said.
Newtoy Inc. sold the Newtoy games, including Words With Friends, to Zynga. Bettner and Paul worked with Zynga from 2010 to 2012.
The new version of Words With Friends was released two months ago, and Bettner is happier with this version. The new app comes with a dictionary and an updated look, changes made thanks to the new ownership of the app.
"The app space is very different than when we started the company," Bettner said. "There's a lot more competition."
He said that the new competition doesn't make creating an app impossible, however; the timing is just harder.
As far as the process to get an app on the market, "All you need is a MacBook or Apple computer and a $100 fee toward getting a developer account with Apple," Bettner said.
There is an approval process, but he said it's limited to making sure that there's nothing illegal or inappropriate involved in the app.
Currently, Bettner is working on a 1-year-old project named Sam — his son that is.
He currently serves as an angel investor, someone who invests in small startups, at his investment company Coda Enterprises.
Paige Wilson is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @paigeshortstackor email her at PaigeW@CentralFloridaFuture.com.