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‘Scramble With Friends’ puts successful spin on ‘Words With Friends’ formula

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A hit game sequel is a powerful thing indeed, but it can be tricky to pull off. Do you just repeat the first game? Come up with something new? Split the difference?

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Scramble With Friends (Zynga)

Maybe you should ask Zynga, who have managed to follow up their blockbuster Words With Friends with a Boggle-like game using the same elements. And it's hitting just the right notes.

Released in January, Scramble With Friends is still trailing Words With Friends in terms of sheer numbers, but the game is a hit — and a moneymaker. It was a top-five brand in the Apple App Store last month and currently stands as the 16th highest grossing app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

The gameplay is pretty simple: Players challenge friends (or strangers) to see who can find the most words in a jumbled group of 16 letters over three two-minute rounds. Words can be formed vertically, horizontally and diagonally. All you have to do is touch a letter, then swipe across others until you complete a word.

Aiding in this quest is a trio of power-ups: A time freeze (which buys you precious extra seconds to find words), inspiration (which suggests words when you're unable to find any more) and Scramble (which rearranges the letters to give you a different perspective).

As with all of its games, Zynga's not giving exact user numbers for the game, but it's quickly becoming a favorite among Facebook users, perhaps the easiest place to find friends to play with. And just like Words With Friends, you can also search your device's contact list, hunt by user name or play a random opponent.

While Scramble With Friends has taken some heat from analysts (and some media outlets) for failing to hit Words With Friends numbers, the comparison's not a particularly fair one. Words With Friends built its audience over four years and really didn't start to take off until a year after its release.

(That surge, by the way, started when musician John Mayer called the game "the new Twitter" in an Oct. 5, 2009 Tweet.)

Scramble With Friends only has a month under its belt, but its Facebook player base has already topped 3.4 million. App Data, an independent site that determines app usage based on the use of the Facebook Connect feature, estimates the game currently averages 1.8 million daily users. Zynga notes this number is not representative of its entire player base.

It's addictive — terribly so, in fact. And it stands to be a recurring source of income for Zynga. To play a game and use more than one power-up, you'll have to use in-game tokens.

And that's the catch. There's both a paid ($0.99) version or a free version, which has ads and regenerates tokens at a much slower pace. As with any Zynga game, you can also buy packs of tokens for prices ranging from $1 to $25.

For Zynga, the numbers are important, but the company won't be disappointed even if Scramble With Friends doesn't have the same reach. That's because the use of those tokens is already making the game a cash machine. And expect other "With Friends" titles to start using them soon.

"Words With Friends is an ad model that monetizes at a lower-level then pay-based games," said CFO Dave Wehner in the company's first earnings call Tuesday. "In addition, we're working to introduce new monetization techniques into With Friends games like we did with Scramble With Friends. Coins and power ups, we're seeing those games monetize at a higher rate."

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