Since its launch in 2009, Words With Friends has grown into one of the most prominent mobile word games around, boasting over 57 million active game sessions going on at any given moment. However, Zynga sees it as more than a word game and describes it as a “catalyst” that connects players with their friends and family. It is this social element that the developer and publisher is using to drive the launch of the sequel Words With Friends 2.

The new installment enhances the Scrabble-like, word-game formula with a series of player-centric upgrades. This means a single-player mode so that wordsmiths aren’t stuck waiting for others to take their turns when they have just a few minutes to play. That’s in addition to a revamped multiplayer mode that simultaneously supports high-speed matches between several players.

Gurpeet Singh, the game’s director of product at Zynga, personally visited the homes of players in Denver, Phoenix, St. Louis and other cities throughout the year to watch them play Words With Friends and get their input. It was part of the San Francisco-based company’s approach to audience engagement that went a step further than social media and online interactions to build the sequel. The company also had a number of soft launches in different regions for greater feedback.

It doesn’t hurt that Words With Friends is an incredibly well-known game, which gives the sequel a significant advantage when marketing in the crowded mobile market. Singh said its popularity alleviates having to establish brand awareness and a call to action to download.

“In this case, people already have a notion of what Words With Friends is and have very fond memories of the game,” Singh told AListDaily. “From our research, nobody left the game because they were upset, and when we asked them if they wanted to play again, they said ‘absolutely.’”

There’s positive sentiment associated with Words With Friends, and oftentimes, all it takes is a small nudge by emphasizing the gameplay improvements to get players back in the saddle for potentially another eight years.

Singh said the first Words With Friends was somewhat of daily ritual for many of its players who would turn to it in the morning then wait for in-game boosters to return. The key was to make sure their routines were not disrupted, which is the reason why the company decided to release a sequel instead of overhauling the original game. That way, they can choose to adopt the new title instead of having it being forced upon them.

When players download the new version, in addition to new modes, all statistics, progress and connections will carry over and they won’t have to create new accounts.

Although Zynga hopes that these incentives will get players to switch over to the sequel, it will continue to support the original game for the foreseeable future. Singh said that prior to the sequel’s release, the company relied heavily on its soft launches and in-game communications channels to build messaging around different versions of the game. Zynga also teased the game on social media and other external channels to drive awareness, but it mostly saved promotion for the November 8 launch day to preserve excitement.

But even a popular eight-year-old IP like Words With Friends still needs to attract new players. Singh confirmed that Zynga is keeping three types of players in mind with the launch of the new game—dedicated hardcore players, lapsed players eager to return and take advantage of new features and a new generation of casual players.

“When we did our testing, we looked at different segments to make sure the game is universally appealing to a broad set of players,” said Singh.

Maintaining long-term interest with Words With Friends starts with the players who enjoy the core experience and are unique in the mobile gaming space, Singh said. Another aspect is how the live-services team is constantly staying in tune with what players are saying and continually meeting with them throughout the year to improve the game.

Beyond that, maintaining long-term user interest comes down to delivering on the game’s daily diet of mentally challenges obstacles.

Singh reiterates that the true “X-factor” is the social experience, which allows players to make new friends and stay connected for years whenever playing.

“We’ve been able to enhance and improve the experience over the years to make sure that the game continues to feel fresh,” said Singh. “The new version will give fans both old and new cool things to think about and experience so that they can continue to give us feedback. I’m excited because I really do think it’s the best one we’ve launched to date.”