Words with Friends and one epic proposal

February 14, 2012

Matt Hudson had an idea. He knew exactly how he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Rebecca Gadell, but he wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

You see, Matt and Rebecca — like most couples — have a “thing,” and that thing is playing Zynga’s Words with Friends. When they have some down time waiting in line or at a restaurant, they fire up a game of “Words” using the pass-and-play mode. Hudson decided he wanted to work their special pastime into his proposal.

So Hudson, then a developer based in Washington, took a chance. He filled out the contact form on the Words with Friends Web site, put “Marriage proposal” in the subject line and explained what he wanted to do. No answer.

“They probably thought I was spam,” Hudson said in an interview with The Washington Post. He tried again, this time getting a response from a guy named Paul. Little did Hudson know that Paul was Paul Bettner, one of the game’s creators. (You may have seen him, recently, in the Best Buy Super Bowl commercial.)

Bettner was on board immediately.


The screen that Matt used to propose. (Courtesy of Matt Hudson/Courtesy of Matt Hudson)

Bettner said he often hears stories about people meeting and exchanging Words with Friends usernames — in fact, 44 percent of Words with Friends players say that they flirt using the game. According to a Zynga survey of more than 100,000 users, 47 percent said they have a crush on someone they’re playing with now and one out of 10 said that a game session has led directly to a hookup.

But Bettner said that Hudson’s request has been one of the more rewarding contacts he’s had with a fan. “We’ve had interesting interactions with our fans,” Bettner said. “Usually it’s not as positive...like somebody trying to find someone they met in a bar.”

For Hudson, though, Bettner suggested a simple approach: Get the board the way you want it; take a screenshot; and call up the image when the time comes to propose.

“I said: ‘Look. I’ve been through this. You’ll want to remove any complicated factors; you’ll want this to go smooth,’” Bettner said.

After two hours of pass-and-play with himself, Hudson got what he wanted: the words “Marry Me,” sharing the “M.” Getting the two r’s, he said, was the hardest part.

Hudson and Bettner had, by now, exchanged a lot of e-mails, and Bettner said that he was really rooting for the hopeful suitor. He even had T-shirts made to commemorate the event. Things were set to go. And then Hudson, in Bettner’s words, “disappeared off the radar.”

Months went by, and Hudson’s romantic quest faded from Bettner’s mind. One day when he was cleaning out old e-mails, Bettner came across his conversations about the plan. The last e-mail said the plan was ready to go, so Bettner fired off a note asking if Hudson had lost his nerve.


Matt and Rebecca posing in their Words with Friends t-shirts. (Courtesy of Matt Hudson)

He hadn’t, but there were a lot of preparations Hudson had to complete before he proposed, including finding a place to hide Bettner’s T-shirts and the screenshot he had made. Coincidentally, Bettner’s e-mail teasing Hudson about cold feet came the same day that Hudson learned that the ring he’d saved up for was being shipped.

Things didn’t run smoothly for Hudson. An attempted delivery fell through, and he had to chase down the driver to get the ring. By the time he caught up with the driver, he had missed his opportunity to pick up the dry-cleaning — getting him in trouble with a waiting Gadell.

“She’s cleaning the bathroom when I get home; that’s how mad she was,” Hudson said, laughing. “I managed to convince her to play a game of Words with me, saying that maybe it will calm her down.”

So, Hudson handed Gadell his phone, and, being a gentleman, let her play first. Gadell, who often wins their games, played the word “vat” for seven points. Then, the moment of truth: Hudson called up the screenshot, pulled the ring from his pocket and went down on one knee while his sweetheart looked down to plot her next move.

“She looked at the screen, then looked at me and said, ‘Seriously?,’” Hudson said. Then she started crying, he said, and told him .... “Yes!”

Since Hudson became engaged, he and Bettner have exchanged a couple of e-mails but have yet to speak on the phone or meet in person. Hudson did say, however, that there’s a chance they’ll ask Bettner to the wedding.

Related stories:

Zynga kicks off new year with ‘Hidden Chronicles,’ ‘Scramble with Friends’

Words With Friends: Alec Baldwin gives the addictive game a boost (ArtsPost)

Facebook and Zynga’s co-dependent relationship

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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