26 March 2012

Why Draw Something Works

Drawing from bestofdrawsomething
The latest rage to hit the interwebs, as you all know, is OMGPOP's Draw Something (if you aren't familiar with it you can checkout my review of Draw Something on LightenApp.com).
According to their latest news, only 7 weeks after launching Draw Something was downloaded more than 35 million times and Zynga bought the company for $180 million.

We've seen it time and time again where a company takes an existing concept, that was not necessarily ever a big hit, puts their own twist on it, and the result is "overnight success". Google did it with search and Gmail (for example), Rovio did it with Angry Birds, and the list goes on... The OMGPOP story is far from an overnight success, as my good friend Shahar Nechmad noted in a recent post, but they definitely nailed it with Draw Something.

So what did OMGPOP do in Draw Something that caused this incarnation of pictionary to catch on so fast and turn into the amazing phenomenon that it became?

Here's my analysis.

Asynchronous playing - people love playing mobile games and they love playing with their friends. The problem with playing mobile games with your friends is that you typically need to all play at the same time, which is not very convenient when on a mobile device. You usually want to play on your phone when you have some spare time. In Draw Something the entire gameplay is based on asynchronous turns, so that whenever you want you can launch the app and play a round or two, even if your friend/s aren't currently online. When you finish your turn whatever you did is sent to wait for your friend. So you are playing with real people however you can always launch the app and get immediate satisfaction, even if nobody else is playing at that time. Even though it's asynchronous the game still lets you see what the other side experienced as they were playing, watching you draw. So you get the asynchronous game play without losing much of the real-time effect of playing with another live player.

Simultaneous games with several people - The downside of asynchronous games with real people is that you have to wait a lot between turns, till the other person finishes their turn and sends it back to you. The way OMGPOP solved that problem in Draw Something is by letting you play a lot of simultaneous games with many people.
When you complete a round with one person you don't have to wait around for the person to be online and play their turn, you just jump to another simultaneous game with somebody else. The game allows for enough games in parallel so that typical users will have enough games to play and not get bored waiting around. Since people are playing several rounds at once, each time you launch a round you first see the last drawing you drew for that user. That quickly reminds you where you left off and can continue playing from that spot.

Not being able to quit in the middle - Sometimes you run across players who don't really know how to draw well or are bad guessers. Draw Something is designed in such a way so that you can quit playing with anybody you don't want to play with, but the quitting point is at the end of a round. This subtle product feature keeps users engaged longer with the game than if you could just quit in the middle of a round just because the other user annoyed you ("can't you see that's a golf club???"). When you are in the middle of a round and get annoyed at the other user, you still have to complete the round (watch the user guess your word, watch them draw and try to guess, draw a new word). So effectively you can quit the round once you've finished drawing something. But don't you want to see if the user got your word? After all you just created this masterpiece, you don't want it to just disappear, never to be seen by anyone. Right? Ok, I'll go another round and give them another chance.... Not only does this create more activity within the system, it also give a chance for poor players to keep playing (and hopefully improve).

Limited set of letters to choose from - Not letting users just type in the entire word they are guessing, but forcing them to choose from a limited set of characters has 3 benefits. 1) It limits the possibilities for the curent word ("that looks like a dog but I don't have a 'd', I guess it's cat") which in effect increases the chances that people will guess the word, which makes both sides happier ("If he got the word I guess my drawing was good" and "I'm so smart I managed to guess that word even though it's an awful drawing"). 2) It helps with spelling problems, especially with an international userbase. 3) Finally, limiting the characters creates an opportunity for in-app purchases of bombs to eliminate characters and not lose your winning streak.

Easy random player hookup - Even if you don't know anybody who plays Draw Something you can just get the app, create a game, and find a random partner to play with. Since the game is asynchronous and simultaneous this really helped get the game started even when there weren't a lot of users using it yet (it was easy to seed the game with a small group of initial in-house players who took on the new users coming in).

Playing with actual friends - It's very easy to play Draw Something with people that you actually know, via Facebook Connect. And since the game is asynchronous you can even start playing with friends that don't even have the game yet. This both makes the game fun (it's more fun to play with somebody who you know in real life, vs somebody random) and makes the game viral. If you choose not to connect to Facebook you can still play against people you know via either their user name or email address.

Winning streaks + aligned goals - both players playing a round of Draw Something have the same goal, to guess the word. If I draw a good drawing and you guess it, we both win. Combine that with a winning streak counter and both sides have a mutual goal of keeping up that streak and not letting the other side down. This works exceptionally well when playing against friends you know via Facebook.

Not all the things Draw Something did were so outstanding, but these things are what caused the game to be both fun and viral among friends, which led to its great success.

Here are a couple things they didn't do that well on, and will hopefully improve in their upcoming versions:

The user interface when logging in is not standard and actually quite weird. Instead of asking for your email/username and password they ask for your email and username. I've seen more than a few people put in their email and then type their password in the username field (because it looks like it should be the password field) and what happens is that you now get a new username that is your password. Not cool at all.

They also screwed up the Facebook integration when you choose to sign in with a user name instead of using Facebook Connect. If you use a username you can't then connect to Facebook and play against your Facebook friends. That's both less fun and less viral, both sides lose.

In their next version of Draw Something they will let people share their drawings easily on Facebook and Twitter (among other things they'll be adding). This will create more engagement around the game among friends and increase their virality.

I can't wait to see what other product improvements they'll introduce that will make Draw Something an even bigger success....