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Summary:

Draw Something, the No. 1 paid and free app right now on iOS and Android, is listed as a game but it’s not really a game at all. OMGPOP CEO Dan Porter, who designed the app, explains how it succeeds using cooperation, rather than competition.

draw-something

Draw Something, the No. 1 app right now on iOS and Android, is listed as a game and draws a lot of comparisons to the family game Pictionary. But the funny thing is that it’s not really a game at all.

It doesn’t have scores or leaderboards, and the players in the game aren’t actually competing against each other. They’re working together in a cooperative manner, but they’re not taking on anyone else or a computer.

Instead, it’s more of a social communications app masquerading as a game, said OMGPOP CEO and Draw Something game designer Dan Porter.

I sat down with Porter Friday at OMGPOP’s New York office and asked him about how he pulled off the immense success of Draw Something, which has racked up 30 million downloads on iOS and Android in about five weeks. The app has generated about 2 billion drawings and is still being played daily by more than half of its users, who are exchanging pictures at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a second. And Draw Something, which is adding more than 1 million users a day, is pulling in low six figures in revenue a day, Porter said, mostly from upgrades but also in-app purchases and advertising.

The game invites users to draw one of three items which their friend can guess. If the friend guesses right, the drawer earns gold coins. Then they switch places. The game doesn’t keep traditional score but it does keep track of a sequence of correct guesses. In fact, the game was originally titled Streaks when it was being designed.

Cooperation, not competition

Draw Something is the first game that Porter has ever designed. And it’s not actually inspired by Pictionary: he says he’s never played the game.

Porter said the spark for the design goes back to simpler things like playing catch or rock climbing, cooperative activities that don’t declare a winner. That’s been been part of the success of Draw Something, emphasizing social interaction over game mechanics.

“We’re taking game play and wrapping it in the framework of communication, sharing experiences and playing together,” he said. “I just wanted this to be something hilarious with no winner or loser. You think of party games like Charades. There’s an aspect of that I was trying to capture.”

Perhaps it goes deeper than that. Porter said he attended Friend Central school, run by the Quakers in Pennsylvania, who de-emphasize competition. Or perhaps it’s because this was Porter’s first stab at designing a game after presiding over OMGPOP for the last three years.

Since he wasn’t a game designer, he saw a simple way around the big challenge of creating a 1 vs 1 game in which a player was somehow dependent on their adversary to score. The temptation would be for a player to be less helpful or shut out their opponent in order to stay ahead in points. Porter got around the problem by just doing away with points altogether, something that may not have been as obvious to traditional game makers.

“I’m not a game designer and I don’t pretend to be one so I didn’t really think about the rules of making a game,” he said. “Most designers would have said you need scores or leaderboards but it didn’t feel right so I didn’t do them.”

Building a mainstream hit

Porter thinks the game is a hit because it exploits the ability of touch screen devices to accurately portray drawing. He said a lot of games are designed around tapping but there’s still a big opportunity to find new ways to use gesture-input technology on smartphones and tablets.

OMGPOP CEO Dan Porter

And of course, an awful lot of people like drawing. Some artists on Draw Something get incredibly detailed and paint backgrounds or fill in pictures with elaborate textures and colors.

But Porter’s creations are stick figures and that works just fine in the app. One of the joys when taking a turn as a guesser is seeing the painting of a picture replayed and figuring it out as it unfolds. And the original drawer gets the thrill of seeing how long it takes their friend to guess their picture.

Thankfully, all of this isn’t dependent on being a great artist. That’s one of the things that can be discouraging about turn-based games like Words with Friends. If you keep losing to better wordsmiths, the excitement can fade. But Draw Something’s decision to minimize competition in favor of communal achievement is what has helped it become a mainstream hit, appealing to mobile users who don’t typically download games, Porter said.

“We want to make games for people that don’t put games on their phone,” Porter said. “That’s how you get to massive scale.”

Competing with Zynga

The inevitable comparison to Zynga comes up. Zynga, which recently went public, has the third most downloaded app in Word with Friends, which it got through its acquisition of Newtoy. Porter won’t say if OMGPOP, which has taken $17 million in funding since starting in 2006, is capable of taking down Zynga. But he likes the path the company’s on now, after building a lot of resource-style games for Facebook that kept getting beat by Zynga’s versions.

The game maker has built more than 30 titles including its most recent game Puppy World but none have been a break-out hit like Draw Something. After toiling away in Zynga’s shadow, it was time for OMGPOP to try something different.

“We thought if we’re not going to be as successful as Zynga, let’s do some out-there (stuff). If people don’t like it, at least we can say we didn’t do a bad job of copying other people’s games,” Porter said.

Now, the question is about what OMGPOP has in mind for an encore. In the short term, the company plans more updates for Draw Something including chat functions and the ability to store and share pictures. There may be more traditional game elements added as well.

The bigger question is how to build off the bigger momentum of Draw Something. Porter said he’s been approached by a bunch of game show producers about taking the game to TV. He’s still debating that, trying to figure out if he can make a game that’s a true lean-forward experience in the living room that can also combine TV viewing with interactivity through a mobile device.

He’s also deciding where to go next with future games. Porter said the company has got four or five ideas on tap but the question is whether to pursue more Draw Something versions–like what Angry Birds has done–or build other unique games that draw on the same cooperative mechanic.

It’s all still up in the air as the 42-person company devotes most of its resources toward keeping the Draw Something express chugging along. And that’s fine for Porter, who’s enjoying a wild ride.

“I’m in Zen mode,” he said. “We’ll take it as it comes.”

  1. Love this game, totally addicted to it and have gotten many friends to play it.

    Needs the following improvements:

    Streaks don’t go above “99″ (unless you look at the stats page).

    Need to tap twice to get to the drawing and guessing screens, tapping once should sufficient.

    Include an integrated chat (who cares if people use it for “cheating”?) — mostly I want to chat after the guessing part.

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  2. Reblogged this on Dots Of Color and commented:
    Freaking awesome!

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  3. Hats off to OMGPOP for creating a fun, engaging, and beautifully-designed game. Well done!

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  4. Mariea L Sellers Sunday, March 18, 2012

    how do i download draw something?

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    1. just go to app store or android store and then dload

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    2. U DONT NEED TO KNOW MY NAME Sunday, March 25, 2012

      u need to go to app store then look it up under the search thing and it will pop up and it is FREE!!!!!!

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  5. download from apple app store or google play store(Android).

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  6. LOVE LOVE LOVE this game! I’m the “target market” I suppose- the only games on my phone prior to this were spades, euchre, peggle and dropwords. All of them stand- alone non-interactive games. Now I can’t wait for a lull in real life to check my draw something. Best part is, the kids can play too ;)

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  7. Heh, I was sort of wondering how some people seemed to be able to make much better drawings than me when I saw the picture in this article of the tablet. Bit harder on the phone ;p

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  8. Reblogged this on Digixav and commented:
    Over the past few weeks, Draw Something has become massive, with over 30,000,000 downloads on iOS and Android. GigaOm’s interview with the CEO of OMGPOP, Dan Porter, explains how it all happened.

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  9. Dan Porter did an awesome job big congratulations.
    Also fun to see other sites like http://www.drawsomethingcheats.com that utilize that sucess.

    The App economy is growing so quickly its awesome to see as a developer.

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  10. Do the people that actually came up with pictionary get any royalties?

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  11. I’m horrible at drawing. The people who play with me would often ask “WTH did you just draw?”

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  12. Eastin Johnson Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    can you share the drawings??

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  13. Great article. KLooDoo.com is a great site for Draw Something ideas, an new approach to the game…

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  14. I heard that last week there were over 1 Billion Draw Somethings sent across the web. Mind blowing. Some of the worst and funniest are over at baddrawsomethings.com

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  15. Can you have more than one account on draw something?

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  16. Draw Something Cheat Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    This is easily my favourite game. so addictive.

    I always get stuck though, so I use this site:

    draw something cheat word solver with complete word list unscrambler

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  17. It’s an amazing game but im having some problems with it. For example, me and a friend were recently playing and our names stopped appearing in each others list and when I try to start a new game it says game already in progress! Dont knoe how to fix it :-S

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