Zynga and the death of Draw Somehing

As a gamer and more specifically a lover of indie games, my default stance with Zynga is pure revulsion. The company has blatantly and shamelessly cannibalized so many indie hits at this point that I simply will not support any product they produce. The latest title to join my blacklist is Draw Something, the smash hit from OMGPOP. Zynga recently purchased the company for nearly $200 million, a purchase that drew a lot of raised eyebrows, including my own.

Don’t get me wrong, Draw Something is fun. It’s a perfect recreation of a game I know as Telestrations. In the physical world, Telestrations requires players to sketch a word using a fat-tip, dry-erase marker. The drawings are expectedly bad, but that’s part of the fun. The same is true of Draw Something – human fingers just aren’t precise enough to draw an accurate representation of Kanye West on a smartphone, but they can damn sure mock up some window-shade sunglasses and draw a bar of gold next to a shovel.

But Draw Something doesn’t quite have the magic that makes players stick around after the initial week-long excitement is gone. For me, interactions over Draw Something didn’t create enough of a story. With Telestrations, players pass their drawings around a room. The next person writes the phrase the original artist was trying to sketch. The person of that draws – it’s a game of sketch telephone. The real fun of the game, though, is in the retelling of the drawings. You get to see where players missed the mark. Draw Something is just too easy after a few plays with a new player. You know how they think, how they communicate an idea, and because Draw Something presents a hangman-style letter bank from which to guess, getting the word right is a simple process of elimination.

I could see why Zynga might have initially been interested in Draw Something; the game was pulling 15 million users a day through Facebook alone. It was at the top of the app charts, one of the highest grossing apps around. But just a couple weeks later Facebook traffic fell by half. Despite the company’s recent announcement of a partnership with Dreamworks for ads inside the game, it’s hard to see the Draw Something deal paying out. Even with a nice ad deal, there won’t be enough players in a couple months to make the math work.

I can’t say I’m sad to see Zynga’s stock continue to tumble, but I hope the company’s fall only leaves room for more games to fill its void. For a couple weeks, Draw Something had me connected to friends spread all over the country. If a company that respects IP can swoop in to deliver a lasting version of that experience, I’ll be a happy man.


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