Well, that went South quick -- casual, mobile game Draw Something is hemorrhaging players at an amazing rate. It was only a month ago that 14,300,000 gamers were drawing little pictures with the game. Now there are 9,100,000 iPhone and Android artists online. That's still a lot of players, but the percentage user drop is huge too, and if you check out the chart below (from Appdata.com) you'll see that the trend line is not moving in a positive direction--unless you think "toward the center of the earth" is positive. Something could happen to reverse the slide, sure, but if it doesn't...
So what happened?
Draw Something came out in February, and by April, the company that made it, OMGPOP, was purchased for $180 million dollars by small-game titans Zynga. Then, almost as suddenly as it blew up, Draw Something deflated. It's hard to say specifically why. There could be a resurgance of Draw Something just on the horizon, but, from a purely personal perspective, it seems to me that the answer lies in a simple idea that game companies sometimes forget, but gamers never do: It just wasn't fun enough to keep playing it forever.
Like everyone else, I played Draw Something when it came out. I was quickly enthralled with the simple gameplay, instant gratification and ability to draw dongs on everything (that's how I roll.) It's a simple game, unencumbered by extraneous material, and at first, that purity of function was really cool-- who doesn't like drawing things? I played DS pretty hardcore for a week or so, but then, suddenly and with no warning at all, I no longer had any desire at all to play the game, and never made another doodle. I put it down as casually as I'd picked it up.
I didn't think about it at the time, but it seems like my experience mirrored the overall player charts for Draw Something. Many seem to have quickly loved it, worn it out and moved on. Why is that? For me, the effort it takes to draw something, while fun at first, just doesn't "pay off" over the long haul. There are no levels to the gameplay. No risk and little reward. Very little depth. Just the same repetitive motions. Get a clue. Draw it. Move on.
The game's not-subtle-at-all attempts to pry my credit card out of my wallet didn't help either. Once I started noticing that the same clues came up again and again, and you had to buy new ones, I was out. Call me a hippy, but words should be free, man. So should colors. How are you gonna make me pay (in either time or money) for the color orange while giving me the clue "pumpkin?"
Farmville has a cumulative effect over time. A reason to build your farm and harvest your crops. Angry Birds has varying levels, a cool combination of chaos and thought, and the audacity to make a sequel with radically different physics from the original.
The rise and fall of Draw Something (and the continuing success of Angry Birds and various "-villes") can be seen as a lesson in how to have a successful game. At the final level, marketing, buzz, hype and a huge payout can only take you so far. It's the game design that ultimately determines longevity for gamers, especially for casual games, which can be put down as easily as they are picked up. Make an engaging and simple game that's very easy to pick up, and you run the risk of making it easy to put down as well.