Tag Archives: OMGPOP

From Draw Something to $40 million TV Ad Campaigns

OMGPOP's first Facebook game was Cupcake Corner
OMGPOP’s first Facebook game was Cupcake Corner

I’ve spent the last four years on quite the ride, so pardon the long absence. I jumped into OMGPOP in 2010 as the product lead for a Facebook game; we delved into mobile apps in 2011 as the market shifted and then I was fortunate enough to be part of the crazy explosion of our game Draw Something. After getting acquired by Zynga, I jumped crosstown to FreshPlanet to grow and monetize SongPop as well as try to develop more social causal mobile hits. And here in 2015 I’m watching the market shift yet again as mobile game developers are now turning to traditional brand marketing by spending tens of millions on TV ads.

So here’s a couple things I’ve observed along the way:

#1 Overnight success takes years to perfect

Two of the biggest hits I’ve been associated with (Draw Something and SongPop) came after years of iteration.

Draw Something started off as a real-time flash game Draw My Thing on the now defunct OMGPOP.com site (but you can still play the embedded game on sites out there if you are looking for it). Drawing with your mouse sort of sucked but it was fun in real time – you had to beat the timer and draw well enough that others in the group could guess it.

Before Draw Something on mobile, there was Draw My Thing on OMGPOP - a synchronous game where you had a timer to draw and other users tried to be the first to guess the word you were drawing
Before Draw Something on mobile, there was Draw My Thing on OMGPOP – a synchronous game where you had a timer to draw and other users tried to be the first to guess the word you were drawing

We ported the game to Facebook which greatly expanded the audience, peaking at about 2.1 million Monthly Active Users (MAU) – but that was a mere blip compared to what we saw when we jumped to mobile. The iterations on mobile were huge: In 2012 doing real-time mobile play wasn’t an option so we shifted into asynchronous game play; the clock and “winning” or “losing was eliminated; and typing out your guess on a mobile device was a pain, so we shifted to a sort of scramble-like listing of letters from which to make your guess.

Before SongPop, an initial iteration was The Crazy Cow Music Quiz
Before SongPop, an initial iteration was The Crazy Cow Music Quiz

SongPop too had an earlier incarnation – can you believe The Crazy Cow Music Quiz? Obviously we ditched the cow, and a bunch of pre-game power ups, opting for a simpler and more direct game play.

Neither of these game ideas were a success overnight. And that’s about the same for every indie darling that makes it big, the latest being today’s #1 hit Trivia Crack by Etermax. Trivia Crack was built on the success of its Spanish-language version predecessor Preguntados which was built on the success of it’s Scrabble-like game Adworded which was built on the company’s past experience as a third-party developer.

#2 Sometimes there CAN be too much of a good thing

People binged on Draw Something similar to the same extent people now binge on NetFlix - games now have to figure out how to not let the player get sick of the game and burn out
People binged on Draw Something similar to the same extent people now binge on NetFlix – games now have to figure out how to not let the player get sick of the game and burn out

When Draw Something first came out, it was like crack. People couldn’t get enough of it. They played non-stop, during class, over night – it was this incredible social binge event. But unlike binging on Breaking Bad episodes on NetFlix, when you were “done” on Draw Something, there were a ton of opponents waiting for you to draw back. Unlike Scopely’s Dice with Buddies where a round is literally a couple seconds, Drawing took quite an investment of time and thought. That’s cool with three or five of your close friends, but having to draw for 50 people gets a bit overwhelming.

When Zynga bought us, Draw Something was barely a month old and no one had a clue what the eventual retention curve would look like. I won’t second guess anything we did in Draw Something to become such a cultural phenomenon, but today social mobile games put a lot of effort into gating the content a bit, to get users to stay a while instead of binging and leaving.

SongPop limits the number of opponents you can have at any one time. Many games like Two Dots or Candy Crush have “life” systems – you lose lives when you fail a level and either have to ask friends, wait or pay to regenerate those lives and keep playing. Trivia Crack sort of combines the two – limiting opponents you can play by a “life” system. The balancing of these gates and when they appear are key both to monetization, but also regulating the consumption of your content.

#3 Deja vu all over again

When I was younger, I remember a movie would stay in the theaters for weeks. Today, most movies are gone in a flash — maybe two weekends at the cineplex and then gone. But hits last longer – just not as long as they used to. In 1977 Star Wars was in 40% of it’s max theater release for 29 weeks. For last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it was in 40% of it’s max theater release for only 10 weeks. The economics have changed – there are about 4x as many theaters today so more movie-goers can see them in the first couple weeks. Looking ahead it’s becoming more clear that theaters will eventually give way to direct-to-home streaming.

Hit games like Luxor would remain at the top of the charts for six months before the downloadable PC game market got saturated
Hit games like Luxor would remain at the top of the charts for six months before the downloadable PC game market got saturated

When I was marketing downloadable games in 2005, a hit game like Luxor was at the top of the sales charts for six months – a game we all called a “AAA” game back then. Within two years the top selling game was at the top of the charts for just two to four weeks. The economics changed – there were 3x as many games being made. And then this little platform called Facebook started making it easier for users to get free games instead of paying $9.99 a pop for the downloadable game.

Are we seeing a similar trend in mobile? Saturation makes it hard for a new game to get heard. The majority that do break through — with either a burst campaign or the lottery ticket of an Apple feature — don’t end up lasting long on the charts.

Developers in the download space tried to pivot to Facebook games, but it was the early adopters on the platform like Zynga and Playfish that were able to take advantage of looser viral channels. Few other developers were as successful than those early entrants on the Facebook platform.

Are we seeing a similar trend in mobile? Over half of the top grossing games (Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Big Fish Casino, Hay Day, Soltomania) were released in 2012 or earlier. In 2012 there were 500,000 apps to compete with in Apple’s App Store – today there are 3x as many. The companies that were able to establish hits in or before 2012 have been able to maintain those franchises as early adopters on the platforms.

King.com has saturated select cities with branding campaign for Candy Crush Soda Saga - including the tops of yellow cabs in New York City
King.com has saturated select cities with branding campaign for Candy Crush Soda Saga – including the tops of yellow cabs in New York City

So while we all know it’s been getting more and more expensive in the last two years to create a new app (more depth and polish required) and acquire new users (CPIs easily can climb over $3), the money accumulated by these early adopter developers have allowed them to grow and move to an entirely different level: full-fledged brand marketing (cue Kate Upton). With city take overs by King.com and apps buying commercial time during NFL football playoff games, these are the marketing tactics that a small to mid-size developer can’t even begin to compete with.

So what’s an indie developer to do?

Well the great thing is that based on #1 above, there’s always room for iteration and innovation. When you can provide a unique experience, tell a unique story, change the way you interact with a device, then you might be able to find that big hit. Just realize you might have to fail 20 times to get there.

Second, be on the look out and try different platforms. Facebook disrupted the downloadable/PC games market and created new developer power houses. Mobile disrupted the Facebook games market hierarchy and has created new developer power houses. Eventually new platforms will come, we just don’t know where. So innovation and iteration is key for the indie developer to find a new market where they can be successful. Can someone crack Instagram and Twitter to create a new mash up of game play with social? I’m betting they can.

But this is my big question going into 2015: Can the medium-size developer shop survive? Or will we continue to see consolidation with a bunch of power house developers and a lot of small 1-3 person teams trying to create something new and unique?

Getting Your Facebook Fans to “Like” You; Really, Really “Like” You

FacebookSo while we saw that few of the top 20 Facebook game applications were actively using their Fan Pages (or Application Pages) to reach their fans in their homepage stream, of those that have been starting to engage their users in this way, I wanted to look at how users are responding. There are two primary ways in which a marketer gets feedback, either by the end-user “Like”-ing your post, or by commenting on the post. I looked at the posts made to date by those Top 20 Game Applications that have started posting and came up with the average number of Likes and Comments, and then look at those engagements collectively to see who is engaging their users the best:

Rank Game Developer Fans Updates Last 30 Days Avg “Likes” Avg Comments Avg % Fans Engaging
#2 Mafia Wars Zynga 2,233,760 11 11,593 7,927 0.87%
#3 Pet Society Playfish 1,447,682 4 8,638 1,980 0.73%
#4 Texas Holdem Poker Zynga 1,637,271 31 2,732 635 0.21%
#5 Restaurant City Playfish 220,224 4 2,579 3,355 2.69%
#8 Bejeweled Blitz Pop Cap 221,351 3 2,415 424 1.28%
#13 Vampire Wars Zynga 4,055 3 25 47 1.78%
#15 Word Challenge Playfish 148,047 3 241 77 0.21%
#16 Mob Wars Psycho Monkey 141,550 1 1,081 31,285 22.87%
#18 Geo Challenge Playfish 100,316 1 456 162 0.62%
#19 Chain Rxn Zwigglers 199,775 2 2,124 262 1.19%
#20 Biggest Brain Playfish 145,126 3 224 93 0.22%

For this sampling, the average percentage of engaged fans (excluding the anomaly of Mob Wars which I’ll touch on below) is about 0.94%. But just like we explored the engagement from Twitter Tweets the number of Fans probably needs to be adjusted for Facebook churn (around 40%), which would make the adjusted engagement level at about 1.6% on average.

There are additional caveats as well. The number of fans is taken at a particular point in time, June 15th, and some of these sites have grown dramatically (Zynga’s Mafia Wars grew 10% in just two weeks after it hit 2 million), so the older posts are going to look lower because the denominators are higher. Also, you would expect some of the games with substantially larger fan bases to have lower click through rates (similar to this example about Twitter click-through rates) as within the smaller group there is probably a tighter affinity to the game. In addition, posts generally are less effective over time (the initial post for Pet Society saw over 20,000 engagements, whereas only one of the following posts exceeded 10,000).

Finally, this is too small a sample to make concrete conclusions, as much of the data is based on games with only one or two posts. Mob Wars has an incredible number of comments on their single post, but it is an “add me” thread where users highlight their user name to create a mob larger than their own circle of friends, not really the act of the developer engaging with its fans. Chain Rxn has a strong following, but it was a post about how they had to change the Flash to work with changes in Facebook.

What Fan Page Posts are Working, Not Working

So while not conclusive, the posts that seem to receive the most “Likes” or Comments can directionally show what types of comments are resonating (and not) with users. I broke down and tried to categories the posts for these top games and came to the following general content guidelines:

Generally Strong Topics to Post About

  • Contests are strong – Zynga’s Texas Hold’em Poker has seen 2x the average engagement around the initial posts for their World Series of Poker challenge and drawing to win $100K (in-game currency) in chips
  • New Items (available for sale or redemptions) generally performed slightly above average (for Mafia Wars)
  • Insider posts , like getting to be in on a beta of new features or providing input, tended to do well

Be Wary, Tread Lightly When Considering These

  • Sales tended to be slightly above average as done by Playfish titles, but they were also some of the initial posts.
  • Videos of promotional ads generally performed lower, though more insider-focused ads about the developers were about average
  • Cross promotion to other platforms (iphone version, twitter) generally gathered lower numbers than other posts (gaining less than half the average post for MafiaWars)

What All These Games Seem to Be Missing

On some Walls, where the applications have allowed the users to post as well, there is an out-pouring of love (or scorn depending on the game) for the developer, but often little response, even in a broad way. What’s missing is a connection to the users.

While the marketer inside you is looking at the opportunities to push and cross-promote, you have to step back and think like a user engaging in personal relationships – what do they look at, what do they respond to? What do they comment on and “like” when they login to their Facebook homepage and peruse the stream?

One clue can be seen in one of the Texas Hold’em Poker posts, which was simply a quote: “Aces are larger than life and greater than mountains” – Mike Caro. This received some of the highest “likes” of any post, right up there with new feature announcements and the chance to win chips.

Another casual gaming portal, OMGPOP (not a game application on Facebook, but a social community phenomenally designed for high-school-aged gamers), has seemed to really tap into their audience on Facebook, seeing above average responses from Fan Page questions like “How many friends do you have on OMGPOP?” and “What’s your favorite drink?” and what music do you listen to or what food do you snack on while playing? Questions that actually solicit a response and find the community sharing amongst itself what they like and don’t like.

Just like Zappos doesn’t tweet about products or sales on Twitter, game developers have the opportunity to reach out to their fans and leverage the personality of their brands to intersperse the promotions with plenty of character. The ability to talk like and share thoughts with fans like a high-roller (Texas Hold’em Poker), an OMG-that’s-so-cute friend (Pet Society), or a wise-cracking hit man (Mafia Wars) might just resonate more and keep the games alive just a bit longer.

Content Strategy for Engaging Game Application Fans

As a game developer, your content strategy starts and ends with the game. Is there a product roadmap with a series of new features you are continually releasing? Or a series of new items you are introducing (or are you stuck like Word Challenge and only able to talk about the high-scores refreshing)? Is your production level quick (monthly releases) so you have enough to work with or is it once every six months? If you have the ability to add new features or items quickly, is there a way to include/involve your users in shaping some of that release?

Bottom line, layering in personality, some contests, or behind-the-scenes insight on top of core product updates is easy – the product is the hard part. The next wave of game applications that succeed on Facebook are going to be designed from the start to be continually optimized, upgraded, and shaped by input from their fans. And at that point, Facebook Fan Page/Application Page posts will write themselves.

Should You Set Up Your Brand in MySpace?

There has been a lot of discussion about whether MySpace can be “turned around” into a social power house again and MediaPost’s Catharine P. Taylor covered the issues well in her “Can MySpace Ever Be Our Space Again?” post. The comments are a great read and sum up a lot of what’s wrong and the prospects for turning it around.

While I think commentary from industry insiders is insightful, nothing better illustrates the issues ahead for MySpace than actually listening to end users’s conversing about MySpace. Here is social gaming site OMGPOP.com announcing the establishment of a MySpace presence on their Facebook Fan Page:


So while there may be some life, especially around music, in the MySpace platform, as a marketer I’d be wary of setting up shop where users feel unsafe. Do you really want that association for your brand?