Drawing Lessons from Viral Apps

Draw Something is the fastest growing application in both the AppStore (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) and Google Play (Android) marketplaces. Only live for 4 weeks, the game currently has more than 20m downloads and 12m active users [1] and is more than doubling its userbase each week [2].

The idea is simple – it asks users to play against each other as they alternate between drawing and guessing a drawing using the letter tiles provided (a take on Pictionary). The game is insanely addictive (personal experience here) and by all accounts highly successful – the owners are already talking about six figure revenues each day [3].

It is one of the social media platforms that seem to be getting it right in terms of monetization. Organisations like Zynga (Farmville), Rovio (Angry Birds) and now Omgpop (Draw Something) are amongst the most successful around. Perhaps we should be spending more time understanding the secret of their success and adopting some of their lessons.

Quite clearly I’m addicted but I’m not alone

I downloaded Draw Something last weekend, and now each evening I check in for a few minutes to see who has guessed my drawings and more importantly, to draw a few more. I worry that some of my winning streaks – where we guess right each other’s drawings – will end. Quite clearly I’m addicted but as the stats suggest, I’m not alone.

This in a nutshell is an app that uses your imagination – a successful formula for many a boardgame over the years. The owners are also Farmville fans as they too have adopted the often seen reward and virtual currency now a mainstay of the successful mobile game. The rewards keep users engaged but can also be cashed in for easier guesses or supplemented with real money to buy that snazzier palette of colours (for the perfectionists out there).

OK, so what can take from this?

First up, this game or application is, as Seth Godin might put it, a truly innovative or “remarkable” idea. The game is simple to play (anyone can play) and certainly has the “fun” of pictionary – being humourous, skillful, clever and at times silly – but does not need a group of people to be there at the same time to take part. We can throw our turn over at 9pm GMT and our opponent can pick up and respond at 9am EST. Its global pictionary on steroids.

More importantly, depite the idea being a good one, it will only become a success if it is spread like a virus. The company I think takes another leaf from Godin here, deliberately employing a range of “virus-spreading” techniques which combined have the potential to develop Draw Something into a “big something”, exponentially more impactful.

Draw SomethingHere’s how they have done this…

  • Draw Something was initially spread through tweets by celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Jersey Shore’s Pauli D and Vinny [2]. Godin describes these as Sneezers: those that will influence the idea and spread it to their followers (for kudos usually but sometimes monetary reward).
  • Draw Something allows key aspects of the game to be shared through Twitter [4] and Facebook. This isn’t about the company presence (although they have a highly engaged Facebook page), this is about the userbase. There is perceived value for the player in both sharing their doodle and also inviting their friends through these channels. There are few or no barriers to sharing in this sense. This idea is also deliberately interacting in the places where their customers (and influencers) are hanging out. These platforms provide the medium for the idea to be spread much wider, by more people – through likes, comments, status updates, tweets and retweets.
  • Draw Something is an idea that can be acted upon quickly (it has velocity). It is developed primarily for the massively popular App Stores [5,6] and for mobile devices; devices that most of us use and carry around with us and which can both receive a viral message and also download an app within one or two clicks.
  • Only time will tell if this idea has longevity but it is quite obviously not in the category of internet meme nor topical issue. Will it survive the initial hype? Can the idea be constantly refreshed or reinvigorated? Look at how Angry Birds introduce seasonal variations of their game to keep the interest high in what is essentially the same concept.

We think the Rovios, Zyngas and Omgpops can teach us all a thing or two. Perhaps you could start by looking at the following questions for you or your business:

  1. Consider what is your truly remarkable idea?
  2. Who are the sneezers or influencers that can take your idea and spread it wider?
  3. How can your customers share your idea more readily, in the places that they already hang out?
  4. Does your idea have velocity? Can it be acted on quickly or are there hoops to jump through?
  5. How can your idea live longer? How can you keep it interesting and prevent it from dying out?

As always we would welcome your comments.

Alan, Jim and Vincent

[1] http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9303-draw-something-one-app-five-weeks-20m-downloads
[2] http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2012/03/12/draw-something-scribbles-atop-this-weeks-list-of-fastest-growing-facebook-games-by-mau/
[3] http://www.webpronews.com/draw-something-earns-6-figures-a-day-2012-03
[4] http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-craziest-pictures-made-so-far-on-hot-app-draw-something-2012-3
[5] The iOs AppStore has in excess of 200m users and Apple celebrated its 25billionth download this month, apple.com
[6] http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/12/10-billion-apps-detailed/

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