Draw Something nosedives: Is Zynga losing its touch?

It’s barely a month since Zynga (s ZNGA) surprised everyone by splashing out $200 million to buy OMGPOP, the makers of the mobile smash hit Draw Something.

But while Zynga CEO Mark Pincus was all smiles on signing the deal, he may be less impressed six weeks on, thanks to an intriguing report from Forbes that indicates a precipitous decline in the game’s user base since the acquisition.

According to figures from AppData.com, the simple and highly-addictive drawing game — which rocketed to 36 million downloads in just a few weeks — has lost around a third of its daily active users in the past month.

So what’s going wrong? There seem to be three major possibilities on the cards.

Technical problems

Lots of players have reported trouble accessing the game over the past few weeks. That seems to be a scaling problem, with the servers struggling to meet the demand of more and more downloads — though the move to shift OMGPOP’s traffic onto Zynga’s “Z-cloud” may also be a culprit, since similar reports are also surfacing about another game, Words With Friends.

For many new and existing players, server issues that mean dropped games or lost moves are an immediate black mark against the game: something that can really hurt in the instant gratification world of mobile entertainment.


Moving to the Z-cloud meant something else, too: the addition of new features that seem to have soured many players’ relationships with the game. For the most part, this means pushy Facebook and Twitter integration — though the company does seem to have also expanded the number of¬†advertisements, too, taking more money from Doritos, the NHL and others to include brand-related words into the game’s dictionary.

These might not be a turn-off for everyone, but they do seem to have had an impact on some users who feel uncomfortable at the commercial options.

Natural wastage

While Draw Something was an overnight success — spreading virally, zooming up the charts and bringing in a lot of revenue for its makers — many people are saying that they bored of it rapidly. That’s not entirely untypical for a faddish game, and since it has little variation, a pretty limited dictionary and real no long-term stickyness it appears OMGPOP hasn’t done a great deal to boost the game’s longevity.

This sort of wastage is pretty normal for short attention span games, which makes their success all about growth: you have to keep marketing the game to new players and expanding the overall market to compensate for those who switch off.

So who’s fault is this? And is it a real problem, or just a temporary glitch?

Some may argue that this isn’t a big deal for Zynga, since it owns not just Draw Something, but the entire business and team behind it. However, as we wrote at the time, Zynga’s purchase was not really about talent acquisition — while OMGPOP’s team are no doubt smart, they’d produced so many duds that the company didn’t have many rolls of the dice left.

No, for Zynga it was a numbers game: the revenues and user base of Draw Something were interesting, but underneath it all it was really about gaining access to a large, mainstream, purchase-happy audience.

Those users are great targets for Zynga to sell its other games to. And the speed at which Draw Something was growing — it had more than 36 million downloads in just a few weeks — meant that the audience was going to be significant.

Except it’s not. And that’s got to hurt.

If this drop continues — in fact, even if the decline is arrested — it could become a really serious problem for Zynga. After all, it not only shows a lack of judgment from management in buying into a fad when it’s at its very peak, but it also suggests that the company wants to strip mine new assets rather than build them up.

Because while scaling issues and a lack of longevity may be rooted in problems at OMGPOP’s end, the reality is that all these issues have been made worse, not better, by Zynga’s involvement. It’s either failed to support the game fast enough and bring in enough new users, or it’s been actively making it worse for players.

And none of those are good news.