Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

After Five Years, Draw Something Is an Overnight Hit for OMGPOP. Now What?

OMGPOP is a gaming company that has been plugging away at it for some five years, backed by $16 million in venture funding. It’s had okay but not overwhelming results.

Until this month, when it released Draw Something.

The game is essentially a mobile version of Pictionary and, for whatever reason, it’s a huge hit. Maybe it touches on some of the same things that Words With Friends mines, except it doesn’t require spelling.

In any case, it’s currently atop both the free and paid charts at the iTunes App store. And because it’s the kind of game that gets better as more people play it, it’s probably going to stay there for a while.

CEO Dan Porter says Draw Something, which didn’t exist a month ago, is now averaging two million active users a day. So how does a start-up ride that kind of rocket growth? Bigger question: Now what?

I asked Porter to jot down some thoughts about what he’s learned over the last few weeks, and what he thinks happens next. This is an edited version of his email replies:

All Hands On Deck
Two weeks ago there were five people working on the game. Now there are 40 people. We redeployed resources from a ton of other projects, and with the growth even those people are maxed out. If we were a 10-person company now instead of a 40-person company we would be dead. It causes disruptions when people are quickly moved from one thing to another, but everyone likes being associated with a winner.

Self-Reliance
We started out heavily reliant on Facebook and Amazon S3. We started making too many calls to S3, and almost took down one of their data centers. They throttled us and it took us a while to figure out what was going on; for a while our numbers cratered as users could not connect.

We had to move completely off of Amazon and host everything ourselves. As soon as we did that, our growth exploded again. Going from the 25th to the 1st most popular app was as much about performance as anything.

We also use Facebook to log people in. When Facebook is slow our app is slow, except that users don’t blame Facebook. They blame us.

A Tale of Two App Stores
The hardest thing about navigating the iTunes App Store is that there is a process for submission and approval. I understand why — it’s how Apple keeps things nice. But when you find a problem in the game, you fix it in a day or two but then have to wait a week to get approved. It is stressful. And very different than operating on the Web, where you can push live multiple times a day.

Android accounts for about 15 percent of our installs. The pro is we can push changes to the game live immediately. The challenge is that with their algorithm and so many different app stores, we are low in the charts. It’s hard to believe the game could be blowing up as big as it is and be somewhat invisible on Android, but that’s how it is.

Meanwhile, no single Android device makes up more than 3 percent of the downloads. In other words, we are on more than 50 devices, and not one of them is larger than 3 percent. That is really difficult to support.

Hot Ticket
With the success of the app, investors, celebrities and brands have all come out of the woodwork looking to get involved. The first inclination is to say yes to everyone, especially when you haven’t had that type of attention. But you have to protect the brand and make very strategic choices.

Attack of the Clones
You always feel like as soon as you are successful other folks are going to come after you. Cloning is inherent in the games business. So you need to think long and hard about how to maintain your advantage against well-funded, well-run companies.

Draw Something is about building the network for the game. When all your friends are in the game, as Zynga has proved with Words With Friends, then the network is the value of the game. Now we have more than two million players using the game daily. That’s a powerful network. Great offense, and great defense too.

Thanks, Norway! You Too, Instagram.
We’re huge in Sweden and Norway. We’ve been #1 there from day one and I have no idea why. And the activity on Instagram, as people share their drawings, has been tremendous. Spreading the game on Instagram would never have been on my radar in a million years.


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