Why Zynga Should Have Seen Draw Something’s Fall Coming

A new report being distributed today breaks down how consumers use mobile applications differently over time, and in doing so, shows why it’s unwise to make a big investment bet based largely on a single game title, no matter how popular it is at the moment.

The study conducted by Flurry, a mobile-analytics provider, found that social games are among the most intensely used apps, but only for a finite period of time.

In a blog post, Flurry compared the characteristics of social games to mobile dating applications: “For most people, we can assume that finding a long-term ‘significant other’ is the ultimate goal of dating. As a result, the app maker should expect customer churn. While usage may be high during the time when a consumer looks for a suitable partner, once that person is found, usage stops.”

The same goes for social games, which consumers play frequently at first, but then tire of over a period of three months.

Based on a sample of apps used 1.7 billion times each week, Flurry determined that social games are played about 7.9 times a week on average, which is much more frequently than people check the weather (3.7 times per week). But while interest in the weather is abiding, loyalty falls off pretty quickly for games. After 30 days, 47 percent of players are still engaged; after 60 days, 34 percent are still engaged; and after 90 days, 29 percent are still engaged. In contrast, after 90 days, 55 percent of people are still checking the weather.

While this pattern may not be a surprise to some, the most public example of this trend recently was the game Draw Something. After Zynga purchased the company responsible for the mobile-gaming hit, usage immediately started tanking. In the month following the acquisition, Draw Something lost nearly five million daily active users, dropping from 15 million to 10 million. Today, it has closer to two million users. Zynga now expects to write down about half of the $200 million investment this year.

While some chalked up Draw Something’s instant popularity to a fad, it’s now pretty clear that the game was just following the same bell curve that other mobile games follow. In other words, churn and burn, baby!


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald