Draw Something Sucks, But Here’s Why Zynga Was Smart To Buy and Not Clone It

In Draw Something, you do not win or lose, you don’t level up over time, and you won’t keep making in-app purchases. But Zynga needs more mobile talent and it could tweak the game into a viral, money-making powerhouse, so it was still smart to acquire the game and its developer OMGPOP.

Riding the novelty of Pictionary from mobile, OMGPOP has scored over 30 million downloads, and 15 million daily users. Update: Zynga has just confirmed its acquisition of OMGPOP for what we’re hearing is $180 million plus a $30 million earnout. Sure, Zynga could have cloned the game, but here’s why this pricey acquisition is the right move.

Let’s be clear. People are in love with drawing and guessing what others draw, not with Draw Something. There’ve been few games other than Scribblenauts, another hit, that so freely allow players to show their personality. There was pent up demand for this, and that’s why Draw Something became the biggest game on Facebook in just 5 weeks.

But the Draw Something gameplay actually kind of sucks. Games go on forever until someone guesses their partner’s drawing wrong. You’re playing for your longest streak, but that depends on cooperation. It’s not like a high score that’s easily compared with that of other players.

Without the emotional dynamic of winning and losing, the game becomes stale after too many rounds. You may get a little better at drawing with the different pen sizes and utilizing the eraser, but you’re not really building on your past play like with farming or simulation games. That means it’s easy to quit guilt-free since you’re not invested. This churn has yet to set in, but if the Draw Something game mechanics don’t change, its current growth trajectory will be unsustainable.

Finally, since you can’t really win, you’re less likely to make purchases to help you win. You may pay for the ad-free download, and buy the essential extras colors to make drawing easier, but after that there’s only the bombs to buy. They let you choose from fewer letters when guessing, or opt to draw a different word, but most people aren’t likely to spend money on them since neither are really necessary. The current selection of in-app purchases will not produce the big-spender whales the social game industry thrives on.

So if the game sucks, why didn’t Zynga just make an improved clone? First, Zynga is in the midst of a major shift from being a web game company to a mobile game company. The company already has 240 million mobile users. Other than the talent from its acquisition of Words With Friends developer Newtoy, though, it doesn’t have enough mobile experts to make this shift. Acquiring OMGPOP fills Zynga’s ranks with proven mobile hitmakers as the whole team is joining, though they’ll stay in New York to foster what OMGPOP CEO Dan Porter called a “hotbed for gaming”.

Second, Draw Something has a huge head start. If Zynga cloned it, the market would have been split down the middle as Kim-Mai Cutler noted. Having one big user base is important for multiplayer games because it allows for faster and more even matching of players. An acquisition will also let Zynga cross-promote its other mobile titles.

Update: Third, the acquisition will allow Zynga to improve the game through updates without losing the user base. Zynga is the master of tweaking games to drive more referral traffic and purchases, and Draw Something will get the full treatment. During the media call, Porter said “We’re going to continue making the game more social”, and some potential features include chat and the ability to save drawings to your mobile device.

By acquiring OMGPOP, Zynga gets mobile talent, a huge user base to cross-promote from, and the opportunity to keep the drawing game audience unified. From here it can turn on its viral optimization engine, fix the game mechanic flaws, and offer much more compelling in-app purchases. Zynga’s been printing money through the virtual economy for years, now it’s about to start drawing it.

Read Kim-Mai Cutler’s Done Deal: Zynga Gets “Draw Something” Phenom By Acquiring OMGPOP. (We’re Hearing $210M.) for more on how the deal went down, the pricing, and whether this was a good move for OMGPOP.