Every now and then a product comes along that launches its own genre--think of the string of reality shows that followed Survivor. In the world of computer games, Words with Friends helped spawn an entire industry of social gaming via smart phone. Now comes Draw Something, which is winning fans with its own twist on social gaming: getting players to cooperate rather than compete.
Think of it as Pictionary for the iPhone age. Draw Something's collaborative ethos (we both do well when you correctly guess what I draw) has led people to download the game more than 35 million times in its first six weeks of existence. The app is so popular that on March 21, Zynga, the dominant online-game producer, agreed to pay $180 million in cash for it. That's about $127 million more than the company paid for its last big hit--you guessed it--Words with Friends, which Draw Something recently supplanted as the No. 1 free app for Apple's iOS and paid app for Android.
The game has two of the most reliable ingredients for success in the download era of gaming: it's ridiculously easy to learn and addictively challenging. That partly explains a demographic sweep that encompasses children and senior citizens. The choices also help. Each round offers players three options to draw, so the app can nod to pop culture by asking you to sketch Lil Wayne, but if you haven't heard of him, that's O.K.--you can select something familiar, like a bear or a closet.
The stroke of genius, though, was to make players partners rather than opponents. "When we designed the game, it didn't make a lot of sense to make a scoring system," says Dan Porter, CEO of the game's creator, OMGPop. "We wanted the players to feel like they're on the same team."
The company makes money from ads and from its 99 ad-free version. Users can also buy extra colors to paint with.
Draw Something is preparing to let players save and share their creations in online galleries in an effort to maintain the game's momentum. "It could be up there with Rovio's Angry Birds, which is definitely the Pac-Man of our generation," says Peter Farago of mobile-analytics firm Flurry.
There's always the risk of overextension, however. Draw Something is being pitched as a TV series. Pac-Man was too. Its show lasted all of two seasons.
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