OMGPOP’s resurgence draws interest from investors, acquirers abound

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By Kim-Mai Cutler Comment

A couple months ago, OMGPOP CEO Dan Porter had his speaking proposal rejected by Game Developers Conference, the big industry conference this week in San Francisco.

This week, he’s practically swimming in term sheets and meeting requests from would-be suitors.

The company’s Pictionary-like game Draw Something has been an unbelievable home run, delivering 10 million daily active users in a matter of weeks to a company that never really took off as a social gaming company on Facebook. In another promising sign, Draw Something is also retaining 60 to 70 percent of its users after seven days. For perspective, Zynga last said it had 15 million daily active users on Android and iOS and that took the $53.3 million acquisition of Newtoy and well over a year to do.

Now Porter and the company won’t confirm any of this, but I am aware of exploratory talks with EA as a buyer and a term sheet for $25 million from Institutional Venture Partners.

“I just came out to GDC to go to some panels,” Porter said. “I would consider raising again, but the game has been so strong financially that we’re in a position where we don’t have to raise money.”

He’s clearly considering his options — as he should. Porter has had a quixotic and eccentric enough career not to care that much about what other people think. (The career highlight reel would include being the president of Teach for America for the four years after the non-profit’s inception and working for RCA around the time of the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack.) Hopefully, his investors, which include Spark Capital, Baseline Ventures and Softbank, and who have put a collective $16.6 million into the company, will agree.

After years of running its own teen-centric site and a little over a year of being on Facebook, OMGPOP launched Draw Something about a month ago as a pair of paid and free apps. The game is a simple draw-and-guess game where players compete against each other to create pictures based on stimulus words. Unlike early competitors, it’s asynchronous. There are a couple other Pictionary-like titles like Charadium, but none have found the chart-topping success that Draw Something has with 17.5 million downloads so far.

However, it’s not totally fair to call the game an overnight success because this is the third time OMGPOP has done the title, after versions on Facebook and its own site.

“Every decision you see in the game is based on things we had learned,” he said. “We are super blessed but we’ve done iterations of this game since 2008. We learned how to manage real-time and semi real-time engagement with our first multiplayer online game site. That’s why game feels the way it does.”

Draw Something has a three-pronged monetization strategy. Players can either pay for the premium app or get the free version that’s ad-supported. Then there’s virtually currency, which can buy “bombs,” that let players skip difficult words, or additional color packs to allow for more detailed pictures. The company’s chief revenue officer Wilson Kriegel says half of revenues are coming from people who upgrade to the premium version and then the rest is split 50-50 between ads and virtual currency.

The game quickly went from 0 to 200 million advertising impressions per day, as of a few days ago. But those advertising dollars aren’t yet adding up in the way that the company hoped, reflecting weakness in the mobile advertising ecosystem given a glut of inventory and a lack of premium advertisers.

“eCPMS are disappointing,” Kriegel said. “Our partners aren’t used to dealing with explosive growth versus a more natural process. I feel like we could double our ad revenues and be making more than six figures a day from that if it were managed well.”

The other key thing to point out about Draw Something is that it’s impressively viral for a mobile application. Like Zynga’s With Friends line-up, Draw Something is a truly social game. You play against friends or strangers and there’s a social pressure to keep a long streak of successful guesses going. Even now “Draw Something” is one of Twitter’s trending topics in the U.S., suggesting that Twitter’s integration into iOS is working. On Instagram, there are even people sharing their handles in the game so they can find others to play with.

OMGPOP says it has spent minimal marketing dollars with an initial cost-per-install campaign. It was also able to cross-promote from Facebook with an early campaign on its fan page that drove likes. The initial launch looked normal with just a few hundred thousand downloads. But when the app broke above the critical Top 25 mark on the charts, the game took on a life of its own.

“Bots were still prevalent around the time that we launched,” Kriegel said. “But when other companies started to turn them down, we think it really changed the market drastically for us.” (Bots are something I reported on a few weeks ago. They’re fake download farms that install apps millions of times to drive them up the charts. Apple recently cracked down on them.)

The big question now is — what happens when Zynga does “Draw With Friends”?

Draw Something is a game that is so obviously in line with Zynga’s “With Friends” brand, following “Scramble With Friends,” “Words With Friends,” and “Hanging With Friends.” And Zynga’s presence has torpedoed or at least dulled momentum for other venture-backed gaming companies in the space like Pocket Gems and TinyCo.

“Good luck to them,” Porter said. “This is the nature of the business. It’s fine if they or anyone else wants to do it. All I know is that there is a huge network of people who love to play this game and have invested time in making drawings.”

Then again, Zynga did have $1.9 billion in cash and marketable securities on its balance sheet at the end of last year, so it does have the cash to do larger-scale acquisitions.

Kriegel adds, “The competition is going to do what they want to do. Ultimately, we’re focused on building and growing amazing products.”

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