Did Draw Something by Omgpop really cost $140,000?

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Did Draw Something by Omgpop really cost $140,000?

By Arturo Sheimberg and Andres Garzon
Tue, July 3, 2012

Picture this - Your startup has been around for 6 years, has gone through almost all of the $16.6 million raised from investors, and after multiple flops and around $1,700 in the bank, is on track to close up shop. Throw in the towel? Not if you’re Omgpop. Instead, they developed the wildly successful Draw Something. 

Wildly successful = tremendously complex code and expensive design. Right? As I’ll explain in a bit, you’ll see this couldn’t be farther from the truth. But first, let’s quickly break down what Draw Something is and how Omgpop became a sudden success story after treading water for 6 years.

Even if you’ve never played it, you must’ve seen it numerous times on the iOS or Android device of your commuting neighbor on the train, or in line at the DMV. Chances are that person was playing either Angry Birds or Draw Something. The latter is very similar to Pictionary, as it involves making simple drawings that illustrate words and phrases such as “pony” and “breakfast” for another user to guess. Not rocket science, yet immensely popular, to say the least.

How popular? Try 35 million downloads and more than a billion user generated drawings in the first 6 weeks since being released on February 6th. As Omgpop CEO, Dan Porter put it, “The bigger it got, the bigger it got.” It simply never slowed down, which is why social gaming giant, Zynga, took note.

On release day it reached 30,000 downloads – eye-opening, yet not tremendous, as far as app success stories go. But like mortgage interest, the downloads started compounding, and just 10 days later, the downloads topped one million. The growth never stopped and in the short month and a half after releasing Draw Something, Omgpop announced the company was being acquired by Zynga for $180 million. By the time this deal was announced, the app had about 15 million daily active users.

A social game that achieved immense success in just six weeks, but is it really worth $180 million? Couldn’t the gaming giant make a similar version in a question of weeks and quickly release its own version? Zynga had the team of engineers and designers as well as the experience and industry relationships to do it for much less than the Omgpop price tag. Perhaps they made this acquisition to fend off pressure from investors that had seen the share price take a nosedive after the wild IPO success. $180 million gave Zynga all of Omgpop’s 40 employees, and an immensely popular social game.

So how much did it approximately cost Omgpop to develop and launch Draw Something? Earlier we said that wildly successful does not equal tremendously complex code and expensive design, so to prove this, let’s do a pricing exercise.

Since Pricetag now has a new feature that allows users to create quotes based on templates, let’s go ahead and use the Interactive Game template and tweak it to represent the development of Draw Something.

For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that Omgpop used different professionals from their team to create the game and the first thing they did was get together and to do a Discovery session.  The Discovery consists of several meetings where experts get together and discuss the structure and general rules of the game.  This probably took them around 80 hours just to formulate the general concept.

It usually starts with a Creative round where all options are discussed and a brainstorm session helps drive new ideas.  This is managed by a Project Manager and a Game Designer.  They define the audience, general scope, and create the story plan, while spending about 50 hours on the creative rounds.  The second part of the Discovery is to measure the technical viability of the game, which is called the Technical Awareness period and is where an experienced Game Software Architect determines what the limitations are in terms of the capability of the team, budget and timeframe. It should’ve taken them around 30 hours to create a technical plan of action.

Once that is created, the team starts to break down the game into features. This part is key because the document that comes out of this deliverable is what the team is actually committed to build. It probably took around 120 hours using a Game Design Expert.

The Artistic Concept is what comes next.  Usually you would separate it into Graphic design, Backgrounds design and Scenes design. Therefore, each task was to be divided in 100 hour blocks using game artists designers for those roles, reaching a total of 300 hours. This is the backbone of the concept and from the artistic concept is where developers start doing agile sprints.

With the artistic concept in hand, as Jason Pearlman tells us in one of his blog posts, the development started on the web. The game launched on Omgpop with a web interface, got some heat, and we presume two developers build it spending approximately 320 hours. When they confirmed that the game had potential they developed it into a Facebook game. Probably two developers spent a similar amount of hours developing the game and assuming they took 320 hours we can say they spent another month. Bear in mind that all the graphical components and concept was already developed.

Looking at the great success it had on other platforms, the last part that required testing was the mobile atmosphere on the iOS and Android. They kept it simple by designing a simple key/value store with versioning and kept everything on Amazon S3 as a data store for all this key/value data. That took two developers around two-to-three months, in other words around 640 hours of development distributed in one front end and one back end developer.

Of course, if we take into account all the technical QA, it really means they had one more QA expert deploying the app on each instance. This is very important, especially for the problems encountered later. For example they designed the DrawSomething API in such a way that it could easily be broken out from the main API and framework. All those changes were an important investment in the app. Again, let’s assume it took them 160 hours of pure technical QA to reach the levels of quality needed to have a scalable application that could reach millions of downloads.

According to our calculations and assumptions, the total development cost ended up being around $140,000 without any type of marketing costs involved. You can download the actual quote we created using Pricetag here (to play with the game template and other templates, sign up).

So, what has happened since the acquisition? Has Zynga milked this app as if it was a Farmville cow? As Kim-Mai Cutler brilliantly describes, it’s been quite the opposite - a startling drop off in daily active users. From a peak of 14.6 million to 9.1 million.

We still don’t know how the game is going to end, but based on our analysis maybe Zynga overpaid for Draw Something.  However, considering the experience Omgpop passed to scale the social app on the mobile sector, it’s worth the price tag paid. Bear in mind that most of Zynga’s experience was in Facebook games, not in mobile, and buying that knowledge and team that was able to pull it off, is well worth the price. To me, companies like Zynga are testing the waters by investing in games like Draw Something. Even though $180 million is a lot of money, for Zynga it’s not an amount that will drag them down.  With that knowledge, new, and successful, mobile games will come.

This is the second post of a series of 5 posts where we analyse how much it would cost to build an app.  

1-The Correct Price for $1-Billion-Instagram is $175,500

Download the quote created by Pricetag here

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