We were taken by surprise when Draw Something became #1 mobile game, and subsequently the company that made it was snapped by Zynga for over $200 million. Despite all the management issues during its short history, Airy Labs had a all-star engineering team that produced the best pictionary game prior to Draw Something’s overnight success.
In a cool summer night in late June 2011, Calvin Low and I were walking outside the AOL building in Palo Alto, and we were brainstorming all sorts of game ideas. Calvin said “we should do a pictionary game, it’s fun”. This is a guy who created two separate million+ DAU facebook games, so I’ve always trusted his opinion.
Our small team quickly created Mini Painters and released it in the first week of September. It was the best in the category – with best UI, art and synchronous game play. The engineering work was marvelous – the game runs on both iOS and Android seamlessly. Users gave 5 star ratings and we knew the game will be evergreen because it’s a magical platform that elevates users imagination to draw things.
Then why did we miss the chance to turn the budding success into a hit game?
The single biggest reason is that we intentionally left out facebook integration. Airy Labs mission was to create education games for kids, and kids are not on facebook. This self-imposed limit essentially eliminated the viral nature of the game, and prevents users from playing with their facebook friends directly.
The second reason is that we missed the window to enhance the game further. Between September 2011 and December, Airy Labs did not do any promotion of this (or any) game. With a small promotional effort in mid December 2011, we quickly saw the huge popularity of this game. Users loved it, there were over 500,000 downloads and the average play session was over 30 minutes! The number of concurrent users once reached close to a thousand, crashing our backend servers. I wrote an email to the team “I think we may have a hit in our hands now!”
When OMGPOP saw similar trends, they quickly focused the whole company on their hit. We didn’t. We were driven to work extremely hard on a much more complex game, writing another 40,000 lines of code between December 2011 and early Feb 2012, until the whole company collapsed under poor management.
On the other hand, the OMGPOP team struggled for years until they find this hit swiftly, so they definitely deserve this success.
“We missed the lottery ticket by one digit”, we joked when we meet with each other nowadays.