Draw Something is not a great game. The fact that it went for $180 million is simply astounding (all right, technically OMGPOP went for $180 million, but let’s be honest: Draw Something is the one and only success of that company). Its merits lie entirely on the fact that it exists and hit critical mass extremely quickly. In fact, there are two other mobile games I can think of that do the same thing with comparable/better game design (visual design is another story) and more features.
The biggest problem pulling the game down (there is a bigger one that affects OMGPOP in general) is that there are zero stakes. Playing DS fills me with about as much tension as a bowl of lime Jell-O. There are just no penalties whatsoever.
There’s no time limit so you can sit and stare at a picture all you want until you break down and Google “Scrabble solver” and finally figure out it was a Pegasus and not a barrel with arms. With no ticking clock, what incentive do I have to solve the drawing any faster? I don’t know of anyone who plays DS and actually checks the stats (which is a shame because that is one of the more fascinating parts of the game). And after my first couple of days playing the game, I even stopped watching my friends both draw and guess due to the amount of joy I derived from our combined silliness no longer beating out my impatience with the game. I was simply going through the motions, drawing and guessing my time away as a lifeless husk somehow suckered into the zeitgeist.
There’s no restriction to the number of guesses you can take so if you wanted to, you could just brute force the answer. The biggest word the game has, I think, is at six letters, so with eight tiles total, you’ll only have to power through 20,160 possible combinations, which you can easily whittle down by eliminating non-real words. This is basically telling me that no thinking is required. If I’m not absolutely positive that I have a drawing figured out, who cares! There’s no gamble here. There’s no red wire/green wire moment of diffusing a bomb where you’ve narrowed the choices down to two possible answers due to so-called “art” and the clock is down to five seconds. Just keep cutting away at that bomb because guess what: it’s a dud.
There’s no problem with closing the app and restarting it to both get a new set of tiles for guessing and new words for drawing. If you are savvy enough, you can continually restart the app and cross-reference your letters each time to figure out which are used and which are not. You can also eliminate all of the fun from the game by restarting until you get words you know you can draw and that your partner can guess. These seemingly purposefully permitted workarounds render one of the two resources in the game (the other of which serves to buy this resource) completely pointless. Doing this doesn’t even end your current game streak, so why spend coins on bombs when you can just restart and accomplish the same effect?
And of course the coins also fail to serve a purpose. Since they are used to only buy either bombs or colors and bombs are utterly useless, they then are only worth anything to those players that desire an expanded palette. If you don’t, however, you are now earning nothing while accomplishing nothing. Games such as Mario and Sonic have you collect coins and rings to gird yourself against the difficulty of the game. You are collecting these shiny bits to earn lives or resilience against enemy attacks to aid you as you compete against the game, but DS has you collecting these coins for nebulous reasons. If you don’t value additional chromatic armaments or a number signifying your digital worth, then what is the point?
In fact, why play the game at all? The obvious inspiration of Pictionary is played with teams pitted against each other. DS, on the other hand, is played against one other person, and they are on your team! You aren’t trying to draw something that your partner won’t guess because then the best way to win is to not draw anything at all. This is not a game; this is a fruitless exercise in art therapy. You are only competing against the framework within which the game operates, which is to say you are fighting against the lack of an undo button and brush opacities. There are no winners and there are no losers. OMGPOP is handing out participant ribbons and 50 million people are getting one.
I’m not saying I never had fun playing the game, but my jollies were entirely the byproduct of simply interacting with my friends and people I consider to be Twitter acquaintances (Twaintances). If you had given us multiplayer Notepad, we probably would have had commensurate fun. As I said, Draw Something succeeds because it simply exists.
And now that I think of it, multiplayer Notepad? Is Google Docs a game? IS IT?!