The Perfect App – “Draw Something” Sketches Excellence

“But quality of work can be expected only through personal satisfaction, dedication and enjoyment. In our profession, precision and perfection are not a dispensable luxury, but a simple necessity.” – Niklaus Wirth

Draw Something

Something Like a Phenomenon

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you've seen Draw Something firmly entrenched at the top of both the Paid and Free app store charts. This app is described as “pictionary for the iPhone” and works by having one person draw while the other person guesses what that drawing is. The app launched in early February and has already garnered 20+ Million downloads, which is more than Four Square and almost as many as Instagram. That's legit.

What's even more legit is the fact that they're pulling in six figures.

A day.

Yup – they're doing $100,000+ in revenue every 24 hours. This is some serious cash and this game is riding a tidal wave of viral sharing.

Why this app? Why did Draw Something take off in a way that is shattering all records to date? What's so special about this that no one else has? Here's my take on it.

Sick-if-i-cation – the process of taking a great idea and making it even sicker

In my previous blog posts and in my ebook I talk a lot about the difference between being first to market/protecting your idea vs taking an existing idea and being the best. I'm very much on the side of the fence that is all about greatness and being the best, which is exactly what the folks over at OMGPOP (creators of Draw Something) did. They took Pictionary, the family friendly household game and made it that much better. They put it in the palm of your hand. The designs for Draw Something are vibrant and engaging, playing nicely between comic goofiness and seriously developed game play.

They took Pictionary and made it awesome.

If they had skimped on the development and design of this, the app would be just another game. It would never have achieved that tipping point that brought the success it has seen. This, in my opinion, is the #1 reason why they are winning so hard.

Wahhh….Play With Meeeee!

You can play Angry Birds until you're blue in the face all by yourself, but you can't play Draw Something unless you have someone else. We're all social creatures and, given the choice, would rather play with people we know than with total strangers. This basic psychology brings with it a powerful marketing mechanism – the “word of mouth” effect.

The CEO of OMGPOP said that they supplemented the launch with some paid marketing and advertising on their own company website. This drove approximately 40,000 downloads. The rest is history – the word of mouth took over and things went totally hog wild, exploding to millions of users in a matter of weeks.

Guess what drove that word of mouth marketing? The first 40,000 people sitting around with their friends saying “hey, download this app so that we can play together.”


Incorporating a currency system into your app is the #1 way, hands down, to make insane amounts of money. Look at the Top Grossing apps and you'll see what I mean – they're either currency based games, gambling, or at the top of the Paid Apps list. A strong currency model + downloads = massive revenue.

Draw Something built in a fun currency system that actually makes sense. You enhance your game play options by being able to purchase additional colors or subtract letters from the choices. It's inviting and appeals to anyone playing the game.

Having a strong revenue stream from an app that has this kind of widespread appeal is incredible hard to do, and these guys nailed it.

Incentivized Social Media

When you boot up Draw Something, you have to put in your email address or your Facebook information. You're “in” their system with a username and are free to start cranking out drawings as you see fit. When you start to make drawings and playing the game, you'll notice how easy it is to share the drawing on Twitter and others.

More importantly, you'll see how fun it is to share these drawings.

Personally, I think that there is a huge point to be made that these drawings are done with your friends or other people. These are not just funny sketches someone made on a basic drawing app – they are usually funny and made both people laugh or connect in some other way. It feels much more like a light and fun process to upload a picture you made from playing with someone than it does to upload something you made yourself. It's just a great case study for determining what people are likely to upload.

Diesel Power

I think it needs to be said that this app functions like a bullet train. It is amazing to interact with – the flow, the integrations, the seamless experience of beautifully written code. It can handle millions of people playing the app, creating almost 3,000 drawings a second, without ever missing a beat. The whole app has 40 people dedicated to keeping it up and running and it shows. The app is unstoppable.

How Much Does It Cost To Make An App Like Draw Something?

If you're on this blog, chances are you've read the blog post I wrote about the cost of building an app and are saying to yourself, “You know, I'd like an app that makes $100,000 a day. I wonder how much it would cost to build Draw Something?” Well, I would ballpark this costing at least $200K to do it the right way.

With a project of this magnitude, you'll want to work with a power house development shop that can handle all aspects of the process – planning, design, development, testing, publishing, marketing. You'll need to come up with an idea that is equally titanic as “Pictionary for iPhone” and will need at least 10 months to block off.

Impossible? Heck no, but it's a huge project. This is not something I would ever outsource – I would want to partner with the best of the best.

Perfection is Greatness

I would call this a perfect app because of how successful it became on nothing more than it's impeccable planning and execution. It combined winning business logic with fun….and then some. Instagram is awesome, but it doesn't have a solid revenue model yet. Draw Something is for anyone, taps into all markets, and gets money from anyone playing it.

OMGPOP – kudos to you.



  • david March 23, 2012

    carter, i have a question, i am working on an android app, i cant determine wheather make this app for device or tablet? which one do you think will be better?

  • carvin winans April 1, 2012

    HI Carter,

    I think the draw something app is crazy sweet! Great thinking on those guys. Me and my business parter have been working on something I think could be monsterous (if that’s a word) in the app world and I even have some drawings, but I’m not a “tech” guy and my main strength is thinking and coming up with different ideas. Reading from what you said up top I do trust that you wouldn’t let it out and I would love to run it by you just to hear your thoughts. Maybe give some advice on where and how to go about getting it done. It is about execution and what’s the use of having an idea and not seeing it through right??

    Let me know when you have some time by email.

    Thanks Carter

  • Carter Thomas Carter April 2, 2012

    Hey Carvin,

    Thanks for the words! Sending you an email now.


  • Jonathan April 3, 2012

    Hey Carter,
    Great blog and great insights. I really appreciate your view on the marketplace and the passion with which you face it. I have a couple questions for you:

    1. It seems like there is alot going on within the Draw Something app. I’m not really sure how to ask this question but, are there different “platforms” that you can build an iPhone app on? In other words, would someone who is building a simple table based app versus something that is connecting two parties, integrating with websites and has in app purchases, be build each type of app on a different platform.

    2.Do you think that there is a way to integrate in app currency with a purely business world based app?


  • Carter Thomas Carter April 4, 2012

    Hey Jonathan,

    Glad you like the blog. Here are some answers:

    1. Yes there are different platforms, but you always need to go through Xcode (the Apple software) to upload your binary file. The most obvious platform being Unity3D which is for awesome 3D graphics rendering and physics. This can be exported to go directly into Xcode. There is one called Corona which is also a 2D-3D environment which people have success with. There is OpenGL but that’s done mostly in Xcode.

    The bottom line for you is that almost everything you see in Draw Something was done in Xcode using the Frameworks available from Apple – it’s just a matter of having awesome developers who can customize everything the way you want it.

    2. That’s a good question. I’m a big fan of “if there’s a will there’s a way” so my gut is saying yes. Currency systems parallel effort in most cases – you can earn it with using the app, or you can purchase it to bypass the time/effort required to get it.

    Without knowing what industry you’re talking about, I would say you need to have a TON of functionality that can be “unlocked” the way foursquare works, but on a B2B level. Let’s use a salesforce type biz model – free to download, and you go through the steps, use the app, and every time you complete a step, you get 10 “sales bucks.” You can then use those bucks to unlock even more powerful functionality for the app – ability to email or video chat or whatever. You can purchase more space in your app for contacts with these bucks which you either earn or buy.

    I know that’s a stretch, but B2B is a very hard model to make currency work in. The biggest thing with currency is the allure of getting better – equipment, options, capabilities. The trick is to find a way to make the user feel more powerful by being able to purchase something in the app using this currency. Then you just need to come up with 50 things that can follow that mold.

    Hope that helps,


  • Jacob April 23, 2012

    Hi Carter,

    Thanks for the insights.

    What kind of network/servers/cloud requirements would a game like Draw Something use?

    Is this something that can be handled by a provider like Amazon Web Services (AWS)?

  • Carter Thomas Carter April 24, 2012

    Hey Jacob,

    I don’t have a big background in the networking side of things, but I would definitely say AWS is the way to go. The biggest reason is scalability – you could easily build a Draw Something framework on a few virtual servers or even a physical server that’s running on a major bandwidth connection, but it’s going to crash if you get a spike in data transfer and users. Instagram shut down 12 hours after launching because they didn’t have the scalability needed.

    Again, I’m not the most authoritative on these questions, but the biggest factors will be the database (I would imagine Java since it’s got so much power and scalability), the cloud servers (AWS), and the protocols.

    So – yes, AWS pretty much crushes it every time when it comes to needed massive space and speed. Definitely the way to go.


  • Martin April 25, 2012

    Great article…thx! I throw around many app ideas in my head all the time and I always return to the belief that to make a game really take off, it has to include the one-on-one challenge component to it. e.g. Words With Friends, Draw Something, etc. Problem is, I’m guessing that part of the development is by no means easy to build/implement?? I read something the other day which said the reason OMGPOP had yet to add a chat feature to Draw Something (as Words with Friends has) is because of the complexity of doing so. So I’m curious how hard the one-on-one element alone is to build??

    And for you Draw Something fanatics, my gf just bought a stylus pen (e.g. and lets just say she has a little leg up on me now!! Ouch!

  • Michael Emens May 7, 2012


    Great research and great read – thanks.
    You mentioned above the iPhone version of Draw Something was done in Xcode.
    Do you know what language and toolkit was used for the Android version?

  • Carter Thomas Carter May 7, 2012


    Most Android development is done in Eclipse using the Android SDK. Eclipse is a Java based software environment that has been used for years – Android’s SDK is simply an add-on for that. There may be some cocos thrown in there, but for all intents and purposes Eclipse + Android SDK = Xcode + Frameworks

    Hope that helps.


  • Lawrence May 14, 2012

    Hi Carter,
    How do you go about patenting an idea for an app before approaching developers just to keep on the safe side?

    Are you expected to just trust developers that ask you to email them information on what you want?

    Please get back to me by email

    Thanks 🙂

  • Carter Thomas Carter May 15, 2012

    Patenting an idea is going to be tough and really expensive. When it comes to patents, your best bet is to prove:

    1. You were first to market or inventor of said technology
    2. Your idea makes the world a better place (or, in this case, the app world)

    It’s going to be really hard to patent anything unless there is a proprietary technology associated with your app. If there is, say for a music app where you play an instrument using the app, you’ll need a prototype of sorts before you’ll be any sort of patent awarded.

    In terms of developers, you’ll want them to sign two things – one is an NDA so that that technology and code doesn’t leave your relationship, the second is a very clear contract that says that you own all the code and rights to the code after they are done working for you. Any lawyer should be able to draft this up easily.

    If you’re in early talks with a development firm you can send them an NDA if you have any concerns and that should cover your bases. You’ll notice that there aren’t a whole lot of stories in the world about development firms stealing people’s ideas then going off and making their own apps (unless I am missing something?).

    If you were a development firm and you stole someone’s idea and created an app, think about the risk you’re taking from a legal and PR standpoint. What I have seen a lot of if development firms building 40-50 apps, then taking their profits from contract work and building a few of their own, then gradually easing into their own company that is funded by their own apps.

    If you are interested in reading more, check out this book:

    I read it this past weekend and it was written by a developer and intellectual property lawyer turned app developer. It will answer every question you can imagine about patents, trademarks, etc.

    Good luck!


  • Willie June 24, 2012


    I have 7 great ideas for apps and i am having the darnish time finding a software that will help me build that perfect app. Draw Something really inspired me to bring my ideas to life and if you can plz inbox some things I can do to make my app become reality.


  • Koploand August 5, 2012

    Draw something was fun but enjoying make something now way more addictive.. Could go with a little more improvement but has slot of potential and for only $0.99 it is deffinatly worth a download:)

  • david August 24, 2012

    the word for the person that comes up with the ideas is producer, your a good producer or manager of projects.

  • Jodie December 30, 2012

    Heey carter!

    I’m just wondering how much data draw something uses because I use quite a lot of Internet with my iMessages & I don’t want to be charged a fortune for going over my Internet data!

    Please could you reply to me on this page & not by email ASAP!

    Thanks x

  • Charles N. December 6, 2013

    Hello Carter,

    I have an idea for an app in mind, I am only 16 though, I am trying my hardest to work on it at school and at home, but I do not really understand how I would possibly begin to code the actual app. I think it may be a monstrous idea because of the fact that there is nothing like it on the App Store. Although I have very little experience in the programming world, I would really like to make this work because I am looking for a good way to make money and I think that creating an App and a really good one at that, would be able to get me a substantial amount of money I could use to buy some programs in which it would make it a lot easier to code other Apps I have in mind. If you reply, please send me an E-mail, I will check it frequently in hope of a reply.

    Thank you,

    Sincerely Charles N.

Leave a Comment