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Computer games: Going back to basics

Advertisers have spent decades — and billions of dollars, at least — searching for a magic formula that can nab the attention of millions of people worldwide. Who know it could be so simple as “smartphone + invitation to draw something – rules and incentives’’?

In less than two months, the Pictionary-like mobile game Draw Something has overtaken Scrabble knock-off Words with Friends as the most popular game connected to Facebook. Since debuting in February, Draw Something has been downloaded over 25 million times, with over 10 million downloads occurring this past week. On Sunday, March 18, 4.5 million people played between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

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But the most astonishing thing isn’t the number of users, but the fact that so many people have become addicted to a such a simple game. The “rules’’ go something like this: One player sketches out clues, while the other guesses what the drawing represents. There are no time limits. No rules about what users can draw. No winners or losers. It almost seems wrong to label it a game at all.

Of course, the game’s freewheeling popularity has led to funny results. A non-native English speaker (the game is wildly popular in Scandinavia) drew a check when the clue was “shaq.’’ And a Baby Boomer doodled an outcast from society instead of the hip-hop group Outkast. But mishaps and confusion are fun when “winning’’ isn’t the goal. That’s a lesson a few more million people ought to remember.

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