A couple months back I wrote an article for Mashable entitled How to Prepare Your Social Game for Massive Growth. In that article I argue that games integrated with social media can “go viral” – adding millions of users overnight – with the difference between success and failure turning on whether the game’s infrastructure can support that kind of explosive growth. Within just a month of publication, we gained two very visible data points in support of the argument.

A negative example was EA’s The Simpson’s: Tapped Out. Launched on March 2, the game starts when Homer accidentally causes a meltdown that wipes out Springfield. Unfortunately, the game melted down too. An incredibly successful launch, by every measure, the game hit #2 on the App Store immediately after it was made available. But just four days later the app was  pulled from the App Store (and it is still not back).  What happened? EA hasn’t published details, but a review of player complaints makes it seem the game’s infrastructure (in particular, the database infrastructure) was simply overwhelmed by the growth. And, obviously, it was non-trivial to fix the situation.

In stark contrast, OMGPOP launched Draw Something just a day after the article was published. The infographic below shows that while it started a bit more slowly than Simpsons, it quickly picked up steam, reaching #3 on the App Store just as The Simpsons: Tapped Out launched. From there, the story couldn’t be more different. Draw Something just kept on growing – and it is still growing like crazy. Just yesterday Zynga announced that Draw Something hit 50 million downloads in 50 days.


How’d they do it? Draw Something was prepared for growth. One of the key decisions they made was to use NoSQL database technology to store game data – specifically Couchbase Server. Because Couchbase can scale elastically with zero disruption to the game, there has never been a need to take Draw Something offline. Never a second new users couldn’t join. Never a moment games couldn’t be played. Nothing to halt the skyrocketing growth that allowed Draw Something to break all growth records.

If you are building a game (or any kind of application) with social media integration, your user base can explode overnight. It’s really important to make sure your application doesn’t.


Posted by James Phillips

James Phillips is a co-founder, CEO, CSO at Couchbase. James Phillips has more than 20 years of software industry experience. James started his career writing software for the Apple II and TRS-80 microcomputer platforms.


  1. What type of data is being stored in Couchbase ?

    1. J Chris Anderson March 21, 2013 at 5:11 pm

      The drawings and other user data.

  2. it was couchdb or couchbase 2.0

    1. At the time, it was Couchbase 1.8. These days the 2.1 release is used in many similar circumstances. That version adds document indexing/querying, cross datacenter replication and more capabilities in staying available 24×365.

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