When bad things happen to good apps, Part 2

How Disney killed the gator that laid the Golden Egg.

This is the second story on good software gone bad. The previous one was about a horribly failed development process that resulting in a broken, unusable piece of software. In this case, the software works fine. It's some of the decisions the developer made around usage that sabotaged their game.

In September 2011, Disney Interactive published a game called "Where's My Water?", a physics-based game where your goal was to get water to an alligator named Swampy who, unlike his filthy fellow gators, liked being freshly showered and clean. The game was a great education in how to use the mechanics of a smartphone or tablet and its puzzles could vex adults, never mind the kids who were the target market.

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The game did so well that Disney would make two similar games based on its own IP. First was "Where's My Perry," featuring the characters from the animated show "Phinneas and Ferb," and "Where's My Mickey," featuring Mickey Mouse and Goofy.

More importantly, for the first time, Disney created a whole new intellectual property for a game rather than relying on existing IP. The "Perry" and "Mickey" games came later, buoyed by the success of "Water" and its whole new cast of characters, all alligators. The Hollywood Reporter said the game reached the top spot in 30 countries. It even knocked "Angry Birds" off the No. 1 perch for a few weeks.

Then came the sequel.

"Where's My Water? 2"came out in September and promptly sank into the swamps. Reviews weren't stellar, but that wasn't its undoing. The problem was the game’s mechanics itself, and people recognized immediately what Disney was trying to pull.

First, they integrated Facebook into the game. The original game was listed as for kids 6 and up (no way a 6-year-old is going to solve some of those maps, they are rough) but now, due to Facebook age restriction, it was 13 and up. Worse, they added obnoxious features like asking your FB friends to help you advance to the next level, or else cough up another 99 cents, like you have in "Candy Crush Saga."

Facebook integration and pestering your friends is going to become the death of games. You already see it in the rapidly fading Zynga and in the failure of WMW?2. People don't want to be bothered by their friends to join the game because the game demands "neighbors" or it's unplayable. Anti-FarmVille pages popped up all over Facebook as people got sick of the constant invites and updates from friends over a game. "Angry Birds" would never have been the hit it is if it operated on the Zynga model.

Then Disney added "power ups," which helped with game play, adding another potential revenue stream beyond the 99 cents you paid for the game. This also did not go over well.

But the clincher was the "energy bar." It slowly ran down as you played, and eventually you'd run out of energy and it was game over. If you were failing over and over on one level, well, you were out of luck and had to take a rest, or pay $16.99 to continue. However, Disney did listen to user complaints, and on a December 19 update it removed the energy bar, complete with a funny animation of the game's "villain" Cranky chewing up the bar and eating it.

It's not a sin to want to make money off your IP, but Disney got it all wrong. Rather than sell t-shirts, stuffed animals or candy, like Rovio did with "Angry Birds," or better yet, make an animated series based on Swampy, et al., for its cable channels, Disney tried to squeeze money out of the game itself.

They should have used the game as the razor as a 99-cent deal and used other merchandise as the blades. Nix the Facebook integration. Find other ways to monetize the game the way Rovio did. Or at the very least come out with a game specially designed for Facebook, as Rovio did with "Angry Birds Friends."

WMW?2's failure should be an example to game makers out there: let the game be a game, and not an obvious money squeeze. And keep Facebook out of it.

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