Developers of Draw Something, worth $180m in 2012, now worth $0m

Can you hear the bubble pop? Can you hear it OMGPOP?

In March 2012, Zynga, the casual gaming titan, acquired OMGPOP, a small firm which had developed the breakout hit Draw Something. It paid $180m. At the time, around one billion games were being played each and every week on the app, which had gone from being iOS only to having successful Android and Facebook ports, all with a very small team behind it. At the time, there was some grumbling that Zynga's offer was backed up with the implicit threat that it would simply clone the game if it didn't get its way, but for the most part, OMGPOP seemed happy.

Then it went downhill.

In October, Zynga wrote off $95m related to "the intangible assets previously acquired in connection with the company's purchase of OMGPOP" when filing its financial results for Q3 2012. And now, the company announces (under the fantastically euphamistic headline "Zynga Announces Substantial Cost Reductions") that it is laying off 520 employees, including the entirety of its LA, Dallas and New York offices. The New York offices being the rebranded OMGPOP offices.

In other words, the value of OMGPOP has declined from $180m to roughly $0m in just over a year. Zynga still has the company's IP, of course, and released Draw Something 2 to moderate reception in April (peaking at #3 in the iPhone games charts, it would be a solid performance for anything but the sequel to the biggest iPhone game of last year), so the withered husk of OMGPOP is still worth something to the company. But the purchase is definitely one of the first proofs of the astronomically inflated valuations of the second web bubble.

It's hard to divorce the travails of OMGPOP from the wider problems of Zynga, though. Certainly the former was ludicrously overvalued, acquired at the peak of its popularity even as many were pointing out it was far more fad than evergreen. But Zynga has experienced its own difficulties. Earnings from its flagship Farmville game have plummeted, even while other games have failed to pick up the slack; daily active users have slid from 72m to 52m in a year; and before its latest quarterly results, it shuttered four more underperforming games, The Ville, Dream Zoo, Empires & Allies, and Dream Zoo (the latter made for the Chinese market). Whether or not Draw Something was an unrepeatable success before the acquisition, Zynga doesn't look to be the best company to have shepherded it anywhere at all.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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