Jul 04, 2013

    How a Candy game crushes its rivals

    The New York Times

    IT'S hard to know what exactly is so addictive about Candy Crush Saga, a puzzle game that challenges players to get three or more matching types of candy in a row.

    Much has been written about the game's irresistible charms - the deceptively simple premise, the maddeningly complex advanced levels and the seductive, cartoonish appeal of the jewel-hued candies themselves - but the game doesn't feel that much different from other mobile game hits such as Angry Birds, Temple Run or Draw Something.

    However, the game has been steadily racking up fans since it was first released for Facebook in April last year, and for smartphones in November.

    Now, according to AppData, a third-party analytical service, the game has 45 million monthly active users. That's more than Spotify, Pinterest and Zynga's hits FarmVille 2 and Texas HoldEm Poker each.

    King, the London-based development studio that created Candy Crush Saga, said 16 million people play the game on Facebook each month and that King's gaming network has a total of 190 million users across all of its games, both those on the Web and those on mobile devices.

    Mr Tommy Palm, a King representative, said the firm's target demographic skewed initially towards women between the ages of 25 and 55. But King noticed that Candy Crush appeals to and "works very well across all demographics and genders", he said.

    Each day, the game is played more than 600 million times on a mobile device, he said.

    Part of the game's success stems from its continuity across platforms, Mr Palm said, a first for such a popular mobile game.

    That means players who start playing on Facebook and switch to their iPhones or iPads won't lose their place or have to start over. That's different from earlier multi-platform games like Angry Birds.

    In addition, the game is designed to constantly evolve and be updated, he said, rather than have sequels or extensions like other popular game titles.

    Candy Crush Saga currently has 385 levels. Every other week, King adds levels or features.

    Mr Palm said the firm tries to minimise risk with new titles by testing out simple versions of a game on its website,, and seeing how its millions of users respond.

    Games that hit a certain threshold of popularity are rolled over to Facebook and then, if they continue to perform well, introduced on mobile devices.

    King was founded in 2003 by a handful of international entrepreneurs and has grown to 450 employees housed in offices around the world, including London, San Francisco, Stockholm and Hamburg. It plans to expand to 750 by the end of the year.

    Over its 10-year lifespan, the firm has raised about US$48 million (S$61 million) in venture funding from Apax Partners and Index Ventures, and it has been profitable since 2005.

    Mr Palm said Candy Crush is the firm's most successful game to date. It generates the most money for the company, even though it is free.

    Players can purchase additional gameplay items to help them advance through the levels more quickly. Mr Palm declined to comment on how much money the company makes off those purchases, but said that 70 per cent of players who complete the game do so without buying anything.

    Mr Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen, said that King was among the first mobile developers to figure out the pay-to-play model and make it work for the firm.

    The challenge for any mobile game is "keeping people engaged for longer", Mr Creutz said.

    "You have to sustain this over a long time, and (King has) gotten very good at it."