i was on a flight to shanghai when i was first introduced candy crush.  at the time, i didn’t know what the game was called or how it worked.  all i knew was that this old chinese man was addicted to it.

upon arriving in shanghai and meeting up with friends from scotland, i was officially introduced to the game as my friend was constantly crushing candy... fast forward a few days later and i was hooked.  granted i’ve been known to become addicted to a game or two (angry birds, dots, etc), but candy crush is different.

the social, viral, and monetization aspects of the game are so well done (and i’ll get to them in a minute), but none of them would work if the crazy genius game designers at king hadn’t built in this wildly brilliant rule: you *can’t* -- i repeat, cannot -- play as much as you want.

it’s almost impossible to play candy crush for more than a few minutes before you’re out of lives, at which point you have a few options (all of them good for king)...

  • purchase more lives

  • ask your friends for lives (almost impossible to play without connecting to facebook at one point or another)

  • wait patiently (30 minutes per life, maxing out at 5 at any one time)

obviously purchasing is an immediate and monetary win for the company, which got so good at monetizing its games that it has since dropped all advertising.

asking your friends, while not monetary, has arguably better result as it broadcasts your use of candy crush around facebook.  for your friends that already play candy crush, the request gets them back into the app -- at which point they’re likely to play more.  for your friends that haven’t played before, they need to either download the app or play on facebook and complete a level to then send a life to their friends.  so whether it’s reactivation or new user acquisition (or likely a mix of both), option two is generating viral activity for the game.

option three -- waiting -- is perhaps most genius.  monetization and virality have been done before, but when has a game ever told you “no... you can’t play right now”?  i was taken aback by this at first and fairly skeptical, but really what it does is a) prevents you from getting sick of the game and b) makes you want to come back.  so whereas a user can play angry birds for hours, tire of it, and not come back for days or weeks, candy crush stops you from getting to that point of exhaustion.

the other brilliant aspect of candy crush is that it’s cross platform -- something i’ve bitched about other games not having.  for example, i can play on my android phone on the subway, and then pick up where i left off on my ipad once i get home.  not only does this keep me playing more instead of only in certain circumstances where that device is handy, but it also facilitates the viral and monetization components as i can send / receive lives, broadcast to facebook, and even buy lives, access to new episodes, or *special candies* from any device on any platform.  in some cases apple gets a cut, and in others google or facebook, but the user (and king) always win.

at a time when people and wall street are increasingly wary of gaming companies, having seen zynga -- with a stock price 80% off its highs -- go in new directions (and a new ceo), creative game design from king reminds us how lucrative and sustainable this industry can be.


Authorjonathan hegranes