In May 15m people were playing Candy Crush Saga (CCS) every day on Facebook, it’s topped both the Google Play and App Store charts, and is currently number one on the iOS Top Grossing chart. But CCS isn’t the only match-three game out there, so why has it done so well?
1. TV advertising
Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters, declared TV advertising their secret weapon. We’ve run several TV campaigns for games and every time the acquisition costs (CPA) have been fantastic. More games should follow CCS and advertise on TV.
CCS have done a remarkable job with their UK campaign, their adverts are well placed; being mass market (advertising on prime-time UK TV around shows like Coronation Street) they nail the target market perfectly. CCS even appeared in PSY’s follow up to ‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Gentleman’. it’s rumoured that King paid $1m for the Candy Crush placement which gives us an idea of the kind of marketing budget King are playing with.
Industry insiders have also suggested that the CCS adverts aren’t there to just drive play but to make the game more of a house-hold name as King seeks to monetize away from the digital product (licensing).
2. Broad appeal
The ‘match 3’ mechanic is hardly a new one, with many people comparing CCS to PopCap’s Bejeweled. But, by using such a well known mechanic King has lowered the barrier to entry by utilising one of the most familiar game-types. They could have invented something new but tweaking an already popular concept means that everyone already knows how to play. It’s one more way they reduced the barrier to play.
The simplicity even extends to the in-game store; there’s no virtual currency, no XP to earn and only three items for sale.
3. Constant updates
According to King there are currently 215 levels in CCS and they’re plan is to release updates every three weeks; these include new levels and other ‘fun things’. With so much competition on the App Store user retention is vital and King’s commitment to fresh content will play a major part in this.
4. Free to play
You can play Candy Crush for free up to level 35, which, as we’ve mentioned, is a great way to reduce barriers to entry. This approach to free-to-play could merit a blog post of its own but in the case of CCS it can be easily summarised as ‘little and often’. Want to buy power-ups? That’s £7.99, how about five more moves? That will be 69p. There are always new things to pay for but there’s variety too. Not everyone wants to pay for expensive boosters, but that’s not a problem as there will always be something they deem worth spending on – you have to cater for the average player as well as the Whale.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that CCS often offers trials of power-ups, like the free samples in supermarkets King is giving the user a little taste for free, at minimal cost.
5. You don’t have to pay
Although you can pay for charms, which range in price from £11.99 to £17.49, King claims that 70% of people who’ve finished Candy Crush have never bought any charms or boosters, with their only expenditure being 69p to unlock levels – even that can be done for free. Knowing that paying isn’t essential means players will play for longer and there’s a greater chance King can them into payers.
Non-payers are valuable too – they’ll tell their friends about the game and perhaps be responsible for bringing in a future payer.
6. Social with a purpose
CCS is a single-player game but that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from Facebook integration, after all, that’s where it started. While the option to ask friends for extra moves or level passes isn’t new and is a classic viral mechanic the online leader board provides the most value. Once tied to the user’s Facebook account they can see which level their friends are on, passing by them as they advance through the game and checking their score for each level. As well as a sense of belonging (‘I’m not the only one playing this game’), and a sense of achievement (‘I’m better than my friend’) it continues to encourage the player to play, even when later levels seem impossible. It’s not uncommon in CCS to believe that a level is impossible to beat, or at least without paying to do so. Seeing that your friends have managed it incentivises the player to keep trying.
Getting a player to link their CCS account to Facebook is a big win for King, so they reward sign-ups with plenty of free boosters, as well as the ability to help their friends. After all, people won’t connect their accounts if there’s nothing in it for them.
7. Skinners box
I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been only a few moves from completing a level before being told that by paying only 69p I can have five extra moves. However, the board often looks like I will only need to make a couple of moves to beat the level, but because each move affects the rest of the board this isn’t always the case! Before I know it I’ve spent several pounds, not just another 69p!
CCS is the perfect example of a game that allows you to get close to finishing a stage just before you run out of moves. It’s rare that you’ll totally fail; you’ll fail just bad enough to have the feeling that you’ll crack it on your next attempt, and then the one after that. King have perfected the reward schedule that conditions players to keep coming back – this is known as Skinnerian conditioning, named after B.F Skinner. Skinner is famous for inventing the Skinner Box and advancing the understanding of operant conditioning based on reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. Just like the rat in Skinner’s box CCS players can be quickly conditioned into becoming payers.
CCS is more than a standard match-three game. While some levels have you trying to reach a high score, others have you competing against the clock, trying to bring items to the bottom or destroy certain objects. If you’re going to have hundreds of levels of puzzles variety is essential, even if the core mechanic stays the same.
9. Cross-network support
Facebook integration means that players can carry on their CCS game regardless of which device they have access to. They can move from their Android phone, to the desktop, to an iOS device and even onto Kings own games portal.
10. Tailored for the device
CCS on the web is different to CCS on tablets and smartphones. King haven’t just ported the same game over, they’ve made it unique to the platform it’s on – it feels native to the device. The is important for all games, not just match-three puzzlers as developers need to take each devices weaknesses, as well as strengths into consideration.