We’ve read a couple of great articles on the subject of King’s smash hit Candy Crush Saga® recently. We’ve also spent way too much time ‘experimenting’ with the game ourselves. So at this stage we reckon we’ve got enough experience to contribute our own thoughts on the topic.

First up, and something that hardly needs stating – it’s a slick, well produced and all-too playable game. We have the seismic loss of productivity in the Swrve office to prove it, and we’re not even in the target demographic. But whilst that is a necessary condition for a killer game, it isn’t a sufficient one.

That’s back to the old debate about why a ‘scientific’ approach to monetization isn’t the enemy of creativity, but it’s very best friend. If you’re investing a heap of brains and brawn into creating a beauty like Candy Crush Saga, the real crime would be ignoring the requirements of monetization to the extent that the game delivers no ROI and is in real world terms a failure.

Why Does It Work?

On that basis, why Candy Crush Saga is popular is not a particularly interesting question. I’ve mentioned some of the answers to that question already. Others would include the superb use of viral, social and competitive elements that Deconstructor Of Fun correctly singles out, and the ever- changing content, challenge and reward that help to avoid players losing interest.

Perhaps most significant of all, particularly in the context of rewards and content, is the clear creative focus on the target demographic. There’s no doubt that in comparison to, say, Bejeweled Blitz, Candy Crush Saga feels significantly more positive and, for want of a better word, ‘feminine’. There’s a consistent focus on creating something that really does meet the needs of a target group. Which is the right way to approach things. After all - “design for everyone, design for no-one”.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying: ‘why wouldn’t this game be a hit?’ But how, or why, does it generate so much revenue? I think there are a number of factors at play, including:

  • Aggressive early monetization. Candy Crush Saga just about gets you hooked before the choke points kick in. Obviously introducing these too early would be fatal, but by looking for revenue early the game is delivering a clear message - you have to pay (a little) to play this game. Which leads us to:
  • Pay to play mechanic. Bottom line, after establishing that we like the game, CCS asks us to pay any time we want to play the game for an extended period of time. Not much of course - certainly not enough to create a significant mental barrier to purchase - but an amount nevertheless. A colleague here suggests that a nice way to put this is ‘free to play, pay to stay’, and it’s true to say that the first couple of spins in any session are indeed free. But after that, if you want to play the game you are spending money. That’s not a new technique but due to the compelling nature of the gameplay, it’s a powerful one in this context
  • Pay for content. Lastly - and this feels almost old-fashioned - there’s a definite feeling that in combination with the clear, aggressive choke points, the constant unfolding of new content or gameplay experiences is effectively a close cousin of the now rather unfashionable concept of paying for content. And it works. In fact, the game almost (almost) plays like an old-school (if we can call 18 months ago old school) ‘velvet rope’ freemium model. It’s hard to grind it out in CCS.

So What’s The Lesson?

Number one - there’s no substitute for great gameplay, clearly focused on the requirements of the target demographic, that makes users want to play your game. Or indeed need to play it. And there’s no short-cut either. But the more interesting conclusion is that Candy Crush Saga implements some slightly unfashionable monetization techniques, but that these techniques are emphatically right in this particular context.

That’s the Swrve view on things. Nobody knows what works before you find out with real data. If Candy Crush Saga was slightly less compelling, those early choke points would be a disastrous strategy. If the gameplay did not encourage extended sessions, the 'pay-to-stay' mechanic would not work. So our conclusion would be yes, make a great game - and then test and optimize the monetization strategy until you find one that works for it.