Candy Crush Saga prepares 5,000th level and plans for 10 more years of puzzles
Candy Crush Saga is celebrating yet another milestone, as creator King dodges the controversies and talks about the future of freemium.
Players have spent 73 billion hours – or 8.3 million years – playing Candy Crush Saga since its launch in 2012. The game has been played on all seven continents, including Antarctica, and players have swiped a total distance of 167 million miles. That’s enough swipes to travel from the Earth to Mars five times. In other words, a lot of candies have been crushed.
The mobile app was also one of the first examples of the ‘freemium’ model, meaning that the game is free to download and can be played without spending any money. However, players have the option to spend real money on in-game purchases for things like power-ups. It’s something we’re used to seeing now in many popular games, like Fortnite, and it’s even a move the most established series are making – you need only take a look at the upcoming Call Of Duty: Mobile to feel the free-to-play model’s influence.
‘You can play the game completely free if you want to,’ executive producer Andreas Olofsson told Metro. ‘That opens it up for more people to test it out and see if it’s for them, rather than paying an upfront payment.’
Last year, the game reportedly had its highest grossing 12 months since launch, raking in an estimated $930 million (£739m) of revenue. So those optional purchases clearly add up.
But many are concerned about the rise of microtransactions, and the fact that players can end up racking up a huge bill in freemium games without realising it. Speaking at a Commons select committee investigating immersive and addictive technologies last week, Alex Dale, a senior executive at publisher King, revealed that last year one player spent as much as $2,600 (£2,050) in one day, in-game. Although he reasoned that the player was thinking rationally and taking advantage of a sale in the game’s store.
And yet Candy Crush’s success continues regardless, and this month King are keen to promote the release of its 5,000th level. To celebrate the landmark level a garden-party themed event will launch on 6th July and every day from then one of each of the earlier millennium milestone levels, starting with level 1,000, will be available to play, leading up to the 5,000th on the 10th July. Although as long as you’ve passed level 10 you’ll be able to take part no matter whether you’ve beaten the preceding 4,999 levels or not.
Talking to King about the latest milestone, they claim that one of the secrets to its success was simply timing. ‘We launched a very great game, quite early on,’ reflects chief development officer Tjodolf Sommestad. Seven years ago, before there was such a choice of mobile games, recent owners of new smartphones were in the market for games to download, and took a punt on the free Candy Crush app.
‘At that point in time, there were other match-three games out there, where you could make special moves, by matching four, for instance. But I think what we did differently is the fact that you could mix the specials. That was new then,’ muses Olofsson, who has worked on the game since its original release.
‘We also struck this great balance where players can pick up the game when they have a short break during the day. So you feel that you’re doing something meaningful, because completing one of these levels is very rewarding. But you can also often do it in a quite relaxed state,’ says Sommestad. ‘Candy Crush has been really great in finding that balance of reward, and relaxation, but is still a challenge.’
It’s certainly worked to hook audiences. But it comes at a time when many are sceptical about games being too addictive. Especially as last month the World Health Organisation officially marked gaming addition as an illness.
Candy Crush Saga has 272 million monthly active players, and according to King’s Alex Dale more than 9 million of them play for more than three hours a day. A figure so shocking, when he revealed it to MPs last week, that King retracted the statement, citing it as ‘inaccurate’.
And yet the figures will not surprise many, who understand how the game has found a sweet spot between relaxation and challenge that makes it the go-to in casual gaming; a distraction for people on their commute or while double-screening in front of the TV.
These players are also kept active with the huge volume of new content always being introduced to the game. New features are released for the game every second week, and new levels are released in between those.
It really is called Candy Crush Saga for a reason, and despite controversies around the model, the team behind it have no plans for changing their approach.
‘We built this as a Saga game that wasn’t supposed to end,’ says Sommestad. ‘We had a plan from the beginning that we should build a game where we can continue to deliver levels to our players.’
‘The game has really evolved a lot; it’s not the same game that we launched with 65 levels, back in 2012. I think that’s helped us to stay relevant. But we need to keep innovating and find new ways of staying relevant to entertain our players,’ they added.
King are… kings of identifying new platforms to adapt their games for. The company started out as a browser-based game site in 2003, which is where Candy Crush began too. In 2011, the match-three puzzle game was adapted as a social game for Facebook, and then in 2012 it was brought out as a mobile app.
Candy Crush’s developers noticed the gap for a free, strategic-yet-simple puzzler and filled it, with sweets, jellies, and candy bombs.
‘We are always on the lookout for what’s happening [in the market],” says Sommestad, ‘As a gamer, there’s a lot of interesting things happening with VR, and like with the Nintendo Switch. We want to be where our players are, and right now, there are just more people that have a mobile phone.’
‘Right now, we don’t see that there’s a platform shift happening, but it will in the future, I’m sure. And we’ll need to find a way to for Candy Crush and our other successful games to be enjoyed on those platforms as well’.
‘In the future, I think we’re going to see Candy Crush offer more, and maybe completely new, types of experiences. I think it’s going to be a bigger game now in 10 years than it is today. We are very ambitious in what we do, and we look far ahead,’ reveals Olofsson. ‘We have a very diverse audience. And we need to create an even more diverse game to attract a bigger audience.’
The company has already experimented with Candy Crush in virtual reality. ‘Yes, we experimented a bit with that. But the challenge that we see right now with that is more in research and design. There’s not a lot of people that have it,’ explains Sommestad. ‘Maybe augmented reality, that’s something that I can see us doing more of in the future. Maybe we’ll bring something like that into Candy Crush at some point… we’ve done some experimentation in that area, but nothing that we’re ready to bring to the table.’
‘If the tech gets you there, then you should probably use it,’ says Olofsson with regards to augmented reality. ‘But I don’t agree with the notion that you should start with tech and then build the game around it. I think you should start with what makes the game fun, and then try to use whatever is needed in order to get there.’
Candy Crush’s 5,000th level in-game event will be available to all players above level 10 with a minimum app version of 1.152 on Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Microsoft Windows, App Store, and Amazon Appstore.
By Rebecca April May
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