Crush That Candy

Candy_CrushThis spring when King rolled past Zynga for the coveted “Largest Game On Facebook” title I thought I’d join up with the other 50 million people a month and check out Candy Crush Saga.

Of course the game is designed, like Farmville before it, as a carefully balanced short-term gratification delivery system. Say what you want about the moral value of throwing millions of people off an impulse-control cliff, you have to admire the sleekness of the throwing machine.

What makes it work?

1. Portable Skillz
The game is based on the three-in-a-row grid matching puzzle mechanics of dozens of games like Bubbles or Bejeweled or the frooty hipster Dots. There are a lotta people who already have those skills going to waste — here’s a new outlet! I’m still waiting to see a resume from a prospective employee that has video game high scores listed in the Skills section.

2. The Publishing Model
I worked at Microsoft during the most recent industry swing to “software as a service” — better to have a smaller annuity income with lower sales costs and lock those customers in! Can you even buy Office without a subscription now? Someone will wake up soon and realize that they don’t really want to be in the publishing business.. but I digress. Candy Crush saga took the super-popular Bejeweled and — again like Farmville — bolted a “services” model on it. The game currently has 400+ “episodes” and delivers a new set every few weeks, so effectively King is a game content service (um, publisher?) with 50 million monthly subscribers.

3. Friends Give Lives
The genius of Farmville was the tricky scarcity profile of its sharing economy — you might get a golden egg if you feed your neighbors chickens, which you can do only once a day, but when you find one you actually get two — one for you and one for your neighbor. Or the catalog of free things — they’re actually only free if you give them to people, you can’t gift yourself. These mechanics created a pretty powerful incentive to recruit sharing neighbors. Candy Crush Saga builds scarcity around “lives” and you fail a level you lose a life — and these only regenerate every 30 minutes. But, you can have Facebook friends send you a life.. You see where this is going.

Well, Candy Crush Saga was gone from my life after a couple weeks — the “nation-sized” competition pool was interesting, and apparently 1 in 7 people in Hong Kong play the game, so its popularity has social value in its own right (think: Disney, or Angry Birds). But the growth curve is too shallow and arbitrary to keep my interest so my sugar rush is over. What’s next?

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