Want to be King? Then Follow the Candy….

Mark Stephens

UK game developer King remains one of the hottest properties in social gaming, with the success of Candy Crush Saga, Farm Heroes Saga, Pet Rescue Saga and Bubble Witch Saga, propelling it to the top. Facebook still lists the first three of those games in its Top 5, with Candy Crush way out in front of any other game, with a frankly ridiculous 140 million monthly active users! Imitation is a form of flattery that Zynga turned into a form of theft...but if you were to try to imitate Candy Crush Saga, how would you go about it? What features would you need in the look, feel and mechanics of the game, without it actually being a copy?


Co-founder and chief executive of King, Riccardo Zacconi, presently oversees a company generating an estimated $600,000 a day from a single game. It would be easy to be blasé about it, but he must have spent many a sleepless night picking apart what makes Candy Crush Saga so successful.

The success didn’t happen overnight, with the company already ten years old; their website www.king.com was a popular haunt of gamers long before they took to the Facebook platform in 2011 and numbers exploded.

So what happened? Why that game? Why then?

Simplicity with Growing Difficulty

It can’t get much simpler than matching up three pieces of candy of the same type and colour. That’s how the game starts, nice and slowly to get you used to it and feeling like you’ve conquered it. This opens the game up to a wide market. As you go a bit further, the difficulty level moves up a notch – and you may find yourself considering purchases to help you out to get beyond those levels to the next. Clever that!

“The games are easy to learn, but they’re difficult to master”, says Riccardo Zacconi

Monetisation Options

In-game purchases are what King is after of course. And that’s how it’s making the bulk of its money from the game. Players are encouraged to buy power ups that assist in conquering levels in order to aid their transition through the game. If you make a purchase you may find that the difficulty levels shoot up even more as you are encouraged to purchase again. $600,000 a day is a whole LOT of small purchases, so this strategy is working a treat.

Multiple Levels

When we say multiple, it’s multi-multiple! At last count there were 515 levels to the game. We’re not sure whether anyone has completed all of them without having been first hospitalised for either temporary blindness, temporary insanity or both.

Bite-Size Chunks

Each level is designed to take a maximum of three minutes.

Here Zacconi says something interesting that some game developers miss – to do with understanding the time commitments of your players, who may or may not have hours to play your game.

He calls the three-minute mark the “minimum common denominator” for content, which might be the length of time it takes to drink a coffee or to travel between stops on public transport.

Cross Device Synchronisation

Another key to the popularity of the game is that you can play one level on Facebook on your iPad, then pick the game up on your iPhone or PC exactly where you left off. This has become increasingly important with the number of devices that people have and platforms they like to access; developers like Zynga have traditionally focused on Facebook with their games not crossing to mobile devices – and in the case of Rovio it’s the reverse.


Addictive Colourful Candy

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s addictive and colourful. Bright yellows, pinks, purples and greens tumble down the screen in a visual overload of colour that seems to attract the ladies especially – around 65 per cent-70 per cent of King’s players were females aged between 25 and 45.

No Ads

While Candy Crush Saga has had no in-game ads since June 2013, it originally did, so this is not necessarily a hard and fast guideline – especially as in-game ads are becoming smarter all the time. They probably have a big future in mobile social gaming once the right balance is struck between the game play experience and what the advertiser wants.

Stringent Testing

Of course every developer tests its games before release but King has an advantage: its website provides an excellent “dry run” for its games. At King, many small teams work on games for a maximum of three months, before they’re tested out on the popular website. The most loved games there are usually those that work on Facebook and mobile – and those that don’t work don’t waste much in the way of resources.

Okay, now that King’s secrets are out, all us paupers go away and emulate these features to come up with next blockbuster of a game!