Is it the primary colors? The arcade-game sounds and aesthetics? The casualness? The almost immediate gratification? The strange feeling of satisfaction when you fire off a powerful combo of special pieces? It’s hard to say. Whatever the winning freemium combination, Candy Crush Saga is a runaway hit in Apple’s iOS App Store and on its other platforms as well.
First, Buzzfeed says more about the addiction than I ever will be able to, so start there.
Here’s my take. I’m actually kind of allergic to especially social casual tamagotchi-like games where the player is required to check in on slowly incrementing timers, maintain the growing system that there’s never enough resources for, and constantly be tempted to pay real hard cash money to grease the skids. Or… wait and check back later. With these games I usually get tired of the waiting and the rescheduling my day around them within a few cycles and just up and quit.
Despite this, I got pretty far on Hay Day and had a pretty good flexible farm with various capabilities (loom, pie ovens, dairy, a 40 square farm plot, a steamboat cargo ferry dock) but eventually got tired of this constant drive to do better and have more. So I moved on. And I would say that among games that have the mechanic of adding a puzzle or a quick tactical game between spurts of growth, Plants vs. Zombies (The Zen Garden being the tamagotchi-like aspect) was my first love.
And I wouldn’t say I love Candy Crush Saga (where the only thing you really grow is your puzzle level). But I am still addicted, still driven, to check whether I’ve got another life to spend (lives are the slow clock) or whether I have another opportunity to share resources with my other Candy Crush Saga-Playing friends. I actually don’t enjoy playing it that much but I am hooked.
I should note here that Candy Crush Saga is a match-3 type game with various bonus pieces you get for playing harder matches (like a match 4, or a match 5 or an L-shaped match 5) and that as you go to higher and higher levels, the challenges get harder and harder and the levels get more complex and you get fewer moves to work with or you have to achieve higher marks. As a puzzle game it’s decent and engaging enough, but not necessarily driving or addictive unless you’re a puzzle geek or completionist geek.
The crucial part of the addiction algorithm for this game for me is that, part luck, part skill, you can have a good run between getting stuck on a level. You can blow through a half a dozen or more levels (if you win a level you don’t lose a life) and then you can get stuck, very stuck sometimes. Sometimes stuck for days or weeks (because you only get 1 life regenerated every 30 minutes and you cap out at 5 lives until you get back to check on them) waiting for a stroke of luck that lets you finally get through a particularly difficult level. OR you can also sometimes get stuck if not enough of your friends are playing actively. Every couple dozen levels you need friends’ help to move forward. This is of course driven forward by social (Facebook) integration and messages sent by the app to your friends, to which they must respond for you to move forward.
I mean the good news is that players of Candy Crush Saga are largely pretty helpful. If they’re actively playing they know that if they help you, you’ll help them, so you get responses pretty quickly if you’ve got enough friends. OR if you don’t want to connect via Facebook or don’t have any friends, you can try 3 quests (special levels) over 3 days and if you’re successful you can move on to the next swatch of new levels with new challenges.
And I’m not the only one. QuestLove of the Roots (they play on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show) posted about Trayvon Martin on Facebook in July and included a mention of Candy Crush in it. And here’s a random article from April about other celebs playing.
So as a game? I think Candy Crush Saga is decent. It is pretty, the aesthetics are rewarding and the levels are short. In general you can get away with playing this while sitting waiting for an appointment or a bus. Or heck, walking down the sidewalk, playing pinball with lampposts and trashcans (but don’t! It’s not a crime to walk and use your smartphone, but it should be!). The level design and ratcheting up in difficulty is pretty smooth with some outstanding exceptions (for instance levels 65 and 145 are pretty difficult) and luck is often your only ally. Or your wallet if you cave to the dollar-driven portion of the game experience. And it’s not like taking your wallet out will make you win, just give you a slight edge.
I think King.com has the addiction mechanics down pat. But I don’t thank them for it.
The Bottom Line on Candy Crush Saga