Breaking down Candy Crush’s formula for success
Candy Crush Saga has taken Facebook and mobile by storm, earning a permanent spot on smartphones, tablets and desktops around the world. But what really has the industry in a tizzy is that the game has only been out for about five months.
It’s no wonder that the lines for King’s GDC 2013 panel stretched across the convention hall. As the mobile gaming market becomes more and more crowded, developers are hungry for tips to turn their game application into the next… well, Candy Crush.
So how did a simple tile-matching puzzler suddenly take the top spot on mobile devices the world over? While some industry analysts will be quick to attribute Candy Crush’s meteoric rise to luck, the reality is far from it. King’s game has staying power because it embodies something mobile developers have yet to realize: viral techniques still matter in mobile games.
King made Candy Crush Viral
Ask any developer today if they think virality is important when it comes to the success of a mobile game. Chances are they’ll say it isn’t.
It’s an understandable reaction. After all, mobile gaming is generally a solitary pursuit, whereas Facebook games are inherently more social. But with Candy Crush, the game wouldn’t have been nearly as successful had it not been for its virality.
One of the biggest challenges in turning a mobile game into a commercial hit is discovery. And King solved this problem by integrating Candy Crush with Facebook in some really clever ways that promote the game’s viral player adoption.
First, when players progress in Candy Crush, the game will post Facebook updates on their behalf. This simple act does two things: it makes that player’s network aware of Candy Crush and, more importantly, it also serves as a subtle personal endorsement for the game’s quality. This in turn makes that player’s Facebook friends more willing to try the game. And if they also give Candy Crush permission to post updates on their behalf, they continue this “viral” cycle.
Second, Candy Crush shows the progress of a player’s Facebook friends on the game’s level map. This fosters competition among the player’s social network and pushes them to keep engaging in the game, sharing achievements, requesting credits and so forth.
In essence, King figured out how to effectively use virality to promote their mobile game.
Goal-oriented play encourages player retention
However, Candy Crush’s viral element alone isn’t the only reason for its success. The other is that the game is well-designed and addictive. This is thanks to its level system, which gives players solid attainable goals.
The game is also easy to learn and play, taking the old match-three formula and adding enough twists (such as unique tile grids, level goals, etc.) to keep it interesting. This is especially important considering that the game lets you see the progress of your friends.
It’s called the “big-fish-little-pond” effect. In essence, it means that people ranked higher in a remedial group have higher self-esteem than those ranked lower in an advanced group. And for mobile games, this means that while the few high-ranked players will likely become loyal customers, most everyone below them will get discouraged and leave, resulting in a dead game.
The caveat is that players who think they can become a “big fish” will stay. And Candy Crush feeds into notion by making its gameplay simple and compelling enough to make players think they’ll be able to make this jump.
But why is all of this important and how has it made Candy Crush a commercial success? It’s easy…
Monetisation is organic and endless
Candy Crush’s virality and compelling goal-oriented gameplay make it built for monetisation. Its players just don’t know it. They’re too busy trying to outdo their friends and/or finish every level. So to them, throwing down a few dollars here or there isn’t that big of a deal.
This is organic monetisation and it works.
King says that 70 percent of Candy Crush players finish the game without ever spending a dime. This translates into an extremely healthy 30 percent conversion rate.
King hasn’t revealed how much it’s earning from Candy Crush or even how many players the game has, but AppData estimates it to be 45.6 million monthly active players. Now multiply 30 percent of this figure by Candy Crush’s lowest monetisation rate ($1 for a life) and you get $13.68 million in gross monthly revenue.
Keep in mind that this is a conservative figure. It doesn’t take into account repeat spenders or the fact that Candy Crush also sells power-up packages priced from $18 to $40. With this many players, even incremental spending increases en masse could bump up King’s bottom line significantly.
Moreover, Candy Crush doesn’t give players the option to buy unlimited lives. It’s one of the few freemium games to do this and by doing so King has ensured an endless flow of new revenue. They’ve created a win-win situation for themselves. Either players boost King’s profits by spending 99 cents to replenish their spent credits, or they drive Candy Crush’s customer engagement and retention metrics by requesting lives from their Facebook friends while waiting for a refill.
Candy Crush syncs across platforms
It’s also important to note Candy Crush’s seamless multiscreen integration. Players can continue their game where they left off on any device that’s tied to their Facebook account. This increased accessibility gives players ample opportunity to play and spend.
King further incentivizes play by not syncing player lives between Facebook and mobile accounts. Meaning after a player exhausts their lives on one platform, they can switch to the other and continue playing with a fresh set of lives. This is brilliant because it increases customer sessions and encourages cross-platform play.
The big takeaway here is that Candy Crush has the potential for long-term commercial success because it takes full advantage of all the social techniques available to mobile developers. By building a game that satisfies a player’s personal sense of accomplishment, King has made monetisation natural for players.
Candy Crush’s retention data speaks for itself. Certainly it will taper off at some point, but unlike some developers, King is actually paying attention to its data and designing its Web and mobile games around it.
Want to learn more about how to use data to build successful apps that drive the most customer lifetime value? Join Christopher Foley, along with top data scientists and mobile innovators at Kontagent Konnect 2013 in San Francisco on May 20-21. Space is limited. Register now!
About the author: Christopher Foley is a data analyst and game analytics expert at Kontagent. Prior to Kontagent, Chris founded two video game companies and was a lead programmer at Sony Computer Entertainment America, where he helped develop many AAA console titles. Chris is a Caltech engineering and applied science graduate and holds a master’s degree in complex adaptive systems and an MBA. Contact him at Linkedin.com/foleyfoleyfoley.