About 45 million people play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook each month, making it the most popular game on the site. It’s the most downloaded mobile game on both Android and Apple devices, and it’s the top-grossing mobile app. Think Gaming estimates that Candy Crush brings in around $633,000 a day—more than $230 million a year—for King, its British creator.
Candy Crush is simultaneously simple and satanic. Faced with a grid full of brightly colored “candies,” players must move around the pieces to line up three of the same type in a row; once aligned, the candies—crushed—disappear, and those above them take their place. It’s Bejeweled meets Tetris, a veritable speedball of a puzzle game. There are a few complications involving fruits, nuts, and jelly. (After a handful of easy rounds, the bonbons start to become encased in the stuff.) But that’s pretty much all there is to it. All those hundreds of levels represent different challenges—points targets, number of moves permitted—but the game play itself remains the same: Line up at least three candies of the same color, click, and repeat until you’re weeping from frustration. It’s that straightforwardness that makes it so addictive.
Candy Crush is a particularly fiendish example of “freemium” software. There’s no initial charge to download the app or to start the game, but just as you start to experience pride in your chain-building skills and feel the thrill of accomplishment, the learning curve stalls. You discover that we all have but five lives to give in the quest to crush candy, and if you use them all up before clearing a level, you’re locked out of the game for 30 minutes before you can try again. Wait 30 minutes, lose thatlife, and you have to wait for 30 more. I mostly play on my phone and tablet, and if you happen to have two devices, you can postpone the inevitable wait by switching from one to the other. Or you can cough up 99 cents to buy more lives so that you can carry on playing. You know, while you have the hot hand.
The mobile experience of Candy Crush is refreshingly self-sufficient. There’s no prize in this game beyond the satisfaction of suspecting that your cherry-shifting skills are superior to those of all the other Toms, Dicks, and Harrys—or, more likely, sincecasual games are most popular with women, Tracys, Deborahs, and Henriettas—who are struggling with Level 34.