By numerous measures, Candy Crush Saga is one of the most popular and successful titles to ever hit the market in the age of mobile gaming. A slick, addictive title built for Facebook, Android, and iOS, Candy Crush lit up millions of smart phones and laptops this past summer, sucking in users with its dazzling color palette, simple mechanics, and bright, jingling tones of congratulation.
However, as its popularity has grown, Candy Crush's sweetness has become sickly. The greed of its developer, King.com, has reached a unique point in the video game industry, an apex defined by ridiculous trademark claims, and a multi-billion dollar IPO set to hit the markets next week. A game that is essentially a clone of earlier match-three titles like Bejeweled is now trying to claim some form of originality. A company that is barely relevant in the video-gaming world is now looking to cash in on their moment. Both of these details bookend a frustrating chapter for the video game industry describing King's shameless pursuit of wealth.
Ever the entrepreneurs, King found out how to exploit the game's habit-making tendencies from the very beginning. First and foremost, the game was sold as a pay-to-play title, a term that we should be all too familiar with by now.
Essentially, they've been sneaking their way into their customers' wallets by two avenues: lives and level packs, aspects that created an end point to our enjoyment. If we ran out of lives, the game was over for at least 30 minutes, but even after that waiting period, we only received one more life. That is, unless you paid for more, or purchased power-ups to help you get past the particularly difficult stages.
However, even if you did manage to figure out one level, it meant that you were only getting one step closer to another looming pay wall: the next episode in the titular Saga. Avoiding the payment for a level pack often feels like more trouble than it's worth. You can either pass three "Quest Levels" in order to unlock the next episode, or you can invite your friends on Facebook to play the game with you. Not only has King found ways to make you pay, they've also managed to turn you into one of their salesmen.
Of course, these practices weren't invented by King. Other Facebook fad titles have used the "Invite" method before, and paying-to-play a game is something that goes as far back as some of the earliest MMORPGs. So, what exactly makes King so particularly slimy? Why are they the ones being singled out?
No business is immune to shysters like King, but video-gaming has often flourished on a more user-friendly experience than what King has to offer. Even the veterans of the industry like Nintendo and Sony have always sought out new ways to innovate within their market, and entertain their loyal followings. They aren't peddlers of product, they're companies that have elevated gaming to an art form. Yes, neither has been perfect throughout their respective histories, but they've still managed to create consumer-producer relationships that other industries would love and should aspire to have.
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Gamers don't just love the individual games or characters that they're able to play with, we also have a distinct appreciation for the companies that make them. Over the years, Nintendo has become a father figure for iconic names like Mario, Donkey Kong, and Link. Likewise, Sony has become known for its connection with the Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy franchises. Even Master Chief was able to help Microsoft win people over. Along with these characters, the transformations that each of these companies has spurred in the industry has nurtured a respect that applies to all sectors of gaming—console, mobile, or otherwise.
These relationships are important. They place accountability on each company to maintain the bonds that they've created over the years. However, from the start, King hasn't been interested in fostering any sort of community like this. In lieu of interacting with the video game community in any way, they've side-stepped the sub-culture to go straight for the masses. Clearly, customer relations have never been a priority for King. Instead, they've been looking for ways to sell their product in bulk. Instead, they've spent their time trying to commodify the word "candy." Willy Wonka better watch his ass from now on.
It's ironic that a company that sells such a sweet and pleasant-looking product could leave a bitter taste in so many peoples' mouths. Indeed, Candy Crush is as close to an actual confectionery good that a video game developer could make. It stimulates multiple pleasure points while still managing to leave you unsatisfied. However, as King has shown, that's also the most dangerous part of having a sweet tooth. Candy's purpose isn't to fill you up, it just wants you to want to consume again.