Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Candy Crush Not As Unbeatable As You Might Suppose

Candy Crush Saga is used frequently as an example of Free 2 Play gone awry.  Critics argue that Candy Crush Saga is insidiously designed to force monetization, which can be the only reason why the game has 15 million players, and why King Games is now estimated to be worth $500 million dollars.  As Ramin Shokrizade points out on Gamasutra:

Another novel way to use a progress gate is to make it look transparent, but to use it as the partition between the skill game and the money game. Candy Crush Saga employs this technique artfully. In that game there is a “river” that costs a very small amount of money to cross. The skill game comes before the river. A player may spend to cross the river, believing that the previous skill game was enjoyable (it was for me) and looking to pay to extend the skill game. No such guarantee is given of course, King just presents a river and does not tell you what is on the other side. The money game is on the other side, and as the first payment is always the hardest, those that cross the river are already prequalified as spenders. Thus the difficulty ramps up to punishing levels on the far side of the river, necessitating boosts for all but the most pain tolerant players.

All but the most pain tolerant players.  Only crazy people can possibly hope to beat Candy Crush without shelling out some serious coin!  Longtime readers of mine will know where I’m going with this.  If you were to make a guess, as to how many of the players who actually beat the game paid money to do so, what would you guess?

Would you guess only 30%?

That’s right, a vast majority of the gamers who actually manage to beat Candy Crush do so without dropping a dime.  Which is one of the reasons the game is successful – it can be beaten for free.  There are a handful of conclusions to draw from this, though.

  1. It sounds like Candy Crush still monetizes at a pretty good rate.  Comparing Endgame users to all users isn’t exactly a clean comparison, but for many facebook games, only 2% pay, and World of Tanks boast that 25-30% of their number pays.  Still, clearly we’re talking the most hardcore of hardcore Candy Crush players (those who get all the way to the end) – so that 30% number is still impressively low.
  2. Gamers who can’t see this number are going to assume that its impossible, and therefore assume that games like Candy Crush require money to win, when in fact the game has just ramped up in difficulty.  In a non-free to play game, players would assume that they simply haven’t found the right answer to a puzzle, or that they got unlucky with a board state.  In a game with microtransactions, players (and analysts, apparently) immediately jump to the conclusion that a purchase is required, even when its not.  This is an interesting design problem, and addressing it might be an opportunity to make some criticisms of CC’s free to play market go away.
  3. Some analysts need a dose of Candy Crush Learn 2 Play.


  1. The significance of the 30% figure depends on a bunch of information we don’t have. I’d particularly like to know (a) how many players managed to beat the game (if the number is ridiculously small, then the distinction is meaningless), and (b) how much, on average, the 30% paid (if winning by pay is exorbitantly expensive, then it’s unsurprising that there are few who got that far, in comparison to hardcore skill players).

    • Damion Schubert

      August 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      If that number is ridiculously small, then 30% is actually impressively low. If only 10 people beat it but 7 beat it honestly, that would imply that no one is getting addicted to the game and monetizing well. The numbers that one can scrounge up strongly suggest this isn’t the case, though.

  2. Benjamin Durbin

    August 28, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I’ve reached level 101 or so without paying, and I’m finding “bad board state” incredibly frustrating. The “new thing” I’m dealing with is the time-bombs, which allow you 7 moves or so to defuse the bomb or you lose the board automatically. I’d conservatively guess that 50% of my starting board states include a bomb that can’t be defused in time. As a player (and especially as a designer) the “board state” seems so random and capricious that I’m left assuming the the designers are out of master-able mechanics and therefore the game has nothing left to legitimately interest me at higher levels. I’m not frustrated to the point of paying my way through, because I am eager to see what new tricks show up; on the contrary I’m frustrated to the point of walking away because I assume the design is exhausted.

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