If someone were to ask what Candy Crush is, they would have to tell them that it is two things at once. On the one hand, from the strictly playful side, it should be said that it is an addictive three-in-a-row puzzle game on a 9x9 board wrapped in a candy store setting. On the other hand, on the general level, it should be said that it is a game with more than 250 million monthly players, 2,700 million downloads in its ten years of history and that it is the jewel in the crown of a studio, King, which laid the foundations of the casual mobile game as a service. With Candy Crush Saga (and with other mobile games such as Farm Heroes or Bubble Witch) this studio that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year has become the Midas king of interactive entertainment and has generated, there is nothing, 20,000 million dollars of income. "Important things are happening with technology. Things that we want to apply to King's games to continue growing, "says Tjodolf Sommestad, the president of King, on the occasion of the meeting that, for that 20th anniversary, the studio has organized in London.
In King's offices, in the heart of the British capital, there is something of Charlie and the chocolate factory, something like a Christmas mall that is breathed throughout the year: there are stuffed animals, trinkets, a healthy Nordic camaraderie among its employees. In a carpeted, color-filled room, Todd Green, CEO of Candy Crush Saga, shows off something he and the company are especially proud of: the recent 15,000 level, the highest peak (for now) on a mountain that keeps growing. In addition to letting the press play at that level, the fascinating thing is to see how Green breaks down what really matters about a video game: interactive calligraphy. It is in that philosophy "of fun in every movement" in that "speed and physicality without dead pixels", in Green's words, where the secret of Candy Crush lies. There are thousands of hours of programming and thousands of adjustments to make every move satisfying. Therein lies also the key to his addictive proposal.
The "addiction", according to Green, is substantiated in three keys: "Make each puzzle addictive, make the map addictive, and introduce new content." But addiction, without quotation marks, is something that worries society and the company. The numbers of compulsive consumers are not large if we take into account the huge total audience of the game, but Candy Crush engages. Therein lies much of a success that, however, the game itself limits with "mechanisms to alert players who spend too much time", according to Tjodolf Sommestad, president of King, the head of all this, who also recalls that part of the success of the game and the company are its unions with commercial products, such as his collaboration with the Jonas Brothers or the most recent: that of the movie Barbie.
Images from 'Candy Crush', 'Farm Heroes', 'Bubble Witch' and King's London offices.
King's story is that of the most outstanding student among the pioneers of casual digital entertainment. It started on the Midasplayer website, a mini-game website, where many of the ideas that the company continues to apply today were screened. In 2007 that meteorite called Facebook landed on the world and from 2009 Mark Zuckerberg's social network (then the hegemonic social network) changed the rules of the game by introducing mini-games on its platform. King landed on Facebook, where he triumphed greatly with games like Bubble Witch, and when smartphones arrive, the company is more than ready to offer easy-to-consume games to the millions of new players who suddenly connect to the digital world. The rest is history until today, and along the way King's games add 5,000 million downloads. Almost as if every person on the planet had played one of his games.
In the corridors, in the offices, in the interviews, in the circles, the two buzzwords this year resonate: Artificial Intelligence. King is betting big on it. Steve Collins, King's Chief Technology Officer, is clear: "It's the future. He's going to help us in all the processes." Today King has about 50 people dedicated entirely to AI. Why use AI in King's games? After reflecting on AI in video games, from PacMan to Black and White or the zombie game of Left 4 Dead, Collins is clear: "To optimize content. To optimize the gaming experience," he says before recalling AlphaGo, the program that in October 2015 became the first Go machine to beat a professional player. "AlphaGo is better than gamers, but we don't want that: we want our AIs to be just like them. That's how we learn," Collins says, "to make the game more important to the player in an organic way."
King is a titan that was acquired in 2017 by Activision (which uncovered 5,900 million dollars) and in 2022 became part of Microsoft when it bought Activision for 68,000 million dollars, in a decision stopped at first (and just these days provisionally approved) by the British regulator, ratified by the European Union and pending trial in the United States. The business envelope changes, but the philosophy remains unscathed. These days King has circulated a fact as curious as paradigmatic: if you add the distance of all the movements of our thumb completed in Candy Crush during the last five years, it would go around the world almost seven times. If we consider that each of those swipes measures just over a centimeter, that gives a measure of the global fever for a game (and for a study) that seems to come directly from the mind of Roal Dahl. Only this time the chocolate factory is still running smoothly and Willy Wonka has nowhere near a successor on the horizon.
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