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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Candy Crush Saga Is This Summer\'s Sweet Treat

It's hard to know what, exactly, is so addictive about Candy Crush Saga, a puzzle game that challenges players to get three or more matching types of candy in a row.

Much has been written about the game's irresistible charms - the deceptively simple premise, the maddeningly complex advanced levels and the seductive, cartoonish appeal of the jewel-hued candies themselves - but the game doesn't feel that much different from other mobile gaming hits like Angry Birds, Letterpress, Temple Run or Draw Something.

But the game has been steadily racking up fans since it was first released for Fa cebook in April 2012, and for smartphones in November.

Now, according to AppData, a third-party analytical service, the game has 45 million monthly active users. That's more than Spotify, Pinterest and Zynga's hits FarmVille 2 and Texas HoldEm Poker. King, the London-based development studio that created Candy Crush Saga, said 16 million people play the game on Facebook each month and that King's gaming network has a total of 190 million users across all of its games, both those on the Web and those on mobile devices.

Tommy Palm, a King representative, said the company's target demographic skewed towards women between the ages of 25 and 5 5. But King has noticed that Candy Crush appeals to and “works very well across all demographics and genders,” he said in a phone interview from Barcelona, Spain.

Each day the game is played more than 600 million times on a mobile device, he said. “I almost cannot understand that number,” he added, laughing.

Part of the game's success stems from its continuity across platforms, Mr. Palm said, a first for such a popular mobile game. That means players who start playing on Facebook and switch to their iPhones or iPads won't lose their place or have to start over, he said. That's different from earlier multi-platform games like Angry Birds. “If you lose your game, you still have your place saved,” he said. “This is especially important for a game with such a long life span.”

In addition, the game is designed to constantly evolve and be updated, he said, rather than add sequels or extensions like other popular game titles. Candy Crush Saga currently has 385 levels. Every other week King adds new levels or features. Mr. Palm also said the company tries to minimize risk with new titles by testing out simple versions of a game on the company's Web site, King.com, and watching to see how their millions of users respond. Games that hit a certain threshold of popularity are rolled over to Facebook and then, if they continue to perform well, introduced on mobile devices.

“Historically, many game developers struggle with putting a lot of money and effort into a game and then it wasn't what the audience wanted or expected,” he said. “We remove a risk of that by trying the core concepts and mechanics, and measure data in the background to see if they keep coming back.”

King was founded in 2003 by a handful of international entrepreneurs and has grown to 450 employees housed in offices around the world, inc luding London, San Francisco, Stockholm and Hamburg. The company plans to expand to 750 by the end of the year. Over its 10-year lifespan, the company has raised roughly $48 million in venture funding from Apax Partners and Index Ventures, and it has been profitable since 2005.

Mr. Palm said Candy Crush is the company's most successful game to date. It also generates the most money for the company, even though it's free. Players can purchase additional gameplay items to help them advance through the levels more quickly. Mr. Palm declined to comment on how much money the company makes off those purchases, but he did say that 70 percent of players who complete the game do so without without buying anything

Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen who follows the company, estimates that a game as popular as Candy Crush could generate hundreds of millions each year in revenue. He said that King was among the first mobile developers to figure out the pay-to-play model and mak e it work for them.

Candy Crush, he said, “is not a fluke like Draw Something was,” he said. Draw Something was acquired by Zynga last summer, which struggled to keep the game's former momentum going.

The challenge for any mobile game is “keeping people engaged for longer,” Mr. Creutz said. “You have to sustain this over a long time, and they've gotten very good at it.”

Which isn't to say that Candy Crush Saga will be next summer's hit. “Their iron is very hot,” he said. “It may never get hotter than it is now.”

King certainly seems to be trying to strike while they can. The company is said to be preparing for an initial public offering, but Mr. Palm declined to comment on those reports. He did say, however, that King is trying to franchise the popularity of Candy Crush. The company recently inked a partnership deal to sell Candy Crush-branded socks.