Last year at Christmas time, I was invited to play Candy Crush Saga (King Entertainment) by a family member. So was my wife. We would normally ignore such requests, but as we had a bit of down time and it kinda looked fun, we thought we would give it ago. It is a very addictive game and fun, but I have heard many people refer to games like candy crush being as addictive as crack cocaine. Nearly a year on, I dip into the game every now and again. I am on about level 90. My wife plays it a lot more than me and is around level 450.

Candy Crush Saga is a match-three puzzle video game released by the developer King on April 12, 2012 for Facebook, and on November 14, 2012 as a mobile app from smartphones. As of March 2013, Candy Crush Saga surpassed FarmVille 2 as the most popular game on Facebook, with 46 million average monthly users.Candy Crush currently makes King over $700,000 a day from in-app purchases like extra lives, moves and special bonus features.

Candy Crush Saga by King Entertainment
Candy Crush Saga by King Entertainment

This got me thinking recently about why is it so addictive? I decided to do a little digging. I came across an interesting article in Time Magazine. In this article, the writer talks to one of the games designers and 9 are specified.

  1. It Makes You Wait : When you play Candy Crush, you only get 5 lives. When you have used all these lives, you have to wait half an hour until you get a new life; 2.5 hours to replenish all 5 lives. You can of course buy extra lives and this is partly why they make so much money as people are impatient and they purchase the lives. The reason delaying regenerating lives makes this addictive is you want what you can’t have, the ability to just replay. This also helps with the games longevity as you don’t get bored with it as quickly because you are forced to take breaks from it. Unless you spend a lot of money of-course on extra lives.

  2. Positive Reinforcement : Everybody likes getting good feedback for a job well done and Candy Crush is no different. Every-time you trigger a good combo of cascading candy crushes you get a voice that says “Sweet, or “Delicious”. These little remarks help make you feel good about yourself when you finally get past that really hard and annoying level that has been beating you for days on end.

  3. You Can Play With One Hand : The game has been designed to be very easy to play with one hand, which means you can be doing other things like drinking, walking around opening doors etc. whilst still playing. Because the game is so easy to play you can start it up and play it pretty instantly for a quick dabble. I see loads of people playing Candy Crush on the train on my daily commute. I have also caught people playing it whilst waiting for a meeting to start. Because you can play one handed, this also allows you to play quite discretely. I have also spotted people still playing the game whilst in meetings. Very naughty!

  4. Always New Levels : Candy Crush seems never ending. King are always adding new levels, and they also have the additional game with the Owl where you play the levels again but have to keep the owl balanced on his perch by getting the right quantities of candies. I have not played these levels personally, but my wife, Amanda, says they are quite good fun. By adding new levels all the time, they can feed the long term players addiction.

  5. You Can Pay If You Get Stuck : Here is the biggie for King, the developer. If you get stuck, and you will, you can buy extra lives, moves, and helpers to get you through the levels. It is very easy to do, as they dangle these upgrades in-front of you like a carrot on a stick, and all you have to do is click a button. I have succumb a few times. It is very easy to do, and they make it very tempting. According to the original article, King reckons that 60% of people who have made it to level 544 have managed it without paying, which means those extra 40% are generating a huge amount of revenue.

  6. Taps Into Your Inner Child : Most adults fondly look back to the days of being a kid. One of the things we remember is eating copious amounts of sweets. This is another lure of Candy Crush. Everyone loves sweets, and this factored in with the very brightly coloured graphics and smooth animation makes the whole experience feel fun and child like.

  7. It’s Social : Whilst you don’t directly play against other people, when you are on the map (and logged into your facebook account) you can see the progress of all your friends. This helps make the game a bit more competitive as you may want to overtake your best friend. Whilst this mechanic isn’t directly built into the game, the competitiveness is more visual. Quite clever really. You can also help out your friends by offering lives and also accepting lives. As you progress through different worlds you also need 3 friends to unlock your access into the next world which makes you send them a message where they then have to load up the game to authorise your ticket for the new world. Whilst they are there they may suddenly feel like a quick game whilst they are there. This is a great mechanic to help bring lapsed players back into the game. This exact situation happened to me just the other week when my wife asked me to unlock her access into a new world.

  8. It’s an Escape : Because Candy Crush is to easy and quick to play you can use it as a very quick an immediate escape from life. If you are having a bad day at work you can lock yourself away in the toilet and have a quick 5 minute game to try and de-stress. Or if you are trying to solve complex problem a quick distraction in a game can give your brain a rest from the problem whilst it focuses on something else. This normally helps trigger an answer in the back of your brain for the original problem you was working on.

  9. It Grows on You : Candy Crush is very similar to Bejewled and countless other “Line Up Three” computer games. Candy Crush wins by the other 8 reasons stated above to gradually make you addicted to the game.

On a more psychological perspective, a game like Candy Crush uses what is known as a compulsion loop, which is the sequence of events that underpin most game design systems where you perform an action, you are rewarded, then another possibility opens up and you repeat the cycle.

Beat a Candy Crush Level on your Last Move
Beat a Candy Crush Level on your Last Move

The compulsion loop in Candy Crush is based on two psychological motivations, pattern recognition and reinforcement. Our brains love to look for patterns in things and this maps perfectly to the Candy Crush game board. As soon as the board appears you instantly start looking for patterns where you can get 3 or more candies to line up. Our brains love this and it is pleasurable. The game also uses reinforcement to suck you in, as stated previously in reason 2 above. You are encouraged to continue playing because of the voice in the game that encourages you and the special effects and bright animation. Because of this positive reinforcement Candy Crush has been refereed to as a glorified skinner box.

Developed by B. F. Skinner, a Skinner box is a chamber that contains a bar or key that an animal can press or manipulate in order to obtain food or water as a type of reinforcement. The Skinner box also had a device that recorded each response provided by the animal as well as the unique schedule of reinforcement that the animal was assigned.

The design of Skinner boxes can vary depending upon the type of animal and the experimental variables. The box is a chamber that includes at least one lever, bar, or key that the animal can manipulate. When the lever is pressed, food, water, or some other type of reinforcement might be dispensed. Other stimuli can also be presented including lights, sounds, and images. In some instances, the floor of the chamber may be electrified.

There is another factor to this game that links it to those brightly coloured gambling slot machines (or fruit machines as we call them in the UK). This factor is called “Disproportionate Feedback”. When you line up some candies they disappear, and as they do and other candies appear, they automatically create new sets of matches or combos which triggers another set of animations which magnifies the effect. The game congratulates you for your skill, even though these combos are quite often by chance, but you get a pleasure rush from it anyway. This is a similar technique used by the gambling machines and this is referred to as the “Illusion of Control”. Game machines do this by giving you the nudge buttons and other controls, as-well as lots of flashing lights and sounds for rewards. This tricks players into thinking they are skilled players rather than victims of a very clever system.

All in all, Candy Crush is very clever in doing what it does. It is also very annoying and frustrating, but they have been very successful in it’s execution. Anyway, that’s enough of me talking about the game play. I am going to sneak off to the toilet for a quick 5 minute game of Candy Crush before I have to go to a meeting.

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