Candy Crush Saga: An Algorithm for Addiction - Algorithm Week

By Emma Nolan

Photo courtesy of Business Insider and King.

When traveling on the New York City subway it is not an unusual sight to see over half the passengers on your carriage starting intently at their smart phones. Their thumbs swishing back and forth the screen in a repetitive motion, the occasional frustrated grunt, the dejected expression after having viewed the ever imminent “Out of Lives” screens, and the tearful love heart face taunting the user from the screen with 30 minutes until their next life.

Such is the glory of Candy Crush, a simple arcade-style game and smartphone app that recently broke the usage algorithm — a formula used to project success of programs like these over time. According to The Wall Street Journal, a market research firm called AppData that follows social media usage of such games and applications, found the slope of growth in popularity for Candy Crush so extreme that prior methods of measurement were “simply inadequate.”

Personally, I can’t ride on public transportation without Candy Crush and find I become dismayed when I run out of lives right when I have no access to Facebook so I can beg for more from friends. It wastes my battery and I hate to think of all the books and articles I could be reading while I waste my time crushing candies, cursing the reproducing chocolate squares and praying for a combo.

It’s even more frustrating to get late night texts from friends pleading me to send them lives (though, I too am guilty of sending these texts). I have friends who resort to fast forward the clock on their phones in an attempt to trick the game into replenishing the lives early and those of course, who pay for those extra sweet, sweet lives. But how can something so annoying be so much fun, or so successful?

Much like the proliferation of other mobile apps like Angry Birds and Temple Run, Candy Crush has become a marketable commodity. Candy Crush branded socks are now available as well as reams of unofficial merchandise associated with the game including mugs, t-shirts and even dog collars for the mobile app playing pooch.

Jamie Madigan, an expert in the psychology of video games, tells Maclean’s that Candy Crush’s success is due to the fact that “It’s super-polished, looks great, sounds great, feels great,” he says. “It’s designed to be a habit first, and a game second.”

Tommy Palm, the gaming guru behind the and Candy Crush, equates the triumph of the game to its accessibility on many different devices and the social aspect “it’s something you can talk about over lunch with friends,” Palm continues to Maclean’s.

That might seem a banal way to spend a lunch date, but it’s true. Swapping tactics and bragging about being further in the game than the other are common topics of conversations between my friends and I and with its remarkable success thus far, and I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one. And while some point to the game’s ‘sleek’ design and features, there’s something else about the game that makes it so addictive.

That’s saying a lot considering that the the gameplay itself is nothing revolutionary. In fact, it can be claimed to be anything but, there is little difference between these and various Bejeweled and Tetris-type games, which had been some of the early popular game apps on the apple store as well as coming standard on many cell phones much in the way snake was in the ‘90s.

Though as opposed to simpler times of gaming inthe late ‘90s/early ‘00s where these games were part of the basic nascent mobile gaming platform, Candy Crush Saga though needs to win over its own deliberate players who actively seek out the game. So how does it do it?

The answer lies where an analyst might least expect: the annoyance factor. Candy Crush Saga’s most antagonizing of traits is its limit of five lives. These five lives naturally regenerate, but with a timer of two and a half hours (one life every thirty minutes) is surely too testing for the patience of the modern day commuter.

However, the five-life limit to the game is what ensures we keep coming back for more. The fact that there is a cut-off point means that players can’t get jaded or bored of the game too easily and keep coming back for more.

The lives limit also helps Candy Crush’s bottom line as players can choose to avoid waiting for their next lives by buying them online. Think Gaming reports that Candy Crush makes more than $850,000 daily from players’ impatience in waiting for those extra rounds of repetitively matching three shapes.

As habit forming and addictive as it may be to wait for redemption, it might seem silly to spend money on something Super Mario Bros. gives you for free. On the hand, it sure is satisfying to clear a level, mix a combo, and reach the next episode. When the little creature exclaims “Wow, splendid days!” it is a splendid, fleeting high in the world of a Candy Crush Saga addict.
Until the next round, as Tommy Palm reminds us, we only have a “limited number of moves — think those through.”