BEHIND THE SCENES

How Candy Crush conquered the world

King co-founder Sebastian Knutsson reveals the secrets of his success.

Candy Crush Saga

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Believe it or not, success didn’t come easy for Candy Crush Saga. Sure, today it’s a phenomenon – a puzzle game played by millions upon millions every day – but it was once one of many, many games on casual game portal king.com, the company’s first venture.

In fact, King co-founder Sebastian Knutsson estimates the company had created “about 180 to 200 browser games” before it landed upon Candy Crush.

If at first you don't succeed...

And they were far from the company’s finest work, Knutsson tells us. “I designed over 100 of them myself. Of the 10 worst games we ever did, I did eight of them!”

“There were a lot of ideas I thought were great but didn’t work… but taking that many shots on goal all the time, you start to see what really works,” he continues. “Candy Crush was probably the seventh ‘match three’ game I made.”

It was different because it was effectively a ‘greatest hits’ package: the best bits of the many, many other games on king.com at that time.

These are early concept sketches of main character Tiffi – before she had a name!

Sweet success

And it had that now-familiar sweet shop theme, of course. “The visuals were very intentional,” says Knutsson of that candy theme.

“I was like: can I find a visual thing that could feel glossy but also something that people could relate to? The art team really got into it and we found that we could make candies look amazing. It somehow resonated with the audience.”

Candy Crush went live on king.com and was a success – but wasn’t all that sticky. “I think the first version of the game was three minutes of great game, but that three minutes didn’t really evolve,” says Knutsson. “It didn’t really have any new mechanics coming in, or any sense of progression.”

Team members Andreas Olofsson and Mats Johansson sketch out ideas for games on king.com.

So when the team decided to make the game for this new thing called Facebook, they added in the ‘Saga’ map and social features to flesh out the experience more.

Social networking Saga

“We started to add more innovation in the gameplay while also finding a way to motivate the player to play, which connected with the social features,” Knutsson explains.

“But it also worked as a single player journey – players wanted to beat the next level, they felt good about their progress and they asked others: ‘what level are you on?’”

With this social layer added in, the game spread like wildfire. But Knutsson wanted more, in particular for Candy Crush Saga to be playable wherever its players were, and on as many platforms as possible.

The top image shows an early mock-up of what became the Saga map in the Facebook edition of the game; the second shows how it looked on iPhone at launch; and bottom is today’s 3D, vertically scrolling map.

And so thoughts turned to the App Store – with some trepidation. “I was super unsure before launching the game on mobile,” says Knutsson.

“A few weeks before launch I was like: ‘you have so many games on your phone – if you run out of lives, why wouldn’t you just go to the other games you have? Why would you come back?’”

A major mobile moment

Still, Candy Crush Saga arrived on the App Store in November 2012, and it was a hit, to say the least.

“Over Christmas it just took off. We weren’t really prepared for it,” says Knutsson, who reveals that his team hadn’t actually planned to support the game for the long term.

Candy Crush Saga was skyrocketing and we started saying: 'Okay, we need to put more effort into this... how do we keep investing in this game?' We weren’t really prepared for it.

Sebastian Knutsson, King co-founder

“Our mindset was that this game is going to be gone in six to nine months, so we needed to have the next game ready,” he says.

“Over time, we realised that that’s not the pattern at all – we could keep players engaged in the game they already have. We misjudged the longevity of a game like this.”

The Candy Crush difference

Knutsson believes that what made Candy Crush Saga unique was its deeper, more complex mechanics.

“It’s actually a damn hard game,” says Knutsson. “The feeling you get when you’ve beaten a hard level – that positive euphoria – is part of why you keep sticking with the game year after year.”

And yet even with a chart-topping launch behind them, the team still wasn’t completely happy with the game. They realised that making each level more difficult than the last wouldn’t keep players interested over weeks, months and years.

This image shows work-in-progress boosters – like those multipliers and extra special Swedish Fish – from when the team turned Candy Crush into Candy Crush Saga.

“At first we misjudged it a bit,” says Knutsson. “We realised that we actually wanted to keep players in that flow. We prioritised keeping the game fun, to keep players playing, rather than keep dialling up the difficulty.”

Move fast and fix things

Indeed, Candy Crush Saga has been riding high in the App Store charts ever since – and Knutsson says its continued appeal is all down to reacting quickly to what players want.

“We haven’t stopped learning how to do that,” he adds. “Whatever business plan we had to start with, it has not come true. It’s been about adapting and evolving,”

Throughout King’s very own saga, Knutsson and his team have never hesitated to change track, and do it quickly.

Thats the secret to Candy Crush Saga’s success: adapting to what players want and constantly evolving the game.

So now you know, you can get out there and make your very own Candy Crush-sized hit. Easy, right…?

    Candy Crush Saga

    Play top match 3 puzzle games

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