In which I finally get a post I started on about two years ago out of my drafts folder.
Five years ago we picked up an iPad 2 after Christmas with some gift cards and a bit of cash we had around the house. The iPad was a luxury good in my opinion, not something we needed, so I wasn’t going to pull money out of the budget for one but my wife, ever the clever shopper, pointed out how we could get one without touching any of our accounts, so we went out and got one.
While it was supposed to be a device for the whole family… and I did try to share… I quickly became its primary user.
Ticket to Ride is an example of a board game translated to the tablet just right and remains a joy to play through to this day. I own it and all its expansions. (I still think the Windows version is crap by comparison.)
DragonVale is something my daughter wanted to play. But then I started helping her with it, eventually becoming the sole person interested in this little “breed and collect” game. At some point I will do a post about how this game has evolved over the last five years and how it should be a model for others who follow.
And then there is Candy Crush Saga, a horrible game from a horrible company… they literally took another company’s game, made their own version with slightly better visuals and a new name, and then, at some later point, actually tried to suppress the game they copied… that I downloaded just to see what all the fuss was about.
The game itself actually isn’t all that horrible. It is just another minor variation in the long tradition of tile matching games that stretches back to the early days of the computer age. Once we all had color monitors, we started matching colors to score. And the game is actually well put together, stable, colorful, and all the things that make for success.
The horrible bit is the business model. And the company that made it… mustn’t forget King.com, now part of the happy Activision-Blizzard family.
Candy Crush Saga uses every marginally ethical trick in the free to play book to get people to spend money on it, or at least get people to annoy their friends about it. It is the true spiritual successor to FarmVille in my mind. The key barrier to playing are time gates. You only get five plays, and a play gets used up if you fail on a level. They regenerate at a rate of one every 30 minutes, so if you’re facing a hard level. And then, once you hit the end of a 15 level segment, you hit the 72 hour wait gate.
Oddly, what Candy Crush does with time gates is not radically different than what DragonVale does. The latter has its own time gates that you can buy your way through. However, their aggressive application differs just enough that one annoys me and one doesn’t bother me at all.
Anyway, because of their business model I made it a goal to beat the game without spending any money on it ever.
Back when I picked up Candy Crush Saga on the iPad, there was some debate as to whether or not the game was tilted to force you to pay in order to advance that far or not. There were all sorts of hurdles and timers and levels where random chance had to fall your way to keep you from progressing. But was that enough to deter people and make them pay?
King said it was not, pointing out that 70% of players who had gotten to the then top level, 355, had not paid them any money. You could beat the game without paying!
Later, as the game went on King was saying that 60% of players that had beaten the game by reaching the cap, which was then level 455, had not ponied for the privilege.
With recent iOS updates for Candy Crush Saga the level count has moved past the 2,000 mark. New levels get added regularly, I have to hand them that. But the ability to beat the game gets harder with each new 15 level segment they add. I mean, if you don’t pay. I could get to the top level in an afternoon with an unlimited budget.
So King has long since stopped talking about how many people beat the game for free… I am going to guess that the percentage has continued to dwindle as the levels have increased… instead focusing on the percentage of players who chose to pay, a number that I saw reported at about 2.3%. So 97.7% of people who play do not pay, depending on that thin slice to fork out over $20 a month on average to keep things going.
That is your free to play market place right there. It seems to work for some companies.
My own progress towards beating the game, getting to the top level, started to lag behind. Without spending any money the time gates and super hard levels start to hold you back. I spent three weeks on a single level at one point, during which I think King added 30 levels to the game. Yet I persisted. Once I am on a quest I do tend to hang on.
However, a final problem arose. For Christmas my wife got me a new iPad, and 32MB iPad Air 2, bringing me somewhat up to date on the iOS hardware scene. The upgrade was due, the old iPad 2 was struggling to keep up with new apps and had developed a memory fault that caused apps to crash when they queued too much data. So I backed it up and restored everything to the new iPad Air 2, then wiped the old one and started it up fresh as just a viewer for Netflix and Amazon Prime videos, where it still seems to be able to hold its own.
And everything ran great on the new unit. I am quite happy with it. However, there was one issue. All of my progress on Candy Crush Saga was lost. Unlike every other app on the old iPad, it didn’t store its data in a way that let me move is across to the new unit, even though it was the same Game Center ID.
So that led to a dual moment, the feeling that my quest was over before it could be fulfilled and a sense of being released from a minor obsession. Because I was not going to start over again.
So I can report that I made it nearly to level 700. I took screen shots now and again to mark my progress, the last one being at level 680. I made it beyond that, but pics or it didn’t happen I guess.
So we’re done with that. Meanwhile, Candy Crush Saga continues its tenure on the top revenue generating iOS apps, and King.com keeps adding levels to make sure it stays there. They pretty much have to since, again in the Zynga mold, they haven’t been able to remake their success through remaking the same game over and over again.