Tag Archives: King

I Will Play Candy Crush No More Forever

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.

Everyone in the house has played with my iPad

I even got an app for the cats

A lot of games have come and gone on the old iPad over the last five years, but three seem to have stuck through the whole time; Ticket to Ride, DragonVale, and Candy Crush Saga.

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.

Pay us, bug friends, or wait...

Pay us, bug friends, or wait…

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.

Last point recorded

Last point recorded… waiting for that 72 hour timer

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.

Blizzard and the MAU Reality

MAU! MAU! DIDI MAU!

-Bobby Kotick, leaked internal communication

Last week Activision Blizzard had their quarterly earnings announcement.

ActiBlizz450

At one point this sort of announcement used to be a headline generating event in the MMO world, because among the numbers announced would be the total World of Warcraft subscribers.

It was kind of a big deal.  In a world where other MMO companies had pretty much given up on the idea, choosing to play up other, often dubious metrics, like registered users of beta applications, Blizzard actually coming out and straight up giving us a subscriber number was pretty cool.

That number wasn’t perfect.  There was always the question about how many of those subscribers were in China, plus the usual conspiracy theories about how Blizzard was padding those numbers by including something that should actually count… despite the fact that the statement regarding numbers was pretty clear about what constituted a subscriber.  But it was a number, a solid metric that carried over quarter after quarter and charted the financial fate of Azeroth.

And then those subscription reports dropped down to numbers not seen since late 2005 and suddenly the joke wasn’t funny any more.  Blizzard gave us one more set of numbers then declared that they would no longer be publishing subscription numbers.

The quarterly report done in February, which summed up the year 2015, lacked, as promised, any mention of subscription numbers for World of Warcraft.  I speculated that even poor subscription numbers were better than none at all, but it was going to be the dubious metric, divorced as it was from any revenue number when compared to subscribers, of “monthly average users” or MAUs.   Nobody is going to write a headline about MAUs.

But still, aside from the lack of subscription numbers, things looked to be following the pattern it had for the last few years, with the team in Anaheim an independent unit with its own slide in the presentation that focused on just the Blizzard properties.

And then there was last weeks announcement… and the pattern of the presentation set over the last few years changed.  Here are slides 4 through 8 of the presentation deck available at the investor relations site:

Blizzard got lumped into the mix this time around.

I don’t want to read too much into that.  Part of it was no doubt because King is now part of the club, having been purchased for $5.9 billion back in 2015.  There are now three distinct players in the mix and the company has to both make sure everybody knows King is on the team and justify spending that much money on a horrible company that stole every good idea it ever saw… um… by which I still mean King.

But to get there the emphasis is very much on how much time players spend with the company’s games, which gets us back to MAUs.

And when it comes to MAUs, King is… well… King, with 463 million.  Activision comes in a distant second, with 55 million, while Blizzard can’t even get halfway to that number, bringing up the rear with 26 million.

Not that hours played is the worst metric, and the company seems very proud that, in the last year, people spent nearly as much time playing its games as they spent watching Netflix.

But it is a measure that only has a correlation with revenue, as opposed to subscriptions, which have direct relationship with revenue.  To illustrate, there are the numbers from the financial statement:

Q1 2016 non-GAAP revenue – Total $908 million

  • Activision – $360 million (40%)
  • Blizzard – $294 million (32%)
  • King – $207 million (23%)
  • Other – $47 million (5%)

So the “King” of the MAUs at the company isn’t the actual king when it comes to bringing in cash.

King does a bit better when it comes to income.

Q1 2016 non-GAAP Operating Income – Total $252 million

  • Activision – $99 million (39%)
  • Blizzard – $86 million (34%)
  • King – $67 million ( 27%)

Which means that when it comes to operating margin, King is actually out in front.

Q1 2016 non-GAAP Operating Margin

  • Activision – 27.5%
  • Blizzard – 29.3%
  • King – 32.4%

But Blizzard is no slouch, bringing in more money than King and operates at a better margin than Activision despite being at the bottom of the MAU list.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell how much World of Warcraft is contributing to that mix.  There used to be a “Subscriptions” line item in the financial statement that was pretty much just WoW.  However, that has now been lumped into the “Digital online channels” line item, which includes subscriptions plus any other online purchases.  So if you buy the latest Hearthstone expansion, or something to help you beat a hard level in Candy Crush Saga, it goes there as well.

So, while I do not doubt that WoW contributes a decent chunk of the revenue to that $797 million line item, we cannot know exactly how much because that category is 88% of the revenue for the quarter.  WoW has been effectively disappeared.

Sure, there is a mention of it on one slide.  The upcoming expansion is still a thing.  But if you were gauging simply by the amount of attention a title got, you might easily assume that Hearthstone is the leading product out of Anaheim.

And such is the way of thing today.