Kelly Clay

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…except for me. I was playing Candy Crush until 2 a.m. on my brand new iPad Mini (thanks to Santa.)

As a full-time writer about all things social media, mobile and technology, most people are surprised when I tell them I’ve never played a game on my mobile device (which, until Christmas Eve, has just been an iPhone.) I’ve seen my friends and coworkers become so addicted to games like Candy Crush that they sneak in an attempt to reach the next level in the office, in the car and even at football games. I vowed never to download any of these types of games – Candy Crush specifically – because I knew I didn’t have the time. I also didn’t want to become addicted to the game, because I knew I would. In fact, the tendency towards users becoming addicted to Candy Crush is the reason it was the #1 downloaded app in 2013. As I spent hours (and hours…and more hours) playing the game over the past two days, I realized three key things that all mobile game developers should learn from Candy Crush if they want to achieve the same type of success as King’s Candy Crush.

1. Frustrate Your Users

When I first started playing Candy Crush, I breezed through the first few levels. Within these levels, the app essentially demonstrated the basics of the game. Then, as I passed level 5, the game became more complicated. There were color bombs, there was gel, and there were different goals. At one point, I even had to achieve a certain number of points within one minute to pass the level, which took 13 attempts… until I bought a color bomb with an in-app purchase just to pass that level. As I moved along through the first 20 levels of Candy Crush, not every level was harder than the previous, which made me think that maybe – just maybe – I was getting the hang of it. Once I became a little arrogant, however, I would repeat a level so many times I would actually run out of time.

Undoubtedly I was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t pass these levels whenever this happened, which was a genius strategy by King. The psychology of frustration leads people to do one of a few things; work harder, take available short cuts or completely give up. While some users do in fact give up and delete the app, this frustration usually keeps users coming back to Candy Crush to play. It also encourages them to make those in-app purchases for “boosters” such as the color bomb which essentially guarantees they user will pass that level. By driving users to frustration, King not only keeps users engaged with Candy Crush for hours at a time (and for some of my friends, now for several years) but also drives recurring conversions.

2. Delay Your Users’ Gratification

When playing a game like Candy Crush – especially when you’ve spent a half hour trying to win a level – nothing is as satisfying as reaching the next level. But what happens when you’ve spent a half hour trying to beat that level and suddenly find out you’ve run out of lives, and to make it worse, you won’t get any back for 24 minutes?

If you’re me, you set a timer on your iPhone, clean your bathroom and do laundry for exactly 24 minutes.

This demonstrates another aspect of Candy Crush’s addictive features that encourages users to come back for more. Not only do you run out of lives for an extended period of time (such as until the next day), in which case users might shrug, say “oh well” and forget about the app forever, but users on Candy Crush run out of lives for a relatively brief period of time. It’s not the next day – it’s not even in a few hours. It’s a fixed amount of minutes that’s just enough time for users to get antsy about playing it again as soon as possible so they can reach the next level, which is also tied to that psychology of frustration. Now, not only can you not reach the next level, you have to wait to try again! Game developers who want to try and recreate the success of Candy Crush themselves should seriously consider incorporating this aspect of game delay into their apps, as it will subconsciously encourage users to keep coming back to play your game multiple times per day.

3. Encourage Your Users to Cheat

While Candy Crush was creating the formula to frustrate their users and delay their gratification to keep users playing the game, they were setting up the perfect storm for users to do just about anything to get ahead: Cheat. Luckily, King set up the game so that users have options every time they fail to complete a level to make an in-app purchase to buy “boosters” which can help them earn more points in that level and practically guarantee a win.

These in-app purchases are a cheap $0.99 “cheat” that doesn’t seem like much when you’ve been stuck on a level for hours and desperately need a cheat to get ahead. But these in-app purchases can add up; in fact, King brings in $633,000 per day with these in-app purchases (the game itself is free to download.) If you’re a game developer, you’ll not only want to market your app as free, but also load up your app with tons of in-app purchases to help your players unlock ways to get ahead in your game. If you’ve already mastered ways to frustrate your users and delay their gratification, your users will psychologically need – and resultingly buy – these in-app purchases.

Kelly Clay

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