The Insanely Impressive Quest to Make ‘Candy Crush’ Bigger Than ‘Super Mario’

Makers of the popular puzzle game take us behind the scenes

candy crush saga mobile
Getty Images for King

Since Candy Crush Saga launched in 2012, players have spent 73 billion hours playing it everywhere, even in the snowy depths of Antarctica. The franchise from game developer King produced two of the highest-grossing titles in U.S. mobile app stores for the past five years. The game’s executive producer Andreas Olofsson told ONE37pm that the average person plays Candy Crush games for 37 minutes a day. If that holds true for its U.S. users, then Candy Crush would own more than 16% of the three hours and 43 minutes per day that eMarketer estimates Americans will spend on mobile devices in 2019.   

“Our vision is that Candy Crush will be the No. 1 legendary casual games franchise in the future,” Olofsson said. “We’re off to a good start, but there are some other really impressive games franchises. Mario is one that we look up to.”

There’s nothing casual about greatness. LeBron James didn’t casually make it to eight straight NBA Finals. He bent an entire NBA conference to his will to the point that his victory was as inevitable as the sunrise. King may reside in the casual gaming category, but there is nothing about casual about its ascension. 

‘It’s Not Easy Making a Fun Game’

candy crush 5000 level

ONE37pm spoke with members of King’s Candy Crush team as the company prepared for the launch of its 5,000th level this month to discuss the amount of care taken to ensure engagement, how they’re responding to legal attacks from senators and why Olofsson thinks “it’s not easy making a fun game.”

For King, fun is the life force of Candy Crush and retention is king. That’s because “the more loyal players we have over time, the more successful we’ve been,” said Tjodolf Sommestad, Candy Crush Saga’s chief development officer. To ensure the fun continues flowing and the players are returning, King meticulously studies data on metrics such as how hard a level is, how many attempts the average player needs to complete a level and how long a player played in one session. 

Parts of the game that may seem innocuous are developed with fan engagement in mind. Game designers and artists test new designs and levels internally with King’s staff and externally with loyal players to determine the speed at which levels are completed and whether players are seeing new features on a level that would help keep them in the game longer. If they notice the design is cumbersome in any fashion, they’ll look into changing the background to make those features easier to see or tweak a level that appears to be too hard.

‘We Want to Make Sure Everyone Is Represented’

Even though a majority of the joy of playing Candy Crush derives from smashing candy and racking up points, Tiffy, Mr. Yeti and the other adorable characters are created with care. The artists who bring them to life intentionally avoid putting stereotypical features on the characters, not even allusions to gender. “We try to make it as neutral as possible in the sense that nobody can feel out of place,” Candy Crush game artist Sandra da Cruz Martins told ONE37pm.

That sounds simple enough: Draw some eyes and lips on a digital ball of clay, call it Candy McCandyman, rinse and repeat. But with global expansion comes a bigger need to better represent the fans King says are integral to the development and popularity of the game. “We’re actively working on seeing which characters are best used with this in mind because now it’s a global phenomenon,” Da Cruz Martins said. “We’re still working on it. We want to keep adapting. We want to make sure everyone is represented.”

That hasn’t always been the easiest task. Longtime Candy Crush game artist Mattias Andersson wanted to make a character from the Netherlands and made a female character in Netherland folk dress looking for waffles in a field of tulips. King hasn’t reused her and Andersson joked about apologizing to Netherlands native Da Cruz Martins about the character. 

“As the team grew, the ideas became more wonky and diversified. [Candy Crush] literally started with two Swedish guys, so they’re going to do what’s familiar to them. I mean, Tiffy is blond and white. I think that’s because that’s what they had in their mind when they were drawing it,” Da Cruz Martins said.

Addressing Backlash About Gaming Addiction

The other price of ubiquity is the unintended influence. Does Nike make Air Jordan sneakers hoping they’ll be so in demand that people will want to do anything to get a pair? Probably. Does Nike make Air Jordan sneakers hoping they become so in demand that people actually kill to get a pair? Probably not. People aren’t killing others for extra lives on Candy Crush, but the casual game has turned into an expensive addiction for many. 

Between November 2011 and May 2016, children spent $70 million on in-app purchases on Amazon platforms alone.


In May, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley proposed the Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act, which aims to ban games that allow players to spend money to advance. Hawley argued that “when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions.” He specifically called out Candy Crush’s $150 “Luscious Bundle” that includes virtual currency and 24 hours of unlimited lives. Between November 2011 and May 2016, children spent $70 million on in-app purchases on Amazon platforms alone, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to work out an agreement with Amazon for the e-commerce giant to refund the money. King contends that it doesn't target children for in-app purchases and stated Candy Crush Saga is designed for an adult audience.

As a result of mounting pressure on the gaming industry, popular games like Fortnite are removing the ability to pay real money to get digital assets. Sommestad said King is aware of the developments in the industry, but “we don’t see that these discussions that are now happening in the industry are going to affect us at all.” According to him, most people who play Candy Crush don’t pay. He also points to King’s restriction on the number of lives that come standard, each day, as “the responsible thing to do,” seemingly to preclude addictive uses of the game. 

This is where things get tricky. On one hand, Sommestad said King offers the ability to pay to advance in the game because of a demand from players who wish to do so. On the other hand, he admits that most Candy Crush players play for free. So, in effect, King offers in-game purchases to satisfy a minority of its players. Everyone I spoke with at King harped on the fact that every level is designed to be passable without paying money and, essentially, their main focus when making a game is the potential for fun—and not money. But including the option to pay for extras is clearly a big part of King’s business model and a choice the company is consciously making even in the light of a growing epidemic in industry. 

Satisfying the minority of Candy Crush players by allowing them to pay is a way not to lose any potential players on their quest for casual game supremacy. Sommestad didn’t mention Hawley’s proposed legislation by name, but he did state that “if there are changes that have to impact our game, we will, of course, make those changes.” 

What’s Next for ‘Candy Crush’ Players?

candy crush gameplay

As of now, King’s main focus is the release of the company’s 5,000th level in the Candy Crush franchise. Since King knows most of its players aren’t anywhere near reaching level 5,000, the company will host an in-game event from July 6 to 11, , where players who have reached level 10 and above will have a chance to play levels 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000. Each of the millennial levels will become available for 24 hours during those dates. 

For those who have reached level 5,000, King will have 30 new levels for them every Wednesday after level 5,000 is released on July 10. King has plans to keep the millennial levels coming every year until they surpass Mario and beyond. 

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