How to make an app like Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga is literally crushing it, with it recently reporting over 500 million installations across mobile devices and Facebook.  It was created by King, a company formed in 2003, so rather like Rovio, it’s another ten year… overnight success story!

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Candy Crush Saga is a phenomenon, with it being the top grossing app worldwide on both the App Store and Google Play.

It launched on Facebook in April 2012, with the mobile versions launching in November of that year.  So, with 500million downloads, it’s grown at an average of almost a million installs a day!  To put that into context, if everybody living in Australia installed it at that rate (ignoring smartphone penetration and assuming we all have them), it would take only 23 days for the local market to be exhausted.

Indeed, even America’s population of 330 million is dwarfed by a further 50%.

However, what’s significant about Candy Crush Saga is not that it has a large number of downloads, after all Angry Birds has passed 2 billion, but the money it generates from those users.  US Company Think Gaming, claims the free-to-play game is generating more than $875,000 a day in the US market alone.  That number then, doesn’t account for the fact 1 in 7 Hong Kong citizens plays the game, meaning it’s almost certain the game is generating over a $1million a day in global revenues.  Virtually…

So, how does it do this?  Well, the game is free to download and play, making its revenues via the in-app-purchase model.

Like casino games, and earlier mobile games such as Bejeweled, the game is a variation of match-three games.  Each level of the game, has a board filled with differently colored candies, and may contain obstacles.  These different colours include, the orange lozenge, the red jelly bean, the green square, the yellow square, the purple cluster and the blue lollipop head.  The basic move of the game is vertically or horizontally swapping the positions of two adjacent candies, to create matching sets of 3 or more candies.

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The game has multiple levels, with the first 35 levels being open.  After that, players have to unlock levels in blocks of 15, either by paying money or asking a Facebook friend for help.  This is clever, as it aligns the users with the marketing needs of the game, incentivising and rewarding the player for helping spread the game virally.

As well as levels, each player is given a default maximum of 5 lives.  To play a level, a player must have at least 1 life.  If the player fails to complete a level, they lose a life.  Here’s another clever tip, lives generate at the rate of one every 30 minutes – so a player stuck trying to get passed a level, and out of lives has a choice – wait 30 minutes for 1 shot, or obtain more lives….and guess how they can obtain more lives – by either handing over cash, or asking their Facebook friends for help (or, little trick here, by setting the clock on their mobile device forward by 30 minutes to generate the free life – the problem with this cunning plan, being that the time skipped, needs to be made back up if the clock is ever restored to the correct time – which you could in theory do, whilst sleeping).

The game has a number of further features – Special candies, Special candy combinations, Obstacles and Boosters  - the latter of which, again encourage players to part with their cash, with the game difficulty ramp being designed to encourage the purchase of these boosters.

In short, the game employs the same psychological trickery, that originated in the casinos of the 70s, to not only keep its players’ playing, but to willingly part with their cash to do so.  This is why, the large game studios are increasingly employing and engaging psychologists within their teams and test the difficulty grading of their games thoroughly.

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When they get it right – they literary create a money machine.  Indeed, it’s rumoured that the owner of Candy Crush Saga, King, is looking to follow the likes of Twitter and Zynga and IPO, no doubt achieving a handsome exit for the founders and investors.

If you’d like to learn more about apps like Candy Crush Saga, or how to make an app with your own idea, then start a Free Trial of our Course which will teach you how.

Nicholas Wright wrote on

Nicholas is a co-founder and CEO of AppInstruct. Nic is actively involved in the start-up space, mentoring other founders with mobile, fundraising and legal advice. Nic's favorite app is WhatsApp, which allows him to remain in contact with family in America and England.