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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Mobile Gaming, Candy Crush Saga and the Heisenberg Problem.


Mobile gaming has come along way since Tetris and Snake in the 90’s, but generally speaking the same template is still used by today’s developers. A successful game has to be simple, enjoyable and give an instant sense of achievement. Recently however there’s been a new twist to this formula, which I refer to as the ‘Heisenberg Problem’. It is a corruption of what gaming should be and sets a disturbing precedent for the future of gaming.

One of the biggest examples of this problem is King.com’s Candy Crush Saga.

Candy Crush Saga is a variation on the ‘match three’ game where players have to match up three similarly coloured ‘candies’ by switching the positions of two candies on the gaming grid, causing them to disappear to be replaced by other candies which drop down from the top of the gaming grid.

Players must complete objectives before running out of moves, lives or time.

Candy Crush Saga is phenomenally popular. Starting out as a Facebook game with over 45 million players before being adapted for smartphones soon after, it’s so popular that chances are if you’re reading these words then you’ve heard of it, played it, or at the very least you’ve seen an announcement relating to it on your Facebook feed.

Image by Riccardo Minervino

So what is the ‘Heisenberg Problem’?

Candy Crush Saga is free to play, so how do King.com make money? It’s well known that they make lots and lots of money. To be more specific… $200 million or around $600,000 a day.

The ‘Heisenberg Problem’ is the core of what makes King.com (and developers of other mobile games) so much money. Candy Crush Saga, much like its ancestors Tetris and Snake, is simple and enjoyable, well presented, it gives players a sense of achievement and most importantly is incredibly addictive and compulsive in the ‘sat staring at your phone at 1am trying to finish ‘that level’ even though you’re supposed to be up for work in 5 hours’ way.

It’s this addictive nature that makes money in the same way that Walter White aka Heisenberg of AMC’s Breaking Bad makes money off addiction.

An important factor of this is the nature of mobile gaming… unlike your console which is sat in your living room waiting unloved at home whilst you’re at work, Candy Crush Saga is there wherever you go. Whenever there’s a spare few minutes it’s there calling out like a siren.

This corrosively addictive impulse is accompanied by fiendish difficulty spikes which will have players replaying levels repeatedly, with some spending several days if not weeks trying to complete a specific level. When this frustration reaches its peak point, players can always get a Charm of Life, one of numerous in-app purchases which can be made (in this case for $16.99). The other element of this problem is the games connectivity to social media… who hasn’t seen numerous notifications from friends saying they’ve passed a level, or been bombarded with requests to join in with the craze?


King.com says “Most people who complete all the levels in the game have not purchased any charms“, and even though there’s little in the way of evidence for this, when you’re one of the most popular games in mobile gaming even as little as 5% of your player base making app purchases is going to rake in an impressive sum. Not to mention that there’s a fundamental difference between in-app purchases and downloadable content for console games, in that DLC is optional and considerably better value for money – with whole games being available for the price of a single Charm.

Freemium games are an insidious affront to the nature of gaming, replacing the initial fun with desperation and a potential for dire financial consequence.

Andy Haigh
Andy Haigh
Andy Haigh started writing to counteract the brain atrophying effects of Retail Hell, now it's an addiction. Andy is an unrepentant sequential art absorbist and comics are one of his passions. Other interests include Film, Music, Science Fiction and Horror novels and quality TV like Game of Thrones. He can talk about these at great length if only someone would listen. He lives a somewhat hermit like life in The Shire, spends too much time on social media and is still waiting to go on an adventure.

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