No One Is Actually Good At Candy Crush
I recently saw a fun little article entitled No one is actually good at Candy Crush. It makes the observations that the majority of successful mobile games are based around the “illusion of skill”. These are games where the progression and pacing is controlled by the developer, rather than by the player’s ability. The author states, “tell me how many hours you’ve played, how much money you have spent, and I should be able to tell you within a good degree of certainty how far you are in Candy Crush, what level your town hall is in Clash of Clans, how many times you’ve ascended in Tap Titans”.
Now the most amusing part of this article is reading the comments, where players accuse the author of being overly simplistic or elitist. According to them, there is in fact a large amount of skill involved in some of these games. They cite examples where a player can plan ahead to make better moves in Candy Crush. Strictly speaking, they are right. There are basic players who make the first move that is suggested to them by the automatic hints and elite players who look one, two or even five moves into the future to assemble enormous combinations. Like Chess or Go, we could go so far as to write programs to analyze the board and spit out the optimal match. In fact, I had a friend back in school who did that with Bejeweled and won a bunch of money in tournaments before his account got banned. This is clearly, a skill based game.
All of this would be great if it weren’t for a tiny detail that the author left out of his article. Every single major mobile puzzle game, whether it be Candy Crush or Juice Jam, dynamically controls how the game plays out while you are blissfully matching three. Behind the scenes, an algorithm more complex than you can possibly imagine is secretly adjusting the difficulty of every level, even going so far as to create lucky cascades to fall on to your board. The win percentages for every level is carefully monitored, as well as how many moves you have left when you win and how much of your goal is unfinished when you lose. Candy Crush knows everything about you and if you’re significantly above or below the tuning curve they have designed, then you can bet a $0.99 bundle pack that they are going to change the game to make you fall in line.
These games are essentially super powered slot machines. Everything about the experience is tuned to keep you playing for as long as possible and make you feel good about yourself. When new mechanics are introduced, players will frequently encounter a more “difficult” level with a very low win percentage. After days of perseverance, you finally conquer this challenge and it’s an amazing feeling! You’ve mastered this new obstacle, and the next few levels you fall before your new found skill. Of course, the levels after that “difficult” level are tuned to have very high win percentages, but let’s not mention that to our players.
Now there isn’t anything wrong with slot machines. I’ve dropped $100+ into the Willy Wonka slot machine in Vegas trying to get the Grandpa Joe bonus game (I’ve got a golden ticket!). However, when you play a game you should recognize it for what it is. If you play Candy Crush because it’s a fun way to pass the time on the train, you want a way to decompress and relax after work, or you just love that creepy guy with the mustache, more power to you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ve mastered a game that is programmed to be impossible to master.
And for the rest of the people who still think Candy Crush is skill based, King would like to give you a $5.9 billion thank you hug.