When Games Pretend to Be Games They Aren’t

Candy Crush pretends to be a game of skill to trick you into spending money. But can a game pretend to be something it’s not for valid artistic reasons?

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Candy Crush is a scam. You all know Candy Crush, right? Of course you do. You’re playing it right now. Anyway, it’s a scam. The whole play experience is designed to trick you into spending money on in-game content.

I don’t mean that it just seems like it would be more enjoyable if you spent a few bucks. Offering goods and services in exchange for money is not, in itself, fraudulent. What makes Candy Crush sinister is its attempts at social engineering. For instance, there’s a rumor going around that if you spend a single dollar in Candy Crush, the difficulty of future levels suddenly ramps up dramatically. The developer denies this… but true or not, the business model makes a lot of sense. You’ve just identified yourself to the developers as the kind of person who, when faced with a level he/she can’t beat, will spend money on power-ups. It is therefore to their benefit to ensure that you are faced with levels you can’t beat all the time, right?

And why not just make the game impossible to beat without buying powerups? Well, most casual gamers will never spend money on in-game content, no matter what. If you have to spend money to even play the game beyond a certain point, they will simply stop playing the game. And although these people aren’t going to make the developers a cent directly, they function as a kind of free advertising, roping in potential paying customers through word of mouth. So it’s to the developer’s benefit to keep the cheapskates playing too.

All of this has been covered at length, and in fascinating detail, elsewhere. (And this other elsewhere.) Again, the Candy Crush people deny that they aggressively target the people who are willing to spend money. But the basic idea — that the game is designed to cajole and browbeat you into spending — still holds.

Now, I noticed an aspect of this the other day that has some really interesting consequences.

If you keep playing for long enough, Candy Crush will attempt to convert you from a non-paying customer to a paying customer by throwing a frankly impossible level in your path.  You’ve been cruising along, and then suddenly you find yourself stuck on the same level for weeks and weeks. This creates frustration, and maybe prompts you to spend money. But if you’re not particularly frustration-averse, you just keep playing. Eventually, you get really lucky. When all the stars are aligned, they vanish into a puff of brightly colored smoke, and the apparently impossible level turns out not to have been impossible at all.

And there are levels that actually work like this.

But there are other levels as well, levels that — when you first encounter them — are literally impossible. Levels where the target score requires you to get an average of 1000 points per move (when a standard move earns you 180 points). The first time I came across one of these, I got stuck for so long that I almost stopped playing the game altogether, and I imagine that if I was a slightly different sort of person, I would have considered paying a couple of bucks instead. But then a funny thing happened.  I was riding the subway home, and I fired up Candy Crush, and threw myself into that meat-grinder of a level… and I realized that the target score had, without ceremony, changed. I don’t remember the specific numbers anymore, but it was a sizable drop, from 100,000 to 75,000 say. And suddenly, where I had been losing each round by a LOT, I was only losing each round by a tiny bit! Again, there are probably people out there who would spend money at exactly this point. “Oh my god, I’m one move short of beating this bastard of a level! I’d better buy the extra turn now — who knows if I’ll ever come this close again?”

But I’m cheap. So I soldiered on. And sure enough, a few days later, the target score dropped again. And then again. And then I finally won.

Now, I think the developers wanted this goalpost-shifting to go unnoticed. And the nature of play in Candy Crush is such that it easily could have. You don’t generally pay attention to the target score, or to the number of moves you have left.  You just idly slide the candies around, and let the facts and figures take care of themselves. You’re not supposed to realize that this is happening.

But I did notice it. And the odd thing is that, once I did, Candy Crush lost its ability to frustrate me. I don’t mean that that one bastard level wasn’t frustrating me anymore:  I mean that the game lost its ability to frustrate me AT. ALL.  The next time I got stuck on an “impossible” level for a couple of weeks, I was like the freaking zen master of casual gaming, placidly failing over and over, and then trying again the next day, without feeling any frustration, or any desire to stop playing, or any desire to spend money, or even really any desire to beat the level. And the emotional intensity of the game, such as it is, was also gone. I no longer felt any urgency to succeed in any given round. At first, I thought this was because I had made a principled decision not to let the carnival hucksters over at King.com get to me anymore. But after a month or so, I realized that something else was happening. See, Candy Crush was presented to me as a game of skill and chance, where each round was an opportunity to win or lose. And because losing is always frustrating, it made me frustrated. But once I realized that, by losing over and over again, I was making it easier to win further down the road, I realized that Candy Crush was never a game of skill after all. No, it’s an entirely different kind of game.

Candy Crush is a JRPG.

I wasn’t losing.

I was grinding.

The mechanism isn’t exactly the same, of course. My character doesn’t have stats to advance — I don’t even really have a character! But the basic principle of engaging a in repetitive behavior for hours and hours until you can finally make some progress, is exactly the same. And suddenly the half-bored, trance-like state in which I play most rounds of Candy Crush these days makes all the sense in the world. And although Candy Crush has been compared, unfavorably, to a slot machine, I realized something else:  in that dogged persistence actually will alter the odds in your favor, Candy Crush is less like an actual slot machine and more like the game that slot machine addicts think they are playing. “This machine is gonna pay out soon. I can tell.” And it actually will! Well, not pay out, exactly. But it’ll let me win. Brightly flashing lights, bells that go bingley-bongley-boop. Endorphins. All that jazz.

And thinking about slot machines makes me wonder if really, every game is not actually secretly two games. There’s the game as it actually is, if you take the lid off and examine the code one line at a time. And then there’s the “screen game,” the game that we imagine we are playing. (The term is adapted from Pierre Bayard, who came up with the concept of the “screen book” to refer to the mental model of a book that we create as we read it, which only partially resembles the book as it actually is.) Usually the real game and the screen game are the same, because usually the rules of games are well understood. This is a constitutional element of what games are, for some formalist theorists! But there’s no reason why this has to be the case, especially not with videogames, where the actual mechanism of play is so terribly obscure. And there’s no real reason why the should be the same, other than habit.

There’s one major exception, though. The parts of games that model interpersonal interactions tend to be less transparent, especially when they are done very well. This is probably because real relationships are pretty damn opaque, and what’s more, totally granular. In real life, every little interaction counts. I mean, yes, on any given day it probably doesn’t matter whether or not I smile at my wife when she gets home from work. But there’s a sort of gestalt quality to our relationship which is composed of all of these little interactions, so the time is never wasted. Meaningful reactions with loved ones are their own reward, of course… but although the long-term effect of each individual action may be negligible, it is there, even if we sort of have to take it on faith. Our actions do add up to something.

Prior to Maria from Silent Hill 2, no developer had successfully programmed an NPC  that could get a charlie horse.

Prior to Maria from Silent Hill 2, no developer had successfully programmed an NPC that could get a charlie horse.

Well, but in a video game, generally speaking, they don’t. In the vast majority of cases, your interactions with the NPCs are pure window dressing, and have no effect on game mechanics whatsoever. If you want to, you can skip nearly all of the dialogue in even the most dialogue-heavy of games. You do have some interesting cases like Silent Hill 2, where (and this is a spoiler, I believe) you can get a slightly better ending by performing friendly little actions like checking in on your love interest in between missions. But each individual one of those interactions has no effect beyond incrementing a counter somewhere in the game’s bowels. It’s not like your action actually makes Maria think differently about you, or have a more pleasant day, because Maria neither thinks nor has days. Even leaving the AI question aside, the game’s modeling of a relationship is crude because it’s entirely quantized. At the end of the day, your bond with Maria was either “good enough,” or “not.” A little experimentation, or a walkthrough, would tell you exactly how many times you need to interact with her. And all of the interactions above a certain threshold are, in a sense, wasted time. The fact that you are not meant to realize this — that the special ending is supposed to appear sort of automagically if you are the kind of player who bothers to check in on the CGI love interest every so often — is another example of the screen-game/real-game disconnect. Really, you were increasing that counter. But in the screen game, in your mind, you were interacting with something very much like a person… and that’s what separates the Silent Hill example from the Candy Crush example.  Candy Crush is swapping out two rather simple types of game. Silent Hill 2 is disguising a fairly simple game as a kind of interaction that, as of this writing, more than a decade later, is still beyond the capability of gaming as an art form. And this is probably why Candy Crush feels like a scam, and Silent Hill 2 just feels ambitious.

And although the disconnect between the screen game and the real game has, thus far, mainly been used to separate rubes from their dollars, it could be one of the great untapped possibilities of game design. Just briefly, let me suggest a couple of ways that this could work out. (Please suggest more in the comment threads!)

1) Imagine a Starcraft type game where the stated damage per second, spawn rate, etc. of the units have stated values (which are fictional) and real, hidden values that fluctuate over time in response to the rise of dominant tactics in competitive play.  Any strategy that works too well will be subtly nerfed over time, without any official announcement to the player base. In addition, these figures are subject to a certain amount of random variation.  Suppose for instance that on any given day, there’s  a 1/365 chance that all zergling units will be substantially more powerful than they’re supposed to be, making the zerg rush strategy effectively unbeatable.

This game would actually be a lot more random than it lets on. The trick — and this would be tough to calibrate — is to make it random enough to have a major impact, but not so random that anyone would notice. What we’re trying to incept in the player base, here, is superstitious play. The newbie who tries to play for the first time on that random zerg rush day is probably going to be a convert to the Zerg cause for a good long time. The seasoned player who happens, on that day, to be doing a Zerg rush just for fun, will think he/she has discovered an amazing refinement to the strategy. “Wait, if I put my reactors here, and attack at this point…!”

The effect, I’m guessing, is that play would be a lot more chaotic and creative, privileging adaptability and contingency planning over optimization and clicking speed. (Not that the top Starcraft players today are not adaptable. But it would push the game further in that direction.)

2) Two words:  Calvinist Monopoly. Where the first game that I imagined has a lot of covert randomness, this one would have covert non-randomness.  On the surface, it just looks like a computer-assisted game of Monopoly.  But unbeknownst to the players, they are divided before the game even begins into elect and non-elect camps. (Actually, let’s say that the players are divided during account creation, so that your status is maintained across multiple games.) When an elect player clicks the “roll dice” button, the computer scans the squares in front of him/her, identifies the desirable options, and then makes just the sliiightest adjustment to the random number generator. This probably would not be more fun to play, and it seems like it would, if anything, reinforce terrible patterns of mind (smugness for the elect, learned helplessness for the proles). But its ability to reinforce those patterns is nothing to sniff at. This is not the first Monopoly mod that I’ve ever written, btw.

Now, I’m guessing that there are more possibilities than simply making the game more random or less random. But I can’t think of any off the top of my head, so I’ll leave that to the rest of you. I’m also really curious whether there are any games that work like this in practice. I guess if they really worked like this, you wouldn’t be aware of it! But you might notice failed attempts to disguise one type of game as another, and we could probably pick apart the features that caused the attempts to fail.

46 Comments on “When Games Pretend to Be Games They Aren’t”

  1. Rambler #

    Green Archer needs Candy badly!
    {INSERT 25¢}


    • B #

      You must be paid by the word… i stopped reading your article halfway through.

      I would like to know why Candy Crush runs contests, yet fills it with fake players and fake scores. For instance: Striped contest awards 10 points for each striped candy you make and use. Only keeping these points if you finish level. When you look at others scores on the list, 1944, 647, 643, 851, and so on. Obviously not knowing how to multiply by ten.

      I won’t spend money on this game.


      • G #

        When you play an old level the score is not multiplied by 10. Only when you pass your current level, the score will be multiplied by 10.


        • Adriana #

          I agree that Candy Crush scams you. It throws all these free booster gaining events your way, however when you spend money, they all disappear within 24 hours. I mean every single event. They slowly reapper after weeks when I don’t buy any more purchases. This has happened 2-3 times (several months apart) for it to be coincidence. Also, the beanstalk booster game disappears within a day or two when you don’t make any purchases for it.


      • Teri Silva #

        Candy crush was fun until you can’t win a level without payment for booster. Bait and switch. Sad to leave but won’t be scammed. Too many honest games out there


    • Graham #

      I found the article really useful. In particular…

      “without feeling any frustration, or any desire to stop playing, or any desire to spend money, or even really any desire to beat the level”

      That is me right now. I don’t feel anything anymore and just keep playing this same level, 1437 for the sheer hell of it. I worked out that the only way to get through would be to smash the lemons with lollipops. I don’t have any. To get six lollipops would cost £10. I have never given King.com any cash for boosters and I’m not about to start. If it was £1 it wouldn’t be so bad but the more I find out about Candy Crush Saga, the more I dislike.


  2. Kevin #

    So this potentially leads into something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Do video games “want” you to win, or not? Or, since games themselves can’t want because they’re not living things (supposedly), do the game developers want you to win? Or is this not even the right question to ask?

    Take any given level in Candy Crush. Particularly one that expects me to clear 60-something blocks of jelly with only 18 moves. Does that level, in the context of the game “world,” actually want me to succeed? Or is the candy and jelly and chocolate there to defeat me? Does the jelly want to stay put, and is it an “enemy?”

    I don’t play a lot of games, but I think this is an interesting idea separating a game like Candy Crush from say an old school platformer. Mario is supposed to squish baddies and jump over lava in order to rescue someone. The obstacles are there to defeat you, but the game, I think, wants to be beaten. Candy Crush pretends to be like this — “Hey, little girl, give the dragon more lemonade, or whatever!!” — but the game itself sets the parameters for each level for you. You think, “If you want me to beat this level, you ought to give me better moves.”

    Again, perhaps this is the wrong question to be asking, and Candy Crush is designed to be frustrating so you spend money. But there’s something creepy about a piece of software designed only to frustrate and cajole you into spending money. Something designed to highlight failure.

    And yet I’m going to play it again anyway.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      There’s an awesome little essay on pretty much this exact topic here, by Anna Anthropy, who is, in her own words “a game designer, and also a sadist.” (N.B., that link itself just brings you to a screen of text, but some of the linked images on that page are mildly nsfw.)


    • An Inside Joke #

      The “best” games (i.e., the most efficient at keeping you playing) are beatable, but difficult. If a game is too easy, it won’t hold your interest, or else you as the player will complete it and never get back. If it’s too hard to beat, players will get frustrated and keep playing. Most games are set up very similarly to slot machines in casinos: wins happen often enough to keep the player engaged so they don’t quit, but infrequently enough to make it feel challenging so you keep wanting to invest more time or money.


  3. Lavanya #

    As a recent addict to Candy Crush, to the point that I imagine random things slotting into three-in-a-row positions, seeing a screenshot of this game on Overthinkingit was a bit jarring. Bad enough it infects my thinking, but vivid hallucinations? :)

    Anyway, grinding is a good way to re-think of the game. Personally I prefer to see it as anti-poopsocking. God knows I lost enough time to Angry Birds. Candy Crush is doing me a favor by only letting me play five rounds every few hours.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      When I first started playing the game, seeing any quasi-regular grid of objects from above would trigger my candy crushing instinct. (So, like, if I was looking off a bridge at cars in a traffic jam, or standing in a classroom full of students seated at their desks, etc.) It’s probably a pretty common phenomenon for any game with a strong manipulation-of-objects component. Tetris did the same kind of thing, back in the day, and I’ve heard some people describe Katamari-related fantasies of wadding everything in their apartment up into a ball.

      I wonder if dentists come home from the office and, like, visualize scraping the plaque out of the cracks between their couch cushions.


      • Lavanya #

        Oh yes. I experienced it a lot with Tetris multiplayer, back when I was a kid. It didn’t help matters that the floor of my bathroom has multicolored tiles. Mad for strange dreams.

        Although I’ve also felt that manipulation-of-objects compulsion whenever I’ve done a lot of cleaning. I walk into rooms elsewhere and I feel a need to resort bookshelves, adjust tilted pictures, etc. I’m not usually OCD about such things, but I guess it’s just the natural human inclination toward habit. Like when you start exercising for a while, the routine of it makes it a lot easier to work up a daily sweat.


  4. CyrusTheVirus #

    You could just download the hack program and have infinite lives or 150 moves.. thus saving time and potential money ;)


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      But what would be the point in that? WIthout a limited number of moves, Candy Crush ceases to be a game. I get hacking or walkthroughing your way through games that have an interesting narrative, so that you can see how it all ends up. But cheating at Candy Crush feels like cheating at Solitaire. I mean, yeah, I could just put the queen of spades directly on top of the ten of spades, but how does that benefit me?

      (I guess if it prevents me from spending $5,000 in micropayments over the course of a month, yeah, that’s a benefit. But all you’re doing there is destroying the game so that you can’t play it anymore. If you’re an alcoholic, dumping your vodka down the sink is a good idea — but it doesn’t mean that you’ve found a new and improved method of drinking.)


  5. Jumbybird #

    Nonsense, I’m up to 79 without spending a cent, I finished their previous big game, bubble witch saga without spending a cent…


  6. Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

    Great piece. Thoughts!

    1) Candy Crush is evil. (See above.) It made me so frustrated this week that I started thinking I will never again be able to meditate properly, because when I close my eyes all I can see are those damn blocks.

    2) Did I mention Candy Crush is evil? A few days ago I was complaining about it to a friend, and you know what happened? She decided to check it out for herself, and now she’s addicted. I hate you, Candy Crush.

    3) I assume you’ve seen this article about a study where researchers actually created that Calvinist Monopoly. They did it to prove that when people make money, even if it’s because a game is rigged, they become douchebags. Which, yep. (http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/)


    • Quarlo #

      completely evil. I played the game twice and remained at some high level for days – c’mon, 50 tries and I still don’t pass? Well something like that. PURE SWEET EVIL. It’s sucha great game, so polished and fun, but full of evil turd to turn it into a real stinker.


    • BastionofLight #

      I like Stokes’s Calvinist Monopoly better, because it’s a (double?) blind experiment: without hacking the game server, the players wouldn’t be able to know whether they are favored or disfavored, or even that some players are favored.


    • Lavanya #

      That Calvinist Monopoly article reminded me of the Overthinking It article about the particulars of the American-style “Rise to Power” narrative:


      How the price protagonists pay for their rise is losing something simple, essential to them: family, friends, a romantic relationship. That’s that Fourth of July picnickers frowning on the Horatio Alger mythic protagonists of the world!


  7. Crystal #

    Can random StarCraft and Calvinist Monopoly be artistically motivated if players don’t understand what is happening? Who benefits from these changes to the game if no one know about them? It sounds more like a psychology experiment than an art project. This gets into the whole “what is art” conversation, but for a game to masquerade as a different genre, wouldn’t players eventually need to break this facade? Or wouldn’t the game need to get something from its faux genre it could never have from its real genre?


    • John #

      One of the particularity of video-games is that it’s one of the role of the player to discover the rules (not all the times, but in a lot of cases).

      So adding a bit of random, guessable or not, doesn’t change that.


      • Stokes OTI Staff #

        Right. There are a *few* non-video examples of this, of course. (“There’s a triangle between the Otis logo at the top left of the screen, the capital T at the start of this sentence, and the number 16 on the top right of John’s comment. Whose is it?”)

        But even though discovering the rules is a part of the video game experience, I do think there’s something novel about a game that actively deceives you about what the rules are. It’s that aspect of deception that interests me. The Random Starcraft example is a little crude, because you sort of imagine a little picture of a space marine with the text “deals 100 damage,” and a line in the code that reads “Actually, only does about 80 damage. Bwa-hah!” Candy Crush is a little more subtle: we assume it’s a game of skill because most pattern-matching games are games of skill (and there is still some skill to it), but it turns out to work on an entirely different model. There, it’s not a lie about any one specific rule, but there’s a much more systematic kind of misdirection going on.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      Crystal – When I was writing the post, I didn’t mean “artistically motivated” in the sense of big-A Art, but just in the sense of “a way to make a particular kind of gameplay experience.” So that a game designer who isn’t mercenary, but is doing it for the love, or whatever, might still want to do this in some circumstances. And in that sense, I think that it’s pretty clear that deceitful design could have some legitimate uses.

      The question of who benefits, though, is a fascinating one, because traditionally big-A art doesn’t have to benefit the audience. And you could have a very, VERY arty game where the “art” part would only be apparent to people who were looking at the source code. Imagine a very simple Mario style game where there’s a guy, a goomba, and a goal on the right side of the room. All you need to do is jump over the goomba and exit. Now, the secret is that you don’t even have to do that. The game has no collision detection: the goomba is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost. I feel like if you showed that code to another programmer, and then had them watch people playing the game, it would be an artistic experience of a certain kind.


  8. John #

    X-Com:Enemy Unknown has a subtle variant of this. Each time you save the game during any given mission each reload of that game is just a touch harder then the last time you loaded it. Enemies hit more, your percentages come up bad more often, they move a bit more aggressively.

    Its not apparent on the lower levels since you rarely load much but at higher levels, where you may want to save every turn or two an reload every few minutes so as to keep every inch of ground it quickly becomes obvious. You just take a massive beating the more times you reload saved games on a given level.

    So eventually you rage quit and go to bed at 3AM.

    But the next day, when you return and load that saved game, you just annihilate it. Destroy those aliens without even a scratch. Not only is it not as hard, its EASIER then the first time you played it.

    And so you keep playing. Rewarded for having overcome the difficulty. Until the next time.


  9. James #

    Thanks for a great article Stokes! I’ve been having some paranoia about Candy Crush for a couple of months now and it’s good to see someone voice the same concerns.

    I’m very interested in the machinery of how they are manipulating the game – I’m approaching this from a programming point of view.

    My colleague got stuck on level 32 or so, he said he was working to get 3 stars before he moved on. Easy I thought (I was on about level 130 at the time) I can easily get 3 stars on that basic level. NOPE – I failed. And in addition I did not find the level easier than the 100 and later levels. This made me question my basic assumption – that I was getting better at Candy Crush.

    Like you, I noticed that it was easier to get past a level after a few days of banging my head against it, although I haven’t noticed the changing goals, I have noticed that CC feeds in power candies more frequently and makes more rows for you when it wants you to win.

    With this in mind, I’ve been working on an experiment. I’m stuck on level 147. It’s an interesting level because it starts empty and the candies feed in from the top to fill up the board. My thinking is that if you load this level, the score you start with (just from the candies pouring in and not making a single move) will be directly influenced by how the ‘randomness’ has been skewed for you at that time. You could start with zero if CC isn’t liking you. You could start with 10K+ if it wants you to win.

    My guess is that this means that the ‘randomness’ of the game can be tested if there is enough data, so I’ve been recording my starting scores on this level since around the middle of August. On one occasion when I hadn’t played the game for a couple of days I had the following starting scores in this order: 15360, 6180, 3060, 3180, 0, 3060, 3060. Since then I’ve never had starting scores like that.

    I’m not sure what this means, or how it should be analysed, but my guess is that the randomness is skewed more in your favour if you’re stuck on a level plus if you haven’t played the game for a while. I’d like to plot the different starting scores on level 137 based on different properties and prove the randomness skewing. If you or anyone else wants to help with that project let me know.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      That’s a fascinating idea for a study, James, and I’d like to help you. But that would depend on me not playing Candy Crush for a couple of days so I could see what happened to my scores when I turned it back on, and I just don’t see that happening.


  10. Aszka #

    I haven’t played Candy Crush even once, but still find the article very interesting, well-written and wonderfully funny sometimes.

    I think the part of uniqueness and charm of “Dark souls” – as them was described in discussions, at least – lied in fact it seemed to be focused more on the skill/ability of the player than “trying” + “spending time” alias grinding. [wild association, may be ignored freely; another one – can we put that Candy Cash mechanism in the context of other ways of “adjusting the difficulty to the player”, like level-scaling, unblocking the new difficulty modes, offering advices etc.? or the question of good proportion between challenge and frustration?]

    By the way, isn’t rewarding people for just “trying”, not actually getting better (and focusing on trying and efforts, not effects; hard work rather than talent etc.) a rather large part of modern Western culture? In case of games there’s always the desire to made them accessible for all, maybe not even for the economical reasons only – maybe it seems “just” on some level.

    Either way, excellent way of making people spend money, that’s for sure.


  11. Gab #

    So is this related to how in some games, you can choose to be a “nice” or a “mean” character, and that determines the ending you get? Some games are explicit or heavily implicit in it, others this gets figured out via word of mouth, but either way, it’s still the embedded mechanic.

    Also, glad Shana linked the Monopoly study, I was going to do the same.


  12. Falconer #

    I think the comparison to slot machines is most appropriate.
    Slot machines are not designed to be beaten. They’re designed to make a profit for the casino where there planted. Any game that shows a loss in profits will over time have it’s RNGenerators calibrated until it’s profitable again. If the game is proven not profitable it will simply be retired. Blackjack, Craps, roulette are all similar.
    From the point of view of the casino your ‘winnings’ are seen as ‘overhead expenses’ towards the generation of a profit.
    In ‘candy crush’ time spent without spending money could be seen as an expense toward that crucial moment where you give up and spend money (Cha-Ching!! Profits)


  13. Falconer #

    Oh Yeah also… Don’t forget that everything in a casino is designed to keep you inside, at the slots, pulling the lever, spending your money.

    “The only way to win is not to play”

    …..or at least stop playing when your ahead.
    But everything there is setup to not allow that.
    In statistics is called “The Gambler’s ruin”… or in the long run when playing against the house, you will always lose. Its statistically guaranteed.

    Candy crush has to keep you ‘playing’ if it’s ever gonna get you ‘paying’….


  14. Wenyip #

    I actually want to play random Starcraft (or random whatever, really), as do a lot of people in my GW2 guild. You’d need to basically randomise a certain amount of numbers per game (not per day – someone would figure it out in the morning and everyone would look it up by the evening). You’d still not tell the players the results of the randomisation. And that would be an extremely entertaining strategy gaming experience: adaptability would be key, and experienced players would get good at spotting vital strengths and weaknesses in their units/etc each game. I’m actually surprised there’s not a massive community out there doing this.

    The problem is that the existence of such a game wouldn’t involve any disconnect, since the players would be well aware of the randomisation going in. Then again, there’s still a disconnect between knowledge of the game and the actual state of the game, it’d just be bridged by the knowledge of the disconnect.


  15. Curuniel #

    I am very interested in MMORPGs so that’s where my mind went here, but not to ways in which this kind of design could change up the game genre. I think the screen game/real game distinction touches on part of what I find so frustrating about MMO gamers (not that it doesn’t hold for others too). I love virtual worlds, and I’ve been known to roleplay characters with friends – I am very invested in the screen game. I let myself get carried away with it as an imaginative exercise. The most vocal MMO players, on the other hand, are very invested in the mechanical game (optimising stats, exploiting quirks of the design, deriving exact probabilities for things). They have little interest and place little value on the immersive virtual world elements. This always strikes me as ungrateful toward the game designers and lore writers, but I suppose in another sense I’m just more of a dupe? :P


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      The distinction between the real game and the screen game is not quite the same as the distinction between game mechanics and story/lore/flavor. The idea is that every player has a screen game, which is simply your mental model of how the game works. This can be very close to the real game, or even identical! But the more complicated the game gets, the more the screen game and the real game are likely to diverge (and if the game is actively duplicitous, that makes it more likely too — or at least that’s what I’m suggesting in the post).

      I think that you would only be more of a dupe if you somehow believed that the immersive virtual world aspects had some kind of actual effect on the game mechanics? Just thinking they’re important in their own right doesn’t change your perception of how the game works.


  16. ithinkthereforeiam #

    What if Candy Crush isn’t a game at all?
    If you continue to play the game and advance by use of perseverance instead of money, you get to keep your money and still advance. The target score trick works almost as a statement of theme – people who don’t give up can achieve their goals in life without huge amounts of money or extra help.
    The fact that Candy Crush is so popular and yet frustrating for anyone who doesn’t spend money on it shows how easily people give up and move on to other things. In other words, Candy Crush is a lesson, not a game.
    Or: it’s a trick.
    The creator of Candy Crush could have simply designed the game to troll everyone. You have to be reasonably smart to create an app, so this guy probably figured out that no one would think to keep playing the game and get past “impossible” levels; they would just keep spitting out money like the suckers they are. It’s a joke that leaves the game designer rolling in dough. Why not?


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      I personally learned a very important lesson from Candy Crush: delete Candy Crush and replace it with Ridiculous Fishing, and you will find peace.


  17. Pete #

    All King games work on the same principle- a 9×9 grid= 81 cells. If this game is ‘random’ , then how is it, that with this number of cells, there is often only one possible move ? And this to the game maker’s advantage. When the game ‘says’ there is no possible move, the game re- shuffles before the player has chance to see wether this is true or not.
    The latest trick is the massive flying saucer- what’s going on behind that ?
    When you have decided that there is no way that you can win, and exit the game, every time, you are told ‘ YOU PRESSED THE QUIT BUTTON ‘ – really? I didn’t know that, my brain hurts – must have been playing this con of a game for too long ?


  18. bum4evr #

    Does Apple give you free Ipads? King is a company just the same and their goal is to make money. I am on level 83 on candy crush and haven’t paid a dime…. some levels can take 3 or 4 days though.


  19. Cassandra McLaughlin #

    Reading your jam-packed article has lightened my CandyCrushSodaSaga load! I’m just like you, …a curmudgeon when it comes to prompts for real-world money. I’m thrilled to now whole-heartedly ignore any more King.com pleas to spend cash at the Shoppe. Thanks for your enlightening tale!


  20. genetix ( the coder dude from Finland ;) #

    Honestly, I think the article tells me the intelligence of writer and is measured to understand that candy crush is gambbling and not “a game”. Understanding fact that a game can be hard, but should always be beatable or it is not a game at all. Money or any wager should never be part of it or it turns to mental gambling at minimum. Welcome to casino and world of addiction.

    However, almost all so called “games” since we started seeing online games / multiplayer games are doing the same sadly (developers don’t want this, but publishers do as they wamt money of course, since when game has been free to buy from store in a box?).

    Hell, I’m so old I think last time I did see a real game was at ms-dos or perhaps we should consider “single player” offline or lan games game play as only thing I think we should even think or consider as games.

    Yes, world has turned to “cheese kebab”, but then again everyone chooses themself what they play. Who says you can at anytime get old game that actually has fair chance (above mentioned dos game or single player game) and be much happier by idea that what you are playing actually depends how intelligent or simply have fun even by losing the game, but understanding you are not gambbling, but the game is simply difficult, but no one is modifying your chance to win.


  21. Suzy #

    I tried to read as much as I can, you had a lot to say and not loose interest in it, sorry I lost interest. Best part of your Wisdom is it answer my question and more,I used to play without the net and when it gets to a level you have to wait for 9999999 to get next level, now I am playing on the net you get Ram up with adds..But you know something? As I am writing this I JUST ANSWERED MY OWN QUESTION!! If I spent time to search FOR LOSING INTREST IN CCF , THAT TELL ME SOMETHINGThanks!! your wisdom on these games is perfect


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