Look around any public space these days and you’re guaranteed to see a lot of people focused firmly on their smartphones.
They might be reading, texting or even Tindering. But chances are, a lot of them will be playing Candy Crush.
The addictive game, centred on moving colourful pieces of “candy” into different formations, gained popularity so quickly it’s hard to think of a time people weren’t playing it, and even those who claim never to have whiled away a little time on the app seem to know what the main premise is.
However, today marks five years since the cartoonish, sometimes noisy (be a nice commuter: switch the sound off) game went live and started taking over the world.
Even players in the throes of an addiction may struggle to articulate the appeal of a game played on a tiny screen using only one’s thumb, where the only jeopardy arises out of an internalised competitive streak. But make no mistake – it is extremely appealing.
King, the company behind Candy Crush, recorded 293m monthly active users in the third quarter of this year, and recorded $1.6bn (£1.2bn) in revenue. The game makes money by charging players to move through levels faster by buying more lives or boosters.
“One of the things that’s great about it is it’s so accessible to any type of player,” says Sandra da Cruz Martins, game artist at King.
“People can have their own motivation and playing style, and they are not dependent on certain devices.”
The reason game has stayed popular, da Cruz Martins says, is by “making sure people always have something new to play”.
At an early stage, the company realised users were catching up to the “end of content” and developers would need to up the ante in creating new levels to be attained. King also added live events to Candy Crush, which is pretty much what it says on the tin, and the group is “really focused on investing in keeping the tech working over all devices”, so users can play on phones, tablets or computers.
Da Cruz Martins is herself a bit out of the ordinary in the gaming world. First of all, she admits she was initially hesitant about pursuing a career as a games artist “because I’m not a hardocre gamer”. However, with the encouragement of her supportive parents and a teacher who told her “you can succeed because you have passion for the craft”, she studied games design and development in the Netherlands. She moved to Sweden to work for King two years ago.
Secondly, da Cruz Martins stands out in a sector which “as a whole is still slanted heavily towards being male dominated”.
“I have always had the pressure of knowing I’m the only woman,” she admits. But, she adds: “That did bring me to where I am today. It gave me drive.”
Sandra at work in the Candy Crush studio in Stockholm (Source: King)
With the current spotlight on sexual harassment and discrimination, does she feel the gaming industry, with its poor record in this regard, is making necessary improvements?
“I do think we are heading toward a more balanced industry,” says da Cruz Martins.
“There are more companies and more gaming genres. The industry is bigger and more people are driven to it, increasingly women.
“I have never been actively disrespected or dismissed because I’m a woman. In my own experience I’ve just been so fortunate to work with passionate people and it doesn’t really matter who you are or where you come from.”
For people interested in getting into the gaming world, da Cruz Martins’ advice is simple: “Start making. A lot of people seem to mistake playing games as being the same as making games.”
It’s not the same, she stresses, but it’s also not necessary to be a tech wizard when starting out in the game design business.
“If you don’t know how to develop, maybe you can find someone to help you or teach yourself online. Get yourself out there,” she urges.
“There’s still a big analog game industry so you can even make a board game – you will have a great portfolio.
As Candy Crush celebrates reaching a milestone, da Cruz Martins is positive about its prospects, although reluctant to make any guesses about how long the game will keep players hooked and happy to part with their cash.
“It’s hard to estimate a time. Five years is pretty much unprecedented,” she notes.
“I think we have come a really long way and we are going to go on. If we have happy players, then we are happy too.”