Warning: Candy Crush’s 5.9 billion sale to Activision Blizzard creates new addiction empire

How do you keep people doing the same thing all day for all time? The video game designers for Candy Crush have answered that question in a most convincing manner.


King’s Digital Entertainment, the company behind Candy Crush Saga has been sold for 5.9 BILLION dollars!! The addiction kings of mobile gaming merged with the addiction kings of desktop gaming (for those of you who don’t know, Activision Blizzard made this thing called World of Warcraft). This is end of the world, apocalyptic level stuff here.

How are people still playing this game?

It’s a brain-dead, empty piece of entertainment so soul crushingly boring, it will make you dumber for just having downloaded it.

It’s basically the Kardashians of video games. But I too, shamefully succumbed to playing it at one point. Just don’t tell anyone. It’s one of those games you’ll never admit you played.  King’s Digital Entertainment has 3 games now: Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Farm Heroes Saga. And they have … 158 million active users a month?! What’s going on here?

How do you get 158 million users to play your mindless, soul crushing game and pay you for it?

Candy Crush – the Skinner box on your phone


The Skinner box is named after Professor Burrhus Frederic Skinner (B.F Skinner), Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Video game designers have been using the principles he discovered in their games. The box is used to study “operant conditioning”. It sounds technical, but really, it’s just sticking a hamster in a box and studying his behavior. Specifically, how to get him to keep hitting the same lever over and over again.

Connect your action to a reward

The easiest way. Reward him for each press with a food pellet. Malcolm Gladwell, NYT bestselling author, states in his book “Outliers” that satisfaction in a job depends on connection between effort and reward. Addictive games act as a means of escape. It satisfies that craving for reward that we can’t get in our day to day lives.

Your hard work in Candy Crush gives you immediate pay-offs. Pass the stage and the entire level blows up with candy flying every where. You visibly move closer to completing all 1,975 levels.

How often can you get that in your real job?

Still, a simple connection between action and reward is not enough. That’s where they start using more techniques to keep you pulling the lever.

Ease them in

First you need to ease the hamster into the new behavior you want him to learn. This is known as “shaping” in psychology. The hamster is rewarded quickly in the early stages. Simply turning towards the lever gets him a food pellet. Then moving towards the lever gets him a food pellet. After that, only pressing the lever gets him a food pellet. The first stages of Candy Crush comes with a tutorial and special power moves. You’ll blaze past 20 stages without even noticing.

Variable ratio schedule

How do you get the hamster to keep hitting that lever as fast as his little furry paws can go?

Not by giving him a pellet each press. He’ll soon relax, knowing there’s food every time. No, the best way is to set it up so it drops a food pellet only after a random number of presses. That will get him to start mashing that lever as fast as he can.

This is called variable ratio schedule in Skinner land. “The variable ratio schedule produces both the highest rate of responding and the greatest resistance to extinction” Translation: it’s the best way to get the little guy to change and keep his new behavior.

The difficulty for Candy Crush is similarly randomized. Some stages are surprisingly easy to give you a break and the illusion that you’ve gotten better. Then the next stage will make you want to snap your phone in half. Because those stages kinda needs everything to fall in place to pass.

This is addictive exactly the same way a slot machine is addictive. That’s the hook. The first taste is free, then they start shaking you down like an angry mafia goon.

There are so many options to “help” you:

  • Pay to unlock new levels
  • Pay for more power-ups
  • Pay to make more moves
  • Pay for getting more lives to pay for making more moves

All for 99 cents each. There’s such a small sum. You’ll probably lose that money in the laundry. What’s the harm?

And hey, if you’re poor, impatient or shameless, you can always connect your account to Facebook and beg your friends for help. We’ve all done it. Until we run out of friends! Gah, they didn’t respond! Are they real people?! These requests get sent to friends who don’t even have Candy Crush. What a great way to introduce them to a new game. Once they start playing, we can all help each other! Look, I’m not saying that King’s is an evil corporation hoping to benefit from everyone’s addiction…

What if we could use these psychological principles to our advantage?

The truth is, a lot of us know what it takes to be successful. But we don’t follow through on our goals, even when we have all the desire and information in the world. It’s not about more information; the information we need is already out there. It’s just that we become indecisive or paralyzed by too many options and never follow up on the things we wanted to do. What if we could use these psychological principles to always finish what we start? What can we achieve?

Subscribe below as I will be looking at ways to do just that in up-coming posts.


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