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In Defence of Candy Crush
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In Defence of Candy Crush
by Aaron Steed on 01/02/14 02:19:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Walk a mile in a man's shoes they say. The gaming equivalent would be to play past the tutorial, and keep playing till you've seen some more mechanics.

A friend of mine who doesn't play games had a bit of a Candy Crush habit for a while. She's now a bit disenchanted but the first 35 levels had her hooked enough to replay them rather than pass the paywall for new levels (which can now be passed with a quest per day over 3 days instead of spamming mates on Facebook). And so I sat down and played Candy Crush - I'm now at level 70, which is a bit of a paywall level.

In fact I just was just searching now for a screenshot of it and Chrome auto-completed the search for level 70. It's a poorly designed level that doesn't even encourage purchasing boosters when you understand what's needed to solve it.


It's levels like this, the timed lives and booster purchases that give this game the bad reputation it deserves. It has that F2P stink. But paradoxically it's this same shameless use of unfair difficulty that turns it at times into a Super-Hexagon-Hard game.

Candy Crush is not a casual game. The first run of levels play themselves certainly. Then it gets brutal hard. It has to doesn't it? Otherwise you wouldn't be tempted to pay to bypass levels. But then in order to nickle and dime you it has to throw levels at you that you only barely fail. Level 70 is too easy to screw up. Bad level. But there's others in there that walk the fine line of being just barely completable - and isn't that what game designers strive for?

The mechanics are also interesting. Beyond the basic behaviours of Bejewelled's special gems, Candy Crush's special candies can be combined for some really rewarding effects. Which leads to planning way ahead to get two specials next to each other.

And then we have environmental mechanics like jellies, blockers and ingredients.


The jelly problem is basically that of performing a match at a location on the board. And this serves as an objective for many levels. It's the mechanic I find the most interesting because it involves a lot of forward planning. Yet it's one that is absent from Bejewelled and many other match 3 games (feel free to correct me - Noyb tells me Jewel Quest has this mechanic).

Blockers are simply various board occupants that block progress - forcing matches to be performed by them to clear them. There's also structural blockers in the form of odd level shapes with holes that items will slide to either side of or drop through a space compressing gap. Ingredients are a sort of objective blocker - they have to be commuted to the bottom of the board to be collected as a level objective, but also get in the way of performing matches.

The variety of ideas and their implementation in the game is exhaustive. They want your money, and so they have to give you more content to encourage payments.


What's to take away from this?

That avarice can drive good design, yes. But so can love. What else?

There is a goldmine of ideas in Candy Crush there for the taking. And yet there's game designers out there who will say, I will not dirty my hands with this. I won't sit down with a decent yet horribly flawed game to learn from it and do better.

Which is why we don't have an Indie Candy Crush. We don't have a version of this game that takes everything that's great about it and explores it for its own sake instead of doing it for the money. Indie devs are all, LA LA LA, I'M NOT GOING TO PLAY THAT GAME I DON'T WANT TO LEARN ANYTHING I'M HAPPY IN MY LITTLE BUBBLE OF IGNORANCE. And then go on twitter to decry the ignorance they see in a gaming article's comments.

I got my hands dirty. For what it's worth I lifted ideas from Candy Crush and started to explore other things that could be done with these mechanics:

Mandy Crush

Drop Swap

And I feel like there's something there in those two experiments that could be expanded into a bigger game.

What other games are we too proud to learn from?

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Wes Jurica
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Candy Crush isn't necessarily the abomination to game design everyone makes it out to be, just very difficult for me to enjoy playing. You can learn something from every game. Since it is impossible to play everything, why not play something that is enjoyable and teaches you something?

As for other games that I am too proud to sit through in order to glean some token of wisdom, Metal Gear games and Final Fantasy games come to mind. Not because I think they are horrible games, I just don't enjoy that kind of experience.

Paul Johnson
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I don't think people have a downer on Candy Crush because it's poorly made.

I think people have a downer on it because it's a bloody match 3 game that's designed to cost you more than a AAA console game.

There are tons of good match-3 games that cost somewhere between $0 and $3. Play one of those instead.

Shea Rutsatz
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I agree. I had checked CCS out before, hit the pay wall, and bought a better match-3 that didn't nickel and dime.

Michael Kolb
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Yeah the whole design of Jewel Quest is to mark the whole board full from your moves, (with latter levels requiring double mark and avoiding pieces that reset a panel of the grid when matched). The destroying the Jelly mechanic isn't anything new, Popcap had this in Bejeweled 3's Quest mode. I've played Candy Crush and the biggest thing is like Angry Birds it just isn't designed well. With Angry Birds so many times I would have a perfect shot that doesn't hit that last enemy due to the physics not being actual physics. That tower should have come down and collapsed the ice, yet it just shifted to the left leaving the enemy pig unscathed, for example. Candy Crush and Bejeweled 3's main difference for me is the randomness and luck factor that gets heavily played up in CC. Some levels you'll just get a crap layout or no possible best moves as they want you to buy into their boosts to overcome this. I've referred Candy Crush as the poor man's Bejeweled to people who've asked about it. There are elements from that game that work well but I'm kind of glad indie developers will not follow this F2P/Paywall encountering route. You get what you pay for and I'd rather developers look at inspiration from Bejeweled 3 than Candy Crush.

Robert Crouch
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Why is random chance that leads to potential failure bad design?

Roguelikes exhibit this, and people enjoy it, some solitaire card games exhibit this and people enjoy them, and CCS itself is not doing too poorly for itself.

People have always enjoyed games of chance, and random rewards can be more motivating and exciting than expected rewards.

A couple of examples of things that random "bad luck" can do is: If you know that a random board layout can disadvantage you, you can use this to explain away a failure rather than internalize it. This can make the game feel less judgmental (I lost because the board was unfair, not because I failed to do things correctly). It can also help you through a level that you're not skilled enough to do by giving you a favorable board layout. Both of these situations help cushion failure while still providing a rewarding feeling as long as the player does still feel in control.

Consider a game like poker, the strengths of the hands are entirely random, but how the player bets with those hands is not. If you have a bad night you might just feel that you've had bad hands, bad beats, or bad luck, but it doesn't translate into you being a bad player. If you felt you were just a bad player, you wouldn't want to play it again. But since it was just bad luck, maybe next time. So you can play it again and enjoy it. Then maybe you get awesome hands, and you win. Over time the better players will win more, but from hand to hand everyone can enjoy it.

Ben Sly
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Random chance that leads to potential failure isn't necessarily bad and indeed can be very good. Random chance that leads to guaranteed failure is.

Simply put, if the mechanics aren't deep enough to let a player still win with the odds stacked against him then the luck elements are bad design. In poker, you can make impressive plays despite bad luck. In Spelunky, so much is deterministic and predictable that it is always your fault when you die, no matter how sadistic the RNG gods are. In Candy Crush, your ability to influence the game despite bad luck is much, much more limited - and the fact that the game developers get paid for how often you fail rubs loads of salt into the wound.

Note that the perception of player control is much more important than how much actual player control there is. Because of that, Candy Crush's direct link between the initial board state and how difficult it is to beat the game hurts it here. Poker insulates its own mechanics from being the target of frustration by making bluffing-related decisions the chief scapegoat instead of the random elements of the game design; Spelunky does something similar with execution and tactical decisionmaking.

Artur Moreira
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I also think Candy Crush is a well designed game. In my opinion, and without being very aware of the match-3 universe of games, I would say it is a clone of previously successful match-3 games,improved and made top notch by careful polish and design.

Indeed, the sum of all the mechanics in that game, put together with the sum of all levels, we have a really good, long and entertaining game.

However, what many people criticize (me included) is King's business model and extreme greed, making it effectively similar to other companies like Zynga. Their games would make a regular income as many other good games available. But most of the money these companies make come from exploitation of human psychology and behavior. The problem is not that they monetize the game, the problem is HOW they monetize it.

Anyone who is serious about game development and does it by heart will abominate creations like that. While some put inspiration and hard work as the base for their success, those big companies keep scoring at the expense of cheap tricks and very little originality. A company that is all about game development will want to make games as good as possible, scaling that quality with the financial balance they currently have, that is what game development is about, and games are the end goal. Companies like make games as a means to an end, business (money).

I think this is the main difference, where both sides of game development collide, the game creators, and the business men in suits.

For what its worth, I consider myself a game creator( or at least working my best to become one), and I have no problem with those business men monetizing cloned games, I just have a problem with the fact they call themselves game developers.

Zack Wood
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I also found Candy Crush impressive once I actually played it. I got into the hundreds Levels and thought there were lots of interesting and fun mechanics. It's just that so many hard levels rely totally on luck to complete.

Llies Meridja
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Afraid to say that your article is very thin and poses a question without even venturing an answer. I enjoyed reading the comment more!