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‘Candy Crush’ makers reportedly gearing up for IPO

Screenshot of Candy Crush Saga (Yahoo! Finance Canada)

I have a confession to make. I've spent money on an ostensibly-free, relatively-mindless mobile game: Candy Crush Saga.

I never had to. With a little patience or some clever manipulation, I could play for as long as I wanted for less than the price of a piece of actual candy.

But the game developer Midasplayer International Holding -- also known as King, -- seems to have so perfectly hit the sweet spot between fun and frustration that countless players keep paying to play just a little bit more. In February, King announced that

And now, the The Wall Street Journal reports the gaming company is gearing up for an IPO, hiring a number of Wall Street behemoths to pilot the offering.

... the question becomes whether their brilliant (Devious? Greedy? Evil?) micro-transaction model can sustain Midasplayer as a publicly-traded corporation or will King become the new Zynga?

What even is Candy Crush Saga?

For those lucky enough to have avoided the unbreakable clutches of Candy Crush, it's a free-to-download variation on what is usually called the "match-three" model of puzzle game, initially made popular by Bejeweled. It's playable on Facebook, iOS, and Android, and a player's progress is tracked on all platforms. (Beat level 147 on your iPhone on the bus ride home, level 148 will be waiting on Facebook when you get there.)

Now that you're done rolling your eyes, I'll point out that it's extremely well-designed, strangely rewarding, fast-paced and deeply, dangerously addictive.

But how does that make money?

Downloading Candy Crush is free. Playing Candy Crush can be free.

Candy Crush, like a number of King's other games, offer endless incentives to help you through what would sometimes be otherwise impossible levels. Want to stay ahead of friends who are suddenly only a few stages back? Splurge and buy the $4 USD "Coconut Wheel" power-up!

No lives left? For $1.99, you could buy a lollipop with which you could smash that pesky striped candy that's blocking the chestnut from getting past the chocolate dispensers!

It might sound easy to resist, but it isn't. In fact, Candy Crush now has the most monthly active Facebook users of any app with over 45 million, according to AppData, which compiles it rankings based on Facebook log-ins. It was also the most-downloaded game on both Apple's App Store and Google Play in April, according to analytics company AppAnnie. (This now links to a clear report.)

Avoiding the Zynga curse

This is where things gets tricky.

As Rebecca Greenfield points out at the Atlantic Wire, this wouldn't be the first IPO from a micro-transaction-based game developer.

Zynga, the developer behind FarmVille, went public in December 2011, but by August its stock value had plummeted by nearly 70%, and has never really recovered.

Part of its downfall can be attributed to the ill-fated $180 million purchase of OMGPOP, the developer behind Pictionary-esque mobile game Draw Something. Zynga eventually wrote off up to $95 million of the purchase, and in May, Draw Something 2 failed to approach the success of the first game.

Zynga was eventually forced to lay off 520 people earlier this month.

But, as Greenfield writes, "Zynga's downfall didn't have to happen."

"FarmVille — its IPO-making Facebook obsession — flourished in a social-network gaming world that pretty much no longer exists. Zynga thrived on spamming News Feeds, which Mark Zuckerberg eventually took a stand against."

King's games, on the other hand, are multi-platform, playable on iOS, Facebook or Android, and perhaps, unlike Zynga, they might develop another mega-hit.

(Can you put in all the company ticker pages for those listed above that are publicly traded. That includes GOOG for Android.)

Because eventually, Candy Crush's popularity will wane—though anecdotally I can say I've been playing constantly for nearly six months with no end in sight. The next Angry Birds or Temple Run or FarmVille will steal its thunder, so King will need adapt and crank out some more hits or this Saga might not have a happy ending.

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