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What Is This 'Candy Crush' Game and Is It About to Go the Way of Zynga?

What Is This 'Candy Crush' Game and Is It About to Go the Way of Zynga?

"Maker of 'Candy Crush Saga' Plans IPO," reports the Wall Street Journal today, which very possibly makes zero sense to you. What's Candy Crush? you might ask. How does something with a silly name like that get big enough for a public offering? And did you say Zynga? Because that doesn't sound good. The Atlantic Wire is here to answer all those questions and more. 

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So, yeah, Candy Crush — what is it? 

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Candy Crush is a popular game that people play on Facebook, the Internet, and their mobile devices. It falls under the matching-grid genre popularized by Bejeweled but, some would say, perfected by King, the makers of Candy Crush. The rules — pictured at right — are pretty simple and almost exactly like Bejeweled: match up like "candies," which will then disappear as you rack up the points. There are also "special" candies that, when linked with similar candies, make even more things explode on the board. Different levels have different objectives. You start with five lives until you hit game over. 

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Okay, but what's the big deal? 

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Like any good iPhone game, Candy Crush is incredibly addictive. But it's not just the satisfaction that comes with a series of shiny things falling into place. King, the game-maker also known as Midasplayer, has figured out an ingenious way to keep fingers tapping, for hours at a time: You trade lives in exchange for more time. You start with five lives, but after a half an hour of play time, Crush gifts addicts with another life. You can see how that breeds addiction, yes? Some people have figured out a way to cheat the system, messing with their iPhone clock times, as Lindsay Weber explains over at The Hairpin. "I've discovered a way to cheat myself into creating hours of uninterrupted Candy Crush play: by manipulating my iPhone's clock," she writes. "If you turn that baby forward, you can seamlessly continue on your sticky sweet journey." From the sounds of Weber's current state, though, the people who use that "trick" aren't spending any less time playing so much as using their extra lives to play more and more and more. And therein lies the genius of Candy Crush. 

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Um, how does this thing have an IPO again?

Well, Candy Crush doesn't have an IPO, exactly, but Midasplayer International Holding Co. is thinking about putting together a public offering, talking with banks and stuff, per the Journal. Nothing is final, and there's no public valuation or anything. "King's success and growth presents numerous opportunities for the business to develop further, and one option would be to take the company public," reads the company's official statement on the matter. "However, while it's an option for the future, we would not comment on when we could consider making such a decision."

This sounds a lot like another IPO gone horribly wrong... 

That's right, this does sound a lot like the Zynga IPO that hurdled toward disaster and then hurdled some more. Much like King/Midasplayer, Zynga started with a single game that went big on Facebook hit and turned it into a very overvalued public offering. Since then, well Zynga just laid off more than 500 employees.

Candy Crush is doomed, then?

Some people would say that. But 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:

A lot of users like playing games, but a lot of users just hate games, and that made it a big challenge, because people who like playing games wanted to post updates about their farm or frontier or whatever to their stream. But people who don’t care about games want no updates. So we did some rebalancing so that if you aren’t a game player you’re getting less updates.

Then, Zynga failed to move beyond the new Farmville environment. It bought the ill-fated OMG Pop, failed to make compelling mobile games, and gave many, many people little reason to spend any more money on these types of games. But not all popular game companies in the new gaming environment have to fail.

How does Candy Crush still go big, then?

Well Candy Crush actually makes money. Even though the game itself costs zero dollars in the App Store, King has built in many ways to extract cash out of the addicts it has already created, as MSN Money's Kim Peterson explains. "It creates points of pain all along the game, pain that can be solved easily with a small purchase of 99 cents or more," she writes. "Oof, you just lost a very hard level. But you can buy five extra moves for 99 cents. Or get three lollipop hammers for $1.99." Crush also charges $0.99 for a new life. (Though, that's what the iPhone clock trick is for.) 

Of course, Crush is riding its wave of success, and games like this tend to come and go. But Zynga is just a cautionary tale — not the only way to go.