Great post, Stephanie, and excellent discussion so far! One aspect that strikes me about Candy Crush and other games of this nature is how they mask other key issues, like addiction, behind a veneer of “the shiny, cute, warm, fuzzy, and/or playful.” We are encouraged to focus only on the fun aspects of gaming instead of raising larger questions about why these types of activities are so “addictive” for many people.
In his work on “binge-consuming,” Stefano Passini argues that although we engage in many activities that have all of the hallmarks of addiction or binging, within contemporary culture, we often dismiss or overlook these similarities because they seem natural or are rooted in areas that we consider to be smaller indulgences like food. Certainly, for some people, playing Candy Crush could be considered as another example of addiction that is connected, not only to food, but also to the pleasures of play and consumption.
Thanks so much for these thoughtful responses to my post. I find myself musing on everything from candy and realistic representation to candy and color theory to my favorite flavor of Starburst.
What strikes me foremost from our conversation is how illuminating it is to view candy as a medium, one that allows surprising forms of expression not only from those manufactures who design it, but also those of us who eat it. That’s to say that, as consumers, we don’t always express ourselves with our candy the way manufactures imagine we might, and yet we still find that our behaviors, practices, and choices around candy reveal something about who we are.
My great-grandfather, who died in 1984 at the age of 98, loved Circus Peanuts. This was one of the few character notes about him I knew. At six, I also knew these were anything but real peanuts and, as I said it back then to my mother, “old-people” candy.
Great question, Sammi and thanks for commenting, Ryan! Jeferson Valadares has suggested that around 3% of consumers will spend money in free-to-play games but “over 5% of all purchases are for amounts greater than $50.” These are the “whales”:
“30% of the total revenue is generated from transaction sizes of over $50. If you’re a game designer, your main take away is that very few transactions—and consumers who complete those transactions—make up the bulk of your revenue. Therefore, your “meta-game” should be about whale hunting.”
In a fascinating piece from Ramin Shokrizade at Gamasutra, we hear about how King.com uses “coercive monetization” models, “progress gates,” and other monetization tricks to encourage users to pay. King.com wrote to Gamasutra to maintain that “their use of data in their game is for the purpose of ‘optimizing fun’, not profits.”
according to a survey by Swrve and reported by several sources, including Venture Beat, only a narrow margin of mobile gamers pay for half of in-game purchases.
i’m interested in this new model of gaming, where friends compete, help each other, and surveil their other friends gaming activity via social media. all the while, game companies are collecting data on who is playing and who is paying.
great work, Stephanie!
Really interesting thoughts so far. In my post on Friday, I link to the Willy Wonka song, “Pure Imagination.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2pt2-F2j2g) Candy really satisfies that need for imagination and magic in all of us. It can take any form we think up, be any color, and taste however we can figure out using chemicals in a lab. Candy can be innovative or comforting, unusual or regular. We can align our identities and personalities with the candy we eat.
I’ve always found it funny when friends have a preference for a color of Starburst or a Skittle when I can’t tell much of a difference and like them all. We’ve taken these stances on something so artificial to connect to very real parts of our being.
Growing up, I feel like there was always at least one person who sorted their candy by color at the lunch table. Their imagination took them from chaos to order. I wonder where this dismantling of fun starts. Is it an intrinsic desire to organize or is it a learned habit from friends or family members who also sort their candy?
Lots of thought-provoking tidbits in one little post. Thanks for this!
This is a really interesting article! I have vowed to never play Candy Crush because of how addicted I’ve seen my friends get, but that promise hasn’t stopped me from downloading other “free” games that are probably just as addicting.
I have also been tempted to spend money on games like “The Simpsons Tapped Out” and “Sims Freeplay” when I’m doing a quest that’s taking particularly long, but I haven’t given in just yet. I wonder what percentage of people spend that money we’re seeing on in-game items? It would be interesting to look at that big number as cost per user who spends money in a game.
Thank you for the fascinating post, Eric. There is definitely some compulsive pleasure in watching the process of “dismantling the silliness.” Speaking of our need for order, I am reminded of “the sugar series” - photos of color-coordinated candy by Emily Blincoe (http://www.foodiggity.com/photos-of-candy-meticulously-arranged-by-color/). Arranging candy according to color here creates visual pleasure - visual consumption that, like gustatory consumption, essentially functions as appropriation of the world, breaking it apart into components.
Stephanie, you are raising a great point about use of candy/ sweet substances in creating representations of just about anything - without consumers being repulsed by the often unnatural color or the represented image itself. Thinking about figure cakes, or (very realistically executed) gummy worms, for example. Candy seems to have strong potential for reassigned meaning. As long as something is sweet, it can have entertainment/ comic value. I can not imagine gummy worms made of meat to be a popular playful food! Is there some intrinsic connection between sweetness and play, sweetness and comedy, sweetness and artistic self-expression?
Eric, thanks for an interesting post that asks us to think about the design strategies for candy and synthetic foods. It immediately made me think of the colorful ketchups Heinz tried to sell a while back. I don’t really want green or blue ketchup, but I’m perfectly happy to accept green, blue, purple, and other colors in candies. I wonder why one bothers me and another doesn’t?
What do the design strategies for candies, especially ones that don’t purport to be all natural like candy, reflect about us/our world/our desires? If we can argue that technologies are designed by people and therefore include the embedded values, desires, etc. of their designers within them, what do our technocolor candies say about us? Why does a candy manufacturer like Nestle/Willy Wonka go to great lengths to create fruit shapes that reflect real fruits for their fake-fruit tasting Runts candy—do we demand realism from our candies?
Fun things to think about here!
Thanks for your comments! I know, it’s really mind-boggling when you think about how much money a game like Candy Crush Saga makes. I enjoy the game and I don’t pay for any of the free-to-play games (if I can’t keep going, I stop playing and find a different game—oh well!) but the number of individuals who do pay for microtransactional opportunities is, as you said, staggering.
I enjoyed the link to your research on Tetris; thanks for providing it! It was fun to play through to read—and an intriguing way of breaking through the typical format for reading and engaging your audience.
The random gameplay of mobile and social games like Candy Crush is part of their addictive nature. I have played certain levels for weeks, even months, and vowed that I would SOMEHOW get past that level without paying (and so far I have). Generally I would get past them when, by random chance, the right combination of candies fell onto the board. It’s just pure luck most of the time. And then other notoriously difficult levels were completed easily when a special item needed for that level would drop down randomly. Time.com did an interesting article on some of the design elements that make the game so popular.
Hi Stephanie, Thanks for starting off our candy-centric week with this fascinating post. The sheer scale of these microtransaction opportunities is surprising. And staggering. Like the Google search-engine fortune, it’s hard to imagine so much capital runs through these seemingly innocuous little games. All the more so with one so shinny and playfully interactive as Candy Crush Saga. I wonder to what extent games in particular, with their addictive qualities, draw users, as opposed to other microtransaction opportunities, such as those pesky online quizzes? I did a little research on Tetris a while back, and the game’s original creator stressed that addiction is intrinsic to the design. I suspect even virtual candy has its addicts.