This deconstruction is from Naavik's archives, and was first published in December 2022.
Candy Crush Saga (CCS) has been dominating the charts for almost 10 consecutive years – a remarkable feat in the hotly contested casual puzzle space. This supremacy is thanks to many factors, but King’s first-mover advantage, immense brand power, and deep institutional knowledge are unique to its most successful Match3 game.
Challengers have come and gone, bringing innovation and threatening to depose King’s evergreen title, and yet CCS sits upon the match-3 throne. This essay explores how King has capitalized on the potential of its most successful title to bring in over $7.15B in its decade of dominance.
Before we analyze its success, let’s have a quick look at its origin story.
Brief Game History
CCS’ DNA is a splicing together of the Match3 gameplay popularized by Bejeweled and the ‘saga map’ from King’s own Bubble Witch Saga, combining snackable puzzles with light meta design to create an ingenious monster.
King also innovated on Bejeweled with varied game boards, level modifiers, and, most notably, power-up combinations: “These powerful, animated amalgamations were so gratifying and did such a terrific job at making the player feel smart that they lifted the entire spectrum of puzzle possibilities to another level.”
CCS originally launched on Facebook in April 2012 with 65 levels – a laughable number, considering it now has over 13,000. Building on the premier social network at the time enabled King to easily incorporate simple social mechanics, leading to friend-based competition and cooperation – and viral growth.
This combination of a rich casual core, simple meta, wide content space, and social virality caused an explosion in popularity, further fueled by a mobile release with synced progression in 2013. As King President Tjodolf Sommestad said in a recent interview, “Our innovation with cross platform at that time really helped the growth on mobile fueling the growth in Facebook, and the growth on Facebook fueling growth on mobile.”
At the time, King expected CCS to fizzle out within six months. David Nelson, ex-head of the experimentation group at King once said: “People assumed these games would die. No one had a model that showed Candy Crush bigger in any year, ever.”
But the game’s continued popularity and profitability — thanks to a pioneering monetization scheme that hinged on charging $1 for five extra moves post-failure — led to a reassessment of its minimal post-launch resources. The growing team learned how to do live ops, built a gargantuan brand, and has kept CCS on a remarkable growth trajectory ever since.
Just how high has the line gone up? Let’s take a look.
Partners to the World's Tech Entrepreneurs
Lakestar is one of the leading pan-European venture capital firms. Lakestar’s mission is to find, fund, and grow disruptive businesses that are enabled by technology and founded by exceptional entrepreneurs in Europe and beyond. Founded by Klaus Hommels, the team’s early investments include Skype, Spotify, Facebook, and Airbnb. Since raising its first fund in 2012, Lakestar manages an aggregated volume of over €2.8B across both early and growth funds.
The team actively advises and supports portfolio companies in marketing, recruitment, technology, product development, and regulatory insight, accompanying founders from seed to early-stage, growth stage, or exit. Lakestar’s Games and Media team has made 18 investments, including in 1047 Games, Zebedee, Modulate, and Trace.
Content Worth Consuming
- “Marketing a horror game on social media is easy mode” (HowToMarketAGame.com): “Look, indie game development is hard. Really, really hard. We get 0 visibility and they are very hard to make. So I am making a plea to all indie game developers who want to do this full time, please please please make at least 1 horror game. […] why do I keep begging developers to make a horror game? Here are my reasons.”
- “Rise of the designer founder” (GameStuff): “If you’re new to the games industry, it’s hard to grasp just how much the fundraising landscape has changed in recent years, particularly for studio founders. In the past, VCs did invest in games, including storied firms like Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Benchmark. Europe also had a number of influential players, especially at seed. But especially for companies that were in the business of making games, funding options were limited. All that has changed.”
- “Playing to your strengths” (Colossus): “Strauss Zelnick is the CEO of Take-Two Interactive. We cover his methods for keeping up with innovation in media and gaming, how to bring out the potential in others around you, and the influential leaders that have shaped his own leadership journey.” Click to listen.
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