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Making a successful mobile game takes a lot of work, especially when this involves making constant tweaks and content updates. King, developer of Candy Crush Saga, knows this as well as anyone. The Saga game franchise is one of the more successful examples in recent memory, and there's a reason. The company recently gave a presentation detailing what went into the creation of Candy Crush Saga, and what continues to go into it every day.
The game started off looking significantly different than the title for iOS and Android. Instead of the Candy Land-like aesthetic most players recognize, the original build was set against the backdrop of a French candy store. The game's narrator - now embodied by a goofy male baritone - was originally a libidinous Frenchman. According to King, he was "a little too naughty" for early play testers.
Candy Crush Saga, with its better-known appearance, has actually been released three times. The first was in the opening quarter of 2011 on King.com, then on Facebook in the middle of 2012 and finally, on mobile devices at the end of the same year. The first release allowed the company to garner feedback from its most dedicated fans. The second introduced social aspects and widened the audience. These paved the way for a final release on mobile, where the game found great success.
Social media integration, along with the App Store's review system, allows King to pull data about its games from fans. Just about every comment is taken seriously, and King promises that bugs are addressed on a daily basis.
Before using Facebook and the App Store, Product Manager Tobias Nyblom actually turned to his sisters and mother-in-law for early testing. Considering the majority of the Saga game-playing audience is comprised of women, that probably makes a lot of sense. One thing they informed him of early on was how players look at the game's difficulty curve.
"We know our players discuss the difficulty of levels in terms of weeks they're stuck on it," Nyblom said. For some of the developers, that's a badge of honor - a sign the game is a skill-based experience, rather than a daily grind. In the case of Candy Crush's infamous level 65, the difficulty was just too much for some people. As a result of community feedback, the level's difficulty was actually scaled back.
"At one point, we had a 40 percent drop-off," King Games Guru Tommy Palm added, speaking of the game's first major difficulty spike. Drop-off continues to be one of King's greatest concerns. One candid developer even pointed out that he would love to see the game implement a level skipping feature, but has thus far been overruled.
This is partially because of what King refers to as "the two-week sprint." That's what they call the production process for the game's expansions. Rather than publish them alone, or release patches as necessary, every Saga game gets a new episode featuring updates and 15 new levels every two weeks.
The process gives King an excuse to react to community feedback, but it also means the new content isn't available to fans that haven't finished the existing stages. Essentially, the designers spend time and resources on levels that reach fewer and fewer people. The ability to skip levels would allow more players to reach the new content, but some view it as cheating.
A sequel might allay some of those concerns, at least for the time being. However, King says it has no plans for such a follow-up right now. That doesn't mean they've completely ruled it out, according to the presenters, but for now, players will have to remain satisfied with the seemingly endless content updates.
It's rare to see this much devotion to any game post-launch. Perhaps that's part of why Candy Crush Saga has remained such a profitable venture for the company. Given time, we'll likely see the game grow into something bigger than it already is. It's just going to mean a lot more work from the folks at King.