King's reign is only just beginning.
In the last 11 years since the casual games firm was founded, its properties have reeled in billions of dollars in revenue.Most notable among its catalogue is the free-to-play browser, tablet and smartphone match-three ‘Bejeweled with sweets' behemoth Candy Crush Saga, which generated more than $790 million from players in the first six months of 2014 alone.
Tommy Palm, the company's ‘Games Guru', has said in the past that 70 per cent of the game's players reach Candy Crush Saga's final level without spending a penny.But despite this, the game's in-app purchases – which provide players with extra lives, moves and other boosts – have become a flagbearer for the ‘freemium' business model.
In this model, players are enticed with core gameplay for free, before being charged for extra functionality or to skip set countdown timers before they can try again.
King co-founder and chief creative officer Sebastian Knutsson suggests that accusations of a ‘bait and switch' mentality rise from a reluctance among traditional sectors of the market to admit the free-to-play model is here to stay.
It's still a little bit polarised between the old classic
console gamers and this new generation of free-to-
play titles.But I think the move to free-to-play is just
something inevitable. You can give the player freedom
with regards to trying a game for free without having
to pay first and then they can decide, if they like it, to
pay. That's a new kind of thinking, but it has threatened
the console industry, which I get, and therefore it
becomes a bit polarised. Most players actually prefer
to try games first for free and then decide.”
Sebastian Knutsson - Co-Founder, King
That discussion often happens within the games industry itself,” he explains. It's still a little bit polarised between the old classic console gamers and this new generation of free-to-play titles.But I think the move to free-to-play is just something inevitable. You can give the player freedom with regards to trying a game for free without having to pay first and then they can decide, if they like it, to pay.
That's a new kind of thinking, but it has threatened the console industry, which I get, and therefore it becomes a bit polarised. Most players actually prefer to try games first for free and then decide.”
The threat posed by mobile to the console and PC market has been long discussed in the past, but traditional devs and publishers may raise an eyebrow at Knutsson's suggestion that a ubiquitous adoption of free-to-play is unavoidable.
He comments that a hybrid of the two opposing sectors is taking a foothold in international markets, adding that publishers and platforms holders closer to home should begin to take an interest in free-to-play – or risk losing consumers to attractive ‘try before you buy' offerings.
The mainstream console market has to shift to that side a little bit,” he states. And they are learning, but maybe not as fast as they should be.
In some regions like China, all games are free-to-play, even if they are on the PC. It's the prominent way of playing games – players expect them to be free and then decide. So I think the console market has
It's clear that Knutsson believes there's room for a company to do for consoles what King has done for mobile. So has the firm considered leading the charge with its own Candy Crush-style console hit?
Not specifically, no,” Knutsson responds. But at some point, we might have one of our games on those type of platforms.There are some good companies, like Blizzard with Hearthstone, that have done free-to-play games on PC and console and are learning. If you don't try it, you're never going to learn. So if I were them, I'd start learning pretty quickly.”
KEEPING IT SWEET
Candy Crush Saga has been bolstered by multiple expansion packs and updates
since its launch in 2012, but this October marked the game's first full sequel –
Candy Crush Soda Saga.
King co-founder and CCO Sebastian Knutsson says that despite the first game's
popularity, Soda Saga was kept in development until it was right to launch –
rather than being quickly flung out in the hope of chasing a quick few (billion) bucks.
We started first by having a team that started experimenting with what we could
do if we changed up the gameplay, tried something new, built a new graphical
engine and so on,” he explains. So it was more that when we felt that game was
really good, it was ready to launch. We didn't actually have a launch date – we
instead had a plan with the team that they would try to improve everything we had
done before, which is not an easy thing.”
While Soda Saga embodies much of the original game's design and mechanics,
Knutsson argues that the series is far from a ‘one hit wonder' for the firm.
Soda Saga is just one of the games we do; we've launched four titles already this
year, and we have tons of games in development,” he explains. Most of our teams
are working on new games we have yet to release, and none of them are Candies.
We launched Diamond Digger Saga before this, Bubble Witch Saga 2... we've done
several games – Farm Heroes Saga launched this year, too.
It just happens that we get a big splash when we launch Soda, of course, so people
notice. We're really focusing on building our network for players, and Candy Crush
is our strongest franchise, so we'll keep investing into it, but it's about launching more
games – that's what the company is focused on.”
As players continue to reap the low barrier to entry free-to-play provides, some developers have been stung by consumer backlash incited by the shifting perspective of pricing.iOS and Android title Monument Valley suffered intense player criticism on the App Store after the 2.49 game had an expansion added, costing 1.49.
Seems quite a few people have gone back and 1 star reviewed Monument Valley upon update because the expansion was paid. This makes us sad,” tweeted developer Ustwogames at the time, before firing a barbed criticism at the model employed by King and others: That's it, we're giving up the premium game. Next time we're just going to sell you 500 coins for