Is it Legal to Strangle a Game Company?

Candy Crush Saga – everyone has heard of it, right? Or at least a lot of people have heard of it and there have been at least ten million downloads. (Not sure if that includes folks who play on Facebook.) A source states that King, maker of the game and others in the same style, is making 660,000 dollars per day from the game. That's a number that's hard to wrap my head around. Who knows how much they are raking in from their entire line. More than the GDP of many countries? They actually make more in ten days than a couple of countries make in an entire year. And they do it by charging ridiculous amounts for items that are usually free in the gaming world.

Candy Crush Saga is a variation of a match three game, the kind some of us have been playing since the mid nineties. Many sites with free game play have this type of game, many of which are stupefyingly dull after a few rounds. The same thing, level after level. CCS breaks this mold in much the same way Nintendo did when they released Wario Woods. Every level is different, with different tasks that need to be completed to move on. Some of them have time limits, some require that certain candies be removed, and in many some of the candies are trapped behind what looks like concrete frosting. Others are in cages, or behind chocolate that grows and tries to cover the board. These differences and challenges are a large part of what keeps the game interesting. Add in the desire to keep moving up the cute map plus the social aspect of the game and you have something that is repeatedly described by users as addictive.

In the name of research *cough cough* I played a number of King games this past week. I definitely see the appeal but I also think it is easy to spend money in game even when you don't want or mean to. I went into my experiment with my eyes wide open, knowing that leveling up required either dollars or pestering your friends. (I am playing on Facebook. My understanding is that on a mobile device there is a quest option to go past blocked levels, which take three days to complete, and are difficult.) I bought ten dollars in Facebook credits, so I could fully experience other users' experiences, and was out of money within three days. Some of the ways I spent it were a surprise.

Of course the game starts out with simple, easy to solve puzzles. As they get harder and you start losing, you get your chance to start doling out the dollars. You start with five lives, which can regenerate at the rate of one per half hour. But what if you whip through your lives well before the first one restores itself? You have two options. You can ask for friends for help, a function that many people on Facebook are saying is broken, or you can pay about a dollar to get a new life. How fast could you go through a lot of dollars? Have you ever seen those old roadrunner cartoons? Nuff said.

Not only does CCS gently nudge you into buying new lives, it also suggests you spend a dollar or two to extend your game. Want three or five extra moves? Power-ups? You can buy all these things, with a choice of temporary or permanent power-ups. The permanent version is called a charm. I saw one charm for sale, which cost $39.99, a price which is enough to buy many new games outright. There is another pitfall that comes when the game asks if you want to buy extra moves. It's pretty easy to click the buy button when you really want to click the end game button, which is directly below the buy option.

My final analysis is this: have fun playing but don't buy any credits in advance. Make the system ask you for money before each transaction ends. This way you know exactly what is happening and have an “are you sure” option, which you don't have if you're paying with credits you already purchased. Or do what a mom did after realizing her youngish child had spent six hundred dollars in game. Disconnect your mobile device entirely from the ability to buy. Because I'm guessing you need your dollars more than the maker of the game does.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a Hugo nominated short story by Carrie Vaughn called Amaryllis. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story is about a tight knit family/community working on a boat catching fish. You could say it is also about the sins of the mothers being visited upon the daughters. And it's about trying to accommodate opposing needs and wants, as well as struggling against an authority using its power to subjugate the less powerful. That sounds a little dry, but don't worry, the story is full of feels. http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/amaryllis/