I’m addicted to puzzles. I do cryptic crosswords. I compile cryptic crosswords. I puzzle as often as I can over Kenken, Codecracker, Sudoku, any word game I can find. I keep in touch with my university friends via the on-line scrabble game Lexulous. I eagerly await my weekly fix, Kropotkin cryptic crossword in the Saturday Herald. I’m in a quiz team the Cryptic Cowboys that plays every Thursday in Ricky’s weekly quiz.
Lately though, my attention has been diverted away from these long term favourites towards something much sweeter, and more sinister, the on-line game Candy Crush. It’s become my puzzle of choice. How did I get hooked? It’s a familiar story.
I think my big mistake was buying a tablet. This allowed me to run out of lives on one computer and switch to the other. By the time I’d done the same with my mobile phone I was well on the way to having no time for much else.
It’s little consolation to find out I’m not alone? Here’s what an article in the Guardian had to say.
Within a year of its release for Facebook in 2012, Candy Crush had become the social networking site's most popular game, with 46 million average monthly users. Now it has been downloaded to more than 500 million mobile devices worldwide and 97 million of us play it every day. It was the most downloaded free app of 2013 and the optional paid-for extras (which help players move forward) generate $850,000 (more than £500,000) in daily sales.
Not bad for a pile of animated sweets. Candy Crush's genius – and the reason it has shown staying power in a notoriously fickle market (remember Farmville anyone?) – is that it is multi-platform: it can be played on social networks, on smartphones, tablets or home computers. A game can be picked up and continued whenever a player has a few minutes to spare – on the commute, in a lunch break, during a boring meeting or just before sleeping, in place of pillow talk. It is also social. A big part of the appeal is being able to compare your score with friends online.
And then there are the game mechanics: the canny ways in which King keeps people hooked. Candy Crush is easy to pick up but just stimulating enough to ensure a player feels they are improving. A player is never stuck for too long: if you fail to make a move within 10 seconds, Candy Crush will offer you a hint. This motivates gamers to keep on playing, especially if they are comparing their progress with that of their friends. The first 35 levels are free; after that, 69p buys you 20 new levels.
But the stroke of genius is the fixed interval. Candy Crush gives users five lives – and when you lose one, it takes 25 minutes to get it back unless you buy extra lives through the app.
Some psychologists claim that, although Candy Crush is a so-called freemium game (which means it is free to play but other products are sold to users at a premium rate), it can lead to serious gambling problems. Concern over the spiralling cost of purchases via the app has prompted the Office of Fair Trading to investigate. According to research conducted by Ask Your Target Market, 67% of Candy Crush players say the game has had an impact on their lives, 32% say they ignore friends and family, while 10% have argued over the time they spend playing.
However, I bring hope. This week, something miraculous happened. It’s called level 50.
For some reason I got this far on all computers without paying a cent. Now I can get no further no matter how many times I clear all the jellies, unless I’m prepared to pay.
Fellow addicts, this setback is the hope you need to wean yourselves off this pernicious addiction. For me, having to pay brings me up against an even bigger addiction – to keeping what I’ve earned. I am happy to wile away the hours hooked on a free game that costs me nothing, but as soon as I have to pay that’s me finished. I’m outta there. It was fun while it lasted but now the hunt is on for another addictive FREE game.
Thank goodness! It was beginning to eat up too much time.
On no! I’ve been offered a free pass to move onto level 51. I’m now at level 62. Heeelp!