Working at the Candy Store
King designer Tobias Nyblom on keeping the Candy Crush Saga players sweet
Candy Crush Saga is an international addiction suffered by everyone from the most hardened FPS player to Lily Allen. If you watch day time TV, enjoy the Korean pop stylings of Psy or use Facebook, you won't have been able to avoid the sight of those technicoloured confections, or your friends requests for just one more life, just one more ticket.
We spoke to King game designer Tobias Nyblom, who is one of the men responsible for your mother calling you at 2pm to ask how to get rid of the liquorice swirls on level 83, about the evolution of the game, and how the tiny design team are working to keep you playing.
Q: How has the design brief for Candy Crush Saga evolved with its success?
Tobias Nyblom: Immensely. The original design ideas as conceived by Sebastian Knutsson (King's co-founder and chief creative officer) back in 2011 started evolving as early as the first weeks of development of the Saga version (Released in April 2012) and has been evolving ever since. At King, we put great effort at getting to know, and love, our players - through traditional means such as player testing as well as utilizing the massive amounts of data we track every day. Therefore, we don't really work with design documents in Candy Crush Saga; we're a small team and it's more the game itself that has been evolving constantly through early testing, soft launch and beyond.
Q: What's the process for designing new in-game features and mechanics?
Tobias Nyblom: The game team has more or less frequent brainstorming meetings where new mechanics are conceived. Those ideas are then built, tested and iterated, and the most interesting ones are polished and released. It's all about experimenting and having fun. And, one of the unique things about how King works is that the brainpower of all team members is utilised, whether you're a programmer, product manager graphic artist or game analyst.
Q: Are there any that were thought of but didn't make it past testing?
Tobias Nyblom: Yes, there has been a bunch of concepts and features over the last one and a half years that didn't make it past initial testing or were cut at the very end, either because they weren't fun enough or because of time constraints. New game modes, special candies, blockers, booster features, etc. Other features have been iterated over time, like the look and feel of the GUI.
Q: Is there any limit of the number of levels you could create?
Tobias Nyblom: That is completely dependent on the feedback we get from our players. We will continue creating more levels as long as the demand from the players is there. With Candy Crush Saga we launched initially with 65 levels.
"we don't really work with design documents in Candy Crush Saga; we're a small team and it's more the game itself that has been evolving constantly"
Q: Do people change the way they play as the levels get higher? How do you accommodate that?
Tobias Nyblom: Yes, Candy Crush Saga is definitely a game where the players' skill increases over time, even though it's sometimes on a sub conscious level. Obtaining the 'switcher eye' is one of the starting points, while getting a feel for all the different and evolving puzzles in the game is something that sets a beginner apart from the dedicated fans. Meeting those late game expectations is of course all about keeping a close ear to the players' feedback.
Q: What's the secret to pricing and balancing power ups?
Tobias Nyblom: The secret to balancing is simply to keep the focus on fun, and the secret to pricing is to keep a close relationship to the players. For Candy Crush Saga that's very convenient, as basically everyone in the office and our friends and families are playing the game.
Q: Have you learnt anything from looking at competitors' games? Any dos or don'ts?
Tobias Nyblom: For our first player tests, we looked primarily at friends and family who didn't play any digital games. So people who preferred to dig into Sudokus, crossword puzzles, board games, solitaire, etc. What were their reactions and expectations to the game? Pick up and play is a must, but not without a genuine challenge. And of course, invaluable learnings have been drawn from the vast King game catalogue and the age long experience from the people here at the company; especially from games like Bubble Witch Saga, Pyramid Solitaire Saga and all the match three puzzlers built at King over the last 10 years.