King / Candy Crush Saga
Candy Crush Saga maker King is preparing to go public, but one look at the “key metrics” in its SEC papers tells a seemingly simple story: The company is popular and profitable, but may have already peaked.
Due to the way King releases its products, though, “peaked” may not be the right word to use here.
The company said that its revenue dropped from $621 million in Q3 2013 to $602 million in Q4, “driven by a decrease in Candy Crush Saga gross bookings,” and that that drop would have been steeper had it not been “mostly offset by an increase in gross bookings across all of our other games.” Still, King’s most famous game generates some 78 percent of its revenue.
The company advertises only three games on King.com — Candy Crush Saga, Farm Heroes Saga and Papa Pear Saga — but it actually cranks out far more than that on a regular basis. King uses the website RoyalGames.com as a farm for new ideas.
Spread out over six studios, King’s developers first put new games on RoyalGames and then track who plays those games, for how long, and how often they come back. The games that do best get drafted to the big leagues, Facebook and mobile. In other words, its new content pipeline is dependent on a niche audience of gatekeepers.
The problem is, people like what they already know. King’s most recent title, Farm Heroes Saga, is basically the same game as Candy Crush Saga with different art, and Papa Pear Saga is pretty close to EA subsidiary PopCap’s seven-year-old puzzle game Peggle.
That’s not to say innovation is the answer. Candy Crush was pretty similar to another PopCap hit, Bejeweled, but went farther on the back of its addictively calculated level design, social networking savvy gameplay and aggressive marketing strategy. To keep growth up and investors happy, King will need to either innovate on new titles more aggressively — increasing the chances of lightning striking twice — or continue to tweak its big games to further extend their staying power.
Given how much King has milked out of Candy Crush already, the second scenario is especially interesting. More hardcore free-to-play games on other platforms can last a very long time if game companies continue to support their online communities and supply new content.
This year will show if Candy Crush is up to the same feat.