Candy Crush Saga is a "match three" game, where the core gameplay is based on swapping two adjacent candies among several on the gameboard as to make a row or column of at least 3 matching-colored candies. On this match, the matched candies are removed from the board, and candies above them fall into the empty spaces, with new candies appearing from the top of the board. This may create a new matched set of candies, which is automatically cleared in the same manner. The player scores points for these matches and gains progressively more points for chain reactions. Additionally, creating matches of four or more candies will create a special candy that, when matched, can clear a row, column, or other section of the board.
The game is split among many levels, which must be completed in sequence. Each level poses a different challenge to the user, such as achieving a minimum score in a fixed number of moves or clearing candies in a fixed number of moves to bring special ingredients to the bottom of the board. Boards have a number of different configurations and may include special spaces that have their own unique rules, such as spaces covered with jelly that must be cleared by making a match on that space. If the player meets the level's goal, they will be given from one to three stars based on their score and can proceed onto the next level. Otherwise, they will lose one life and must try again. If the player runs out of lives, they have to wait for some period of real-world time while their lives regeneration before attempting the level again. Completed levels can be replayed if desired.
The game has been expanded with a number of episodes, adding a few dozen new levels per episode as well as new gameplay mechanics. In the game's first major expansion, the game added a separate set of levels in the Dreamworld. While levels have the same goals, the players must balance matches of candies of two randomly selected colors as to disrupt the sleeping Odus the Owl; if they do, the level is considered lost and the player must try again. If they collect enough matched candies to fill a meter, the player actives the Moon Struck power: the board is cleared of all candies of those two colors, and the player gains a few turns of additional matches without having to balance colors. After this, Odus returns to sleeping and two new colors are randomly selected for the balance. This continues until the player completed the level or runs out of turns as in the main game. Dreamworld levels use a different set of lives from the main game, allowing the player to switch back and forth between these modes.
The game is primarily monetized through in-app purchases (through either a credit card, iTunes credits or Google Play credits); players begin with five "lives", lost whenever a level is failed. This applies to all of King's games. When they are exhausted, users can either send requests to their Facebook friends for more lives, wait for them to replenish themselves (a life is restored every half-hour), or purchase them. Initially when you made a purchase for new lives you received five new lives for a specific dollar amount. Now when you make a purchase for new lives a player receives gold bars, the quantity depends on how much money you spend, the gold bars can use for new lives, extra moves, boosters or to unlock a new episode. At certain points, primarily at the start of new "episodes", users must also either purchase or receive a request from at least three friends before they may access the next set of levels. An update meant players only waited for 3 days to unlock the next episode.
Boosters, to make the levels easier, can be bought using in-app purchases. While the game includes freemium content, 97.7% of those playing the game do so for free, while only 2.3% pay.
Throughout the game, the player solves puzzles so Tiffi (short for Toffette) can solve problems plaguing the residents of the Candy Kingdom. These include tutorial guide Mr. Toffee, whose voice was changed from an over-the-top French accent in the original version of the game into a more modest deep male voice, the Easter Bunny, the shop owner Mr. Yeti, Odus the owl from Dreamworld levels, the villainous Bubblegum Troll, Tiffi's nemesis, Ghirahim, and many others.
In the Candy Crush Jelly Saga, the two main characters that the player plays against are the Jelly Queen and Cupcake Carl.
Prior to the release of Candy Crush Saga, most of King's games were browser games offered through their website or partner portals such as Yahoo!. Several of their games featured tournament-style gameplay, where players could spend money to enter competitive tourneys for in-game boosts, which served as one of the main form of revenue for the company in addition to in-game item sale microtransactions and advertisements. Around 2009, Facebook began to pull in developers, in particular Zynga, to offer social network games that could be built on its fundamental services; for King, this resulting in a large drop in players that they saw from their game portals within a year. At this point, King started to determine how it could enter the Facebook and the associated mobile game markets, breaking up its web development department to work on Facebook and mobile games in 2010, including bringing several of their existing browser games to those platforms. Most of these existing games were introduced as beta versions to Facebook users, and the company used player counts and feedback to determine which of these titles had the most prospect for moving forward, allowing them to focus more intensive development on those titles while dropping the rest, in the style of a rapid prototyping approach. The Facebook platform allowed them to explore expansion of their existing tournament-style games and the ability to include microtransactions within the game.
In April 2011, King released its first cross-platform (Facebook and mobile) game, Miner Speed, which had a simple match-3 concept that borrowed concepts from Bejeweled that helped the company figure out the transition between Facebook and mobile games for this new direction. King's first major success in this area followed with Bubble Witch Saga, released in October 2011; by January 2012 it has attracted over 10 million players and was one of fastest rising Facebook games at that time. Bubble Witch Saga introduced the "saga" approach in contrast to typical tile-matching games, where instead of having the game continue through a fixed amount of time or until the player reached an unplayable state, the game was divided into discrete levels that required the player to complete certain goals within a fixed set of moves, and where the next level could only be reached after completing the previous level. These saga elements allowed for the basics of social gameplay, but did not require the time investment that then-popular titles like Zynga's Farmville required; players could play just for a few minutes each day through the saga model. The success of Bubble Witch Saga establishing King as a viable developer in this arena, becoming the second-largest developer by daily player count on the Facebook platform by April 2012, trailing only Zynga.
Candy Crush Saga was selected as King's next Facebook game based on the popularity of the portal version of Candy Crush, first released in 2011 and which was one of the five most popular games by 2012. The basic ideas from Miner Speed were used to craft the foundation of Candy Crush Saga, adding the "saga" elements from Bubble Witch Saga. Initial ideas for Candy Crush Saga were proposed by King's chief creative officer, Sebastian Knutsson, around 2011. The game was first released for Facebook in April 2012, at the time featuring only 65 levels. The game quickly gained popularity, gaining more than 4 million players within a few weeks of release.
King later released mobile versions for iOS and Android that same year, adding a feature that allowed mobile users to synchronize their progress with the Facebook version. Knutsson stated that at that time, with Candy Crush Saga as popular as it was on Facebook, they knew that they "had to get it right" in the transition process. King had previously discussed the nature of games that kept their state between a PC and mobile version with Fabrication Games, believing this was a necessary trend in the future of gaming, Both recognized several of the difficulties that would have to be addressed to provide both the progress synchronization and gameplay interface between mouse-driven PC computers and touch-driven mobile devices. King found that one issue with transiting Bubble Witch Saga to mobile was that the gameplay elements were too small for mobile devices, and aimed to correct that for Candy Crush Saga on mobile. The mobile release delay for Candy Crush Saga was in part due to adding the ability to play the mobile version in an offline mode that would still synchronize once the player returned online.
The mobile version helped to boost popularity of the game, attributed to the nature of the game being able to be played in a pick-up-and-go manner ideally suited for mobile devices. Tommy Palm, one of the four developers for Candy Crush Saga, stated that the first weekend numbers after the game's mobile release were over ten times greater than the estimates they expected. By January 2013, Candy Crush Saga overtook Zynga's Farmville 2 as the top-played game on the Facebook platform.
Candy Crush Saga was expanded over the years by adding new episodes, each containing a number of new levels. This enabled King to also introduce new gameplay features alongside other game improvements. New features were first tested on King's own portal to see how players there responded and allowing them to tweak these as needed, then pushed these into the episodes on the Facebook/mobile version. By September 2016, King released its 2000th level for the game to celebrate the milestone of over 1 trillion Candy Crush Saga games having been played.
According to review aggregator website Metacritic, the game received an average review score of 79/100, indicating generally positive reviews. Ellie Gibson of Eurogamer referred to Candy Crush Saga as 2013's "Game of the Year".
Candy Crush Saga had over ten million downloads in December 2012. By 2013, Candy Crush Saga had been downloaded more than 500 million times across Facebook, iOS, and Android devices and considered the most downloaded app from the Apple App Store, and had at least 6.7 million active users on a daily basis; the game had a daily revenue of $633,000 from the United States section of the iOS App Store alone. By 2014, the game had over 245 million active player each month but has since dropped off, with that count falling to around 166 million by 2016.
Though initially released with advertising to help with revenue, King removed the advertising in 2013, and solely has earned money from the game in the form of in-app purchases. Only a small percentage of the player base has purchased in-game items, up to around 4%, but this has led to millions of dollars in monthly revenue for King. In 2014, Candy Crush Saga players spent over $1.33 billion on in-app purchases which was a decline from the previous year, since in the second half of 2013 players spent over $1.04 billion. By 2015, the monthly revenue was estimated at $120 million, but with declining players purchasing in-game items, down to 2% by 2016, that revenue has dropped to just over $53 million per month.
Candy Crush received particular mention in Hong Kong media, with reports that one in seven Hong Kong citizens plays the game. The game is also featured in Psy's music video "Gentleman". In December 2013, King entered the Japanese market with a series of television commercials in Japan, and by December 4 it had become the 23rd most downloaded game in Japan on Android devices and number 1 most downloaded from the App Store.
King filed for applications for trademarks on the word "candy" in January 2013 with the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office, which became publicly known in January 2014. News of these pending trademarks raised concerns from other developers, fearing that King would use their trademark to intimidate smaller developers. In response to this criticism, King decided not to pursue the trademark.
The mobile game known as CandySwipe created in 2010, two years prior to the release of Candy Crush Saga, had many similarities that independent app developer Albert Ransom and maker of CandySwipe picked up on as Candy Crush Saga became more successful. Following news of the "candy" trademark, Ransom issued a statement in February 2014, claiming that King intentionally copied elements from his own game including the app icon, the art for the candy pieces, and sound effects like the level-completion "Sweet!". While details were not given, Ransom stated that he "amicably" resolved the matter with King by April of that year.
During this same period, it was discovered that King had successfully obtained trademark on the word "saga", and they had taken action against Stoic, the developers of The Banner Saga; King had attempted to block Stoic's registration of "The Banner Saga", and after the game released in January 2014, it issued a cease and desist letter to the developers. Similar to the CandySwipe situation, Stoic announced in April 2014 that the situation with King had been resolved with both sides coming to an agreement allowing Stoic to continue to use their name.
Candy Crush Saga also received mixed reactions when it was announced that King had struck a deal with Microsoft to automatically install the game on devices that have been upgraded to Windows 10 Home.
The game was investigated by the UK Office of Fair Trading concerning exploitative game mechanics with regards to younger users.
In May 2014, a sequel titled Candy Crush Soda Saga was soft launched by King, with a similar design but new gameplay dynamics, such as a soda bottle piece that can shift gravity. As of October 2016, there are over 1100 "Candy Crush Soda Saga" levels.
On October 20, 2014, the Facebook version of Candy Crush Soda Saga was released worldwide and the mobile app was released in November on the Android and iOS platforms. The app was subsequently made available for Windows 10 and Windows Phone in October 2015.
In September 2015, another sequel entitled Candy Crush Jelly Saga was soft-launched in various countries for the Android platform. Candy Crush Jelly Saga was released worldwide in January 2016. Initially it was not made available in Facebook unlike in previous titles, but is now available as a game app as of May 2016. The Facebook version appears to no longer require Adobe Flash to play.
In October 2016, CBS announced that it will bring a live-action Candy Crush game show in partnership with King. Though no scheduled broadcast date has been set, it is expected to feature hour-long competition between two teams using interactive games that are based on Candy Crush. The show is expected to be produced by Lionsgate with executive producer Matt Kunitz, and with collaboration by Sebastian Knutsson, the creative developer of the first Candy Crush game.
Part of the upcoming The Emoji Movie will take place within Candy Crush Saga.