Mobile game developer King Digital, which saw profits decline 20 percent in the third quarter, is still searching for a follow up hit. The casual game company launched the wildly successful “Candy Crush Saga” in 2012 for iPhones and Android devices and saw 10 million downloads by the end of that year. But subsequent releases like "Diamond Digger" and "Farm Heroes" haven't come close to duplicating "Candy Crush's" success.
King Digital's wild ride shows how the mobile game business can be unexpectedly lucrative but highly inscrutable when it comes to predicting which titles will enjoy overnight succcess and which ones will make a quick trip to the delete file. "Angry Birds" was all the rage for a couple of years, but in August Rovio Entertainment CEO Mikael Hed announced he would step down amid declining profits. Much of the fickle gaming public has now moved on to .GEARS Studios' "Flappy Birds."
“Games that are original, beautiful and fun will attract and retain players,” said Christian Calderon, head of marketing at New York City-based mobile developer Playdots. But only for so long, it seems.
"Candy Crush Saga" began as a Facebook game and turned into a global phenomenon, and King pulled in $790 million from in-app purchases during the first six months of 2014. It's a “freemium” game, it’s free to play but upgrading, accessing certain features and unlocking difficult levels costs money. “Freemium games that are designed well are great because everyone can enjoy them,” said Calderon. "At the end of the day, it should all boil down to fun.”
Upbeat music, beautiful colors and cute themes can also help make a game addictive, Calderon said. Studies have recently shown that more than 70 percent of smartphone users play mobile games.
King may now have trouble convincing investors it will have lasting power once the afterglow of “Candy Crush Saga” wears off. Its other titles have not been able to pull in the number of followers that its original hit has amassed or build a rabid fan base. "Candy Crush" players range from young school children to professionals in their thirties and forties. “It’s one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played,” said one female Brooklyn resident, 32, who regularly plays the game on her daily commute into Manhattan.
King released its third quarter earnings on Thursday, reporting a 16 percent decline in revenue, to $523 million, and a 20 percent decline in earnings per share. King Digital CEO Riccardo Zacconi is undaunted.
“With the launch of two new mobile games during the third quarter as well as the Facebook version of ‘Candy Crush Soda Saga’ last month, we are continuing to execute on our strategy to develop a portfolio of games for our massive network of players,” Zacconi said in a statement. “We have a consistent track record of developing successive hit games and as a result, have increased our non-‘Candy Crush Saga’ gross bookings to $264 million in third quarter 2014.”
Though “Candy Crush Saga” is declining in revenue, it continues to hold its own on mobile gaming sales charts. On iOS and Google Play, the game is still number two on the top grossing charts for mobile. Supercell’s “Clash of Clans” sits at number one.
King’s number of users is also increasing, with 495 million monthly players--up from 361 million one year ago. “Candy Crush Soda Saga,” which launched on Facebook in October, will reach smartphones next month.