Yesterday, game-centric social network Raptr reported that in the month of March, its members played more of King’s Candy Crush Saga than StarCraft II, World of Tanks and Halo: Reach (all historically very popular games) combined.
This is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shows that Raptr is getting some pretty wide usage by more casual gamers as well as those who care about achievements, hour counts and whatnot — demonstrating (arguably) that a lot of people playing Candy Crush Saga are “serious” enough about their gaming to sign up for a game-centric social network and tracking service.
Secondly, it shows something we all know: the vast numbers of people playing Facebook and mobile games far outstrips those who have perhaps grown up with the industry and who play what one might call “traditional” video games — players whom mobile and social gaming companies euphemistically refer to as “core” gamers.
The second point isn’t all that surprising; how many people do you know who don’t have a Facebook account? While we’re not yet in a world where every single person is permanently jacked in to the social network via a transmitter in their spinal column, I’m willing to bet that regardless of your age, there’s probably a large proportion of the people you know who have Facebook accounts, and of those people most of them have probably tried playing some games at least once. The exact same situation is true when we consider smartphone ownership these days — of those who have acquired a new mobile phone recently, it’s highly likely that it was one of the two most well-supported platforms out there: iOS and Android. And of those who haven’t acquired a new mobile phone recently, a lot of people are investigating tablets as a home computer solution — pretty much all of which run, you guessed it, iOS and Android.
It’s the first point that surprises me, though. Raptr is the sort of service that is historically only of interest to those “core” gamers we mentioned earlier, as your average soccer mom who only plays games on Facebook has no real need or desire to keep up with industry happenings or the latest stupid thing that a Microsoft employee has said on social media — let alone how their number of hours played stacks up against their friends. So what does it mean when the number of hours racked up on Candy Crush Saga outstrips some of Raptr’s most heavily-tracked, popular titles?
Well, it could mean one of a couple of things. Firstly, it could mean that Facebook and/or mobile gamers are more serious about tracking their playtime and achievements in the games they play than most people thought. I find this rather difficult to believe, to be honest, as the sort of people who only play Facebook and mobile games are typically playing them as a means to fill a spare few minutes rather than as an engaging form of entertainment that they feel particularly passionate about.
Secondly, it could mean that those “core” gamers out there are playing Facebook and mobile games as well as (apparently, more than) “traditional” computer and console games that are aimed specifically at them? Judging by the notifications that pop up on the Raptr client that runs on my PC, this is much more likely; there are several people on my friends list whom I would describe as “core” gamers by that definition, but who are regularly seen playing everything from FarmVille to Marvel Avengers Alliance and Candy Crush Saga.
One question, though: why?
No, seriously, why?
If you’re a “core” gamer by the popular definition, you’re serious about your interactive entertainment. You might play games instead of (or as much as) watching movies and TV shows. Your exact reasons for playing may vary — those who enjoy Call of Duty play it much like a competitive team sport, while people like me prefer narrative-centric experiences that stimulate similar parts of the brain to movies and TV shows — but the fact is, you’re highly likely to make time for your gaming rather than indulge in it as an idle diversion. You’ll sit down, you’ll play a game for a not-inconsiderable amount of time, then you’ll switch off and do something else. Or pass out with the controller in your sweaty mitts.
So if you’re investing time and probably money into what is, after all, a hobby rather than a mindless pastime, why, dear “core” gamers, aren’t you playing anything better? Don’t get me wrong, Candy Crush Saga has performed so well because it’s a polished product that is pretty accessible even to those who haven’t played many games before, but 1) it’s a Bejeweled ripoff, and Bejeweled 3 (or just Bejeweled as it is called on mobile) is a better game with more variety; 2) it’s rammed to the gills with obnoxious enforced “social” features that don’t actually promote social interaction at all (ask for lives! ask friends to unlock levels! brag about your score!); 3) it’s rammed to its other gills with obnoxious monetization — aside from the fact that every so often you’ll run into a wall where it literally just stops you from playing unless you either wait for several hours or pay money, there’s one powerup in the game that costs £35 and can be used once per level. Thirty-five pounds. Bejeweled 3, which, as previously mentioned, is an infinitely superior game that doesn’t bug you every five fucking seconds to insert coins or invite friends, costs £14.99 — less than half the price of that one powerup in Candy Crush Saga – on Steam (and is regularly reduced in price in sales), and sixty-nine pence on mobile phones.
“But Candy Crush Saga is free to download!” I hear you cry. “Surely people aren’t dimwitted enough to repeatedly spend money on this when they could just buy a copy of Bejeweled outright and then never have to pay again!” Wrong. Candy Crush Saga is, as I write this, the number 1 Top Grossing app on the App Store. Note: “app” not “game”. (It is also the number 1 Top Grossing game, but that shouldn’t be surprising given its other position.)
Let me reiterate that. Candy Crush Saga, which is free to download, is making more money than apps that cost money. By a significant margin. It is making more money than high-quality productivity apps for professionals, which typically carry a relatively hefty price tag. It is making more money than high-quality “pay once, play forever” games. It is making more money than Bejeweled, which is basically the same fucking game for the price of a packet of Chewits. It is making more money than anything else on the App Store.
It is at this point I throw my hands up and say I absolutely do not understand why this is the case. It absolutely boggles my mind, because I can see why I wouldn’t want to repeatedly and indefinitely churn money into a game that isn’t noticeably better than another game I’ve already paid for once (Bejeweled), so why can’t these hundreds, thousands, millions of other people? It does not make any sense whatsoever. And this isn’t even considering the question above of why on Earth “core” gamers are apparently playing this game so much when there is so much other good stuff out there — too much for one games enthusiast to ever hope to fit into one lifetime, even if they became hikikomori in order to try and do so.
I am so, so torn about this sort of thing, and have been for a while now. On the one hand, it’s great that more and more people are embracing video games as a pastime, form of entertainment or even hobby. On the other, the swathes of people who are coming to gaming as a result of free-to-play mobile and social games are perpetuating a business model that, while immensely profitable, is not particularly friendly to the consumer and is actually quite unsafe to people who don’t keep a tight rein on their finances. More people playing games? Good. Sending the message that charging £35 for one powerup is okay? Very, very bad.