Basically, Candy Crush is a variation on Tetris, which was invented in 1984 on a Russian Elektronika 60. Minecraft is a game based on using low-res blocks akin to Atari Space Invaders graphics to build a virtual King’s Landing, Minas Tirith or a modest 40-room mansion with your friends.
Behind these valuations lay meaningful trends for every inventor and marketer, not only the pre-pubescent boys and bored moms who submerge their brains into these respective games.
As people are bombarded with more and more (and more) technology and media, they seek the comfort food of familiar games with easy-to-win rewards. Both Candy Crush and Minecraft feel familiar even if you have never played before. Minecraft allows users to play in Creative Mode to avoid death at the hands of Zombie Pigmen and Creepers, which beset players in Survival Mode. It is a safe environment unlike the real world or the graphic savagery of World of Warcraft. If a level of Candy Crush proves too difficult, you are 99 cents away from a magical lollipop hammer to clear the level. Life becomes solvable.
The real value of these games is the social currency generated like a factory for Shares. Candy Crush users receive more lives when they invite new players. It is a social Ponzi scheme. Candy Crush’s inherent social sharing generates enough scale to create a massive global community of committed sugar junkies and, with it, the ability to cross-sell other games. Minecraft represents a lo-fi way to invite friends into a highly authentic virtual environment without fear of a Second Life-like strip club rising up next door. Unlike previous incarnations of these types of games, they rely on genuine social engagement. It is more than just the function of the game.
Innovation has largely stalled. In the heyday of the early 1990s most of the internet business models we use today were invented—e-commerce, marketplace, community. In the salad days of the early 2010s the social channels that dominate today’s attention spans erupted. Instagram is amazing, but it is an iteration of 20-year-old photo sharing technology. Minecraft and Candy Crush are iterations of other games. It is a reminder that consumer behavior changes slowly, even when it feels fast.
When social media matured in the mid 2000s, authenticity was the number one buzzword. In a world in which the user controlled the media, users would smell bullshit. Most brands missed this point. While most content is slicker today, it is also less authentic. This is a shame. The success of Candy Crush and Minecraft serve as an outstanding reminder of the power of authenticity, because they do not pretend to be anything more than the simplicity that they are.
Of course, all of this is based on addiction. When people engage with their phones, dopamine is released in the brain. This is the same chemical released in response to serious narcotics. At the heart of these games is habit-forming (largely non-threatening) addiction, the holy grail of Madison Avenue since its inception. Both Candy Crush and Minecraft create a steady injection of gratifications to a society truly addicted to the sound of whooshes announcing new texts. Perhaps, Minecraft and Candy Crush are simply good business in our addictive relationship with technology.
My son Oliver plays Minecraft. He is six. Yes, I realize that my father of the year award has gone down the crapper with that statement. Candidly, the game is fantastically creative, collaborative, and yes, deeply addictive. It is also a gateway game, because he just asked me for an account so he can text from the iPad. And he desperately wants to play Minecraft with his friend Max – all the time. I feel like a hypocrite saying no because he sees me hunched over my devices working and reading, and sometimes, yes, playing. I also realize that the pull of word-of-mouth about these games from his friend is monumental in his young mind. Being social is innate behavior. At $500 million and $2 billion, he is not alone in his desire, but they are hooking them young.
Well, I would write more, but I am off to scan the hard-drive of my old Commodore 64 for ideas on how to get rich. Why does no one else miss the game of Elite?