June 4, 2013 -- It all starts with a level you can beat within seconds. You slide three of the same color candy together and they burst. As those disappear you move on to find four more matches. It seems trivial, even boring or banal at first, but if you're not sucked in you're an anomaly. Successive levels pull you in with obstacles and challenges, all of which are based around that simple task of swiping and matching small pieces of candy.
Leah Kahn, 36, is one of those people who has been pulled in by the force of "Candy Crush Saga," playing the game at least five or more times a day on her iPhone. And she is one of many. According to King, the maker of the hugely popular game, 15.5 million people are crushing candy multiple times a day.
In the past couple of months the mobile game has become the most popular game on Facebook and among the top apps in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. According to King, the maker of the game, it's being played more than half a billion times a day on mobile just alone.
A Killer Social/Mobile Combination
The game, which was released for mobile phones in November 2012, has topped Zynga's Farmville 2 and other popular mobile games such as Texas HoldEm Poker, Bejeweled Blitz and Subway Sufers. But why? What is it about this game that's really no more than a simple puzzle game that has made it so popular? It's a combination of mobile and social elements, says the makers and experts.
"The core thing with Candy Crush is that it is available on multiple platforms, and ... there is the social side. It's something you can do with friends and family – that's something we see a lot of," Tommy Palm, King's Mobile Guru, told ABC News.
You can log in to the game with your Facebook account and not only does that sync your game progress across devices, but it allows you to see where your Facebook friends are in the plus-300 level game on a map. That's just the basic social integration, though. King has engineered the game to be all about social assistance. You get five lives per level. Once you run out you cannot advance to the next level unless you pay 99 cents or request extra lives from friends.
You'd think that might send people away from the game, but that part has added to the excitement of the game. "You can get more lives from Facebook, but that means having to wait for your friends to send them. That part can be a bit painful," Kahn said, adding that it also makes you continue to check to see if you've gotten access.
That's where the mobile aspect comes in. Palm says the game has become a "mobile phenomena" with people checking and playing the game multiple times a day on their phones. Kahn, like 10 million others playing on their phones, says she plays multiple times a day whether it is on her commute or at home. "It's a very great time passer. It makes the time go by very quickly," she says.
Oh, and It's Fun
But, of course, it is those social and mobile aspects built on top of an interesting and challenging puzzle-like game that has made it catch on.
"The human visual system is primed for pattern detection, which is a key component of this game," Heather Kikorian, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told ABC News. With Candy Crush, that pattern- solving strategy is core and becomes more and more challenging as the game goes on.
Kikorian added that the game and specific parts of the game where you see success, like beating a level, can create a "pleasure response" in the brain which can make it even more pleasing to play. Kahn and other players of the game know that feeling. "After I beat one level I had been on for weeks, I nearly screamed on the train."
Social Fuels the Spend
Candy Crush is a free download, but the game has become one of the highest-grossing apps because of in-game purchases. App Annie, which tracks app store stats and in-app purchases, has Candy Crush on the top of the highest grossing app lists for Android phones, the iPhone and the iPad.
The most popular in-app purchases include the 99 cent extra lives or moves, the $1.99 lollipop hammer, which allows players to crush obstacles, and the 99 cent color bomb.
Kahn is among those who have spent money on the game. She says she has spent around $40 on extra lives and moves. King wouldn't reveal how much money has been spent on in-game purchases but said the paid in-game features has been very successful for the company. Interestingly, Palm shared that 70 percent of the people on the last level of the game haven't actually paid for anything. "It was a conscious decision that players should be able to complete the game without having to pay," he said.
But while some of those people are on the last level for now, they won't be for long. There are 385 levels right now, and the company keeps adding to it. Every two weeks the company releases new updates with new content and levels.
And that breath of levels and the never-ending aspect of the game might be what keeps Candy Crush at the top of those app charts for a while. While these popular games tend to become all the rage for a few months, they then tend to drop off quickly. "With attention spans shortening and so many alternatives so readily available, players tend to move on to the next big game quickly," Scott Steinberg, a longtime video game expert and author of "Video Game Marketing and PR," says.
But Kahn says even after playing for four months she is still not over it. "I think I may stay as long as they keep it going," Kahn said. "My fiance is on a higher level than me and she said there is no end in sight."