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Understanding King.com’s production line
King is an efficient games factory that has learned how to churn out successful online titles that top the Grossing Charts. Zoya Street met Jong Woo, VP of Business Development to discover the secrets and share them with you.
The King.com site has been running for ten years. Since its launch in 2003 as Midasplayer, it has been focused on small, competitive puzzle games with cash prizes. Candy Crush seems like an overnight sensation, but it is the product of a decade’s work. The company has pivoted twice, to adapt to the rise of social and mobile gaming. The site now boasts over 150 games in its portfolio. Their development process may sound impersonal and unromantic, but at its core is a lesson that all developers need to learn.
As King moved onto Facebook and mobile platforms since 2009, the site itself has taken on a different role. That large portfolio of games is not just a marketing hook about consumer choice; it is a testbed. The most successful games are skimmed off the top and turned into Saga games for Facebook, adding retention hooks and social features; Candy Crush Saga, for example, began as one of those little puzzler experiments on King called simply Candy Crush.
King.com’s puzzle games are made by small teams of 2-3 people, who quickly build and iterate on 3-4 prototypes a year. When a King.com game is to be Saga-ified, it gets passed to a specialist team that applies a tried and tested process, again iterating and optimising for high retention and virality. The most successful Saga games are then passed on to another team for porting to mobile, with social graph and synchronised user data so that the same player can continue the same journey on Facebook and on their phone.
King is now moving into merchandising, creating a range of physical goods based on the brand identities of its most successful Saga games (starting with Candy Crush socks). For Jong Woo, this is another part of the same user experience. “We’re using merchandising as a way to delight fans,” he said. “We want to create those moments of magic in physical form outside the game.”
The iteration, testing and specialist teams behind King games and Saga-ification indicate a development process that is rational and scientific. Play is a set of datapoints to be processed and optimised.
Last week, Nicholas gave an interview for the Wall Street Journal about why you can’t make the next Candy Crush Saga. King’s finely-tuned production line is designed to churn out perfectly optimised social puzzle games, and that can’t be easily replicated outside of the structure they have built. But you can learn some lessons from King about what makes a game successful.