Interview: Tjodolf Sommestad discusses 10 years and beyond of Candy Crush Saga

Interview: Tjodolf Sommestad discusses 10 years and beyond of Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. That's right. The popular match-3 launched a decade ago and has remained incredibly popular in that time, enjoyed by millions of people across the globe. To commemorate the occasion, players will find new events and updates, including 12 new songs.

We recently had the chance to chat with Tjodolf Sommestad, King's recently crowned President, about all things Candy Crush. Together we covered how the game changed over the years, how it remains popular and the importance of listening to players and acting on their feedback.

What do you believe has helped Candy Crush remain popular over the last decade?

We launched a game that became extremely popular and well-known. Millions and millions of people installed it early on. And we've been really good as a company at building on that. We moved quickly to try and feed the curiosity of players by delivering more content and innovation.

And we've been learning along the way as well. We picked up signals from players - about what they were interested in and the types of innovation they want to see. And also the types of content they want us to bring and, to stay loyal to the game over a period of time. We've learned. We've evolved and improved. And I think part of what you're seeing now around the tenth anniversary is a sign of how much innovation we've been driving at the game – with seasons and events like Candy Cup and our partnership with Meghan Trainor, with her video being launched in the game.

It's a combination of staying true to what the core of Candy Crush is, which is a relaxing moment of solving puzzles and getting this feeling of achievement when passing a level and completing a challenge. That's still at the core of the game. We haven't moved away from that. If anything, we've just refined it and made it better. And that's combined with innovation on top of these events and new contexts to play Candy Crush in, like competing with others in Candy Royale, which is a relatively new feature where, over seven levels, you can compete with other players across the world.

What would you say are the most significant changes you've made in Candy Crush over the last ten years?

That's a good question. Most of the changes have been gradual because we're a company that really learns with our players. So we try different things, we test different things with them, and if they like it, we do more and see if they keep liking it. Much of what we've been doing is building up our capabilities and understanding our players better and better over the years.

I think there's been a couple of moments that have been quite interesting for us. A couple of years ago, we really committed to delivering more of what players want, and the way that took shape is we realised we had a lot of players at the end of the Saga. The idea was that you should always have more levels to play. So we really accelerated our attention to levels, including going back and improving those thousands of levels we already had in the game.

But then we also decided we were going to double the output of levels, and then we kept building on that. And now, we launch 45 new levels per week. So there's the acceleration of giving players more of what they like.

Another important moment for us, more from a commercial perspective, was when we decided to reintroduce ads and start playing ads on the player's terms, which was a new way for us to allow players to engage with the game and for us to monetise it in a different way.

I think that's been a bit defining for the industry and the way we approached it. I'm really proud of how we approached it - on the player's terms. A few years later, we're continuing to learn and build on that. So there are two things that have been important milestones and decisions for us.

You've mentioned a few times that you learn things from players. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that works?

We're very curious, I'm also very curious as a person, but as a company we're curious. So, we do different things to learn from our players. There's not one source of information. We do player panels. We have focus groups. We sometimes do specific focus groups on different topics where we try to get the right type of diversity on those teams.

We also test with data, so we do A/B testing to see how our players actually respond. There are opportunities to send us feedback. We're getting better and better at being active with players in our communities and engaging with them in the forums. We pick ideas from there that our teams are sharing internally. So there are many different perspectives.

Plus, we have the luxury of working on Candy Crush Saga. So, all of us working at King know someone that's a Candy fan. I often talk to the team about ideas that my mum had. We bring ideas from friends and family as well. There are so many Candy fans and players out there.

And how do you decide what feedback to listen to? As, naturally, you can't always please everyone.

Yeah, you can't please everyone. But we're trying to. I think that's what's so interesting about working in this industry. Sometimes we as game makers need to make those choices based on information that we have. In some situations, more and more, we're looking at 'do we have to choose?'. Can we give players more of that choice? Could it be that players have different preferences? We'll talk about a future scenario where maybe technology can help us. Like, can we have the game adapt to the player's need at that time?

In one moment, I might want to play Candy Crush in a competitive way and then maybe when I'm commuting back from work I want to play Candy in a more relaxing way. So, ideally, we cater for both experiences. But when we can't figure that out, we need to make decisions, and it can often be a majority decision, though it's not always the case. We also have an idea of what the vision of the game is, so it's not as easy as the majority decides. We need to stay true to the core of the game, and that's why we have talented game designers and creative leaders here at King to make those decisions.

True. And I've found I don't always know whether or not I'll like something until trying it, especially in games.

Yes, exactly. We're often talking about the balance between art and science. We're actually very good at the science part as a games company. We're running meta-tests and a lot of statistical surveys and so on. But we need to apply the art aspect, the design aspect. What is the vision? The experience we want to take the players on.

And that's why we also have so many sources of information. Players might tell us something in a panel, but it's not necessarily exactly what they want. So we need to take that information and factor it in to try and provide a solution. Sometimes the right answer is to do a data-driven A/B test to see how players respond. Because how you think you'll respond isn't necessarily how you will respond.

What can players expect from the game over the next while? Do you have a set roadmap?

It's a mix. We have ideas. Yes, we have a roadmap. We know what we plan to deliver to players, but we've extended the horizon on that roadmap because it helps us to rally around the best ideas. But we're always open to change. So we rarely do specific, multi-year plans because we're adapting so much to input from players and internally as well. We keep room to change our plans or have some gaps where we haven't decided which of our ideas we're going to take to players.

You've announced that you're going to change the App icon. Can you tell us a bit more about that decision?

It's an interesting question in terms of the app icon. I remember the days when we had a policy of 'we're never going to change the app icon' eight years ago. Now we're moving to a place where we're open to experimenting more and using that as a window into the game where we have an opportunity to express something new to players. And that could be that the game is fresh. Something new has happened. So we're exploring more about what we can do with the App icon.

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Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.