“Candy Crush” is a smartphone game particularly popular among children, that impacts users in a psychologically similar way to slot machine users.
In Candy Crush, players attempt to pass levels that have requirements regarding time limit, amount of total candy crushed, and number of moves per level. By swiping your finger to swap different colored pieces of candy on a board, the user can align three or more identical pieces and—Boom—the candy will be crushed. This allows more candy to fill the board and adds points to the player’s score. There is also a mechanism that notifies the user how close they came to completing a level. While at first glance, Candy Crush may seem to have little in common with a slot machine, which is entirely dependent on luck, they both share a technique that game designers call a near-miss. Slot machines display a combination of three pictures or figures, when they are all identical the player wins. This type of game can result in various different outcomes, but an outcome where two out of the three figures are identical has been proven to make the user more likely to play the slot machine again. Adding to the attraction in this scenario, is that the slot machine will also show the winning third figure just above the third reel. In Candy Crush, if the player was close to passing a level, but still lost, a notification will let them know how close they were to winning.
Studies have shown that the effect of slot machines is the same effect that near-miss notifications have on Candy Crush players. Experts in the field of gambling research have even theorized that Candy Crush could be a stepping stone towards gambling games such as slot machines.
An interesting effect of near-misses is that they have been proven to be more frustrating to most players than a loss that is not as close. This is important because near-misses have also been proven to make players want to continue playing. At first this appears to be contradictory, however if you look at a near-miss as a tantalizingly close “near-win” it is easier to see how increased frustration correlates with an increased desire to keep playing.
Candy Crush, although free to download, contains in-game transactions that can be purchased to give the player an advantage. In Candy Crush, in game transactions reduce the time it takes between levels. For example: if you lose a level multiple times in a row, you can be locked out of the game for 30 minutes and in order to skip that waiting period you have to pay. This pay-to-play function, combined with the near-miss mechanism, is designed to take advantage of players who, like many gamblers, are susceptible to addiction. With these techniques embedded in the design of a seemingly innocent game such as Candy Crush, players can lose track of time, struggle to stop playing or even develop a full-fledged addiction.