Because smashing blocks is a lot more productive than smashing bits of candy
You may have heard recently that Microsoft plans on including mobile-gaming hit, Candy Crush Saga with Windows 10 when it ships its latest version of the operating system later this year. After all, it truly is a gaming classic, right? Minesweeper, Solitaire, Hearts, FreeCell, Chess, Candy Crush Saga…
Microsoft plans to bring other titles by mobile game developer King Digital Entertainment to the Windows platform in the future, offering cross-platform play between Windows, Android and iOS devices. Candy Crush will come pre-installed with every Windows 10 upgrade for a period of time after the game’s launch. A move that feels a little too similar to Apple’s controversial decision to ‘gift’ a U2 album to every one of its iTunes users back in September which didn’t go over too well.
King has been the centre of a few of its own controversies since being founded in 2003. Most notably last year when King attempted to trademark the words ‘Candy’ and ‘Saga’ in game titles, a move which interfered with development of Stoic’s title The Banner Saga. But it may come as a surprise to some to learn that Candy Crush Saga was not even an original creation of King, who shamelessly stole the idea and likeness from Runesome Apps’ CandySwipe, released two years prior; leading to a legal dispute. CandySwipe had been the project of independent developer Albert Ransom, who was developing the game as a tribute to his recently deceased mother who was apparently quite fond of puzzle games. Although, you could argue that both Candy Crush and CandySwipe take heavy influence from Bejewelled. King was also accused of stealing the game idea of Scamperghost from another developer, Matthew Cox and using it to develop Pac-Avoid in 2014. King denied the allegation but later took the game down from their website. Despite these incidents, King’s questionable regard for business ethics has led them to pioneer the freemium mobile genre and are now currently worth a whopping US $3.96 billion dollars.
Public perception of Candy Crush Saga and the rest of the free-to-play mobile market is more or less divided. Seen by a lot of casual gamers as just a simple and fun waste of time, some more seasoned gamers like myself view these type of games for what they really are; highly disposable garbage that clutters mobile app stores with shameless clones and look-a-likes, designed to pester others over social media with annoying invitations and prey on the vulnerable for insane amounts of money through micro-transactions. These payments which appear small but quickly add up often limit the amount of time the player can ‘play’ (I use the term loosely) the game and offer advantages such as power-ups and shortcuts that benefit the player behind a pay-wall. This crappy style of business practise has exploded over recent years, completely devouring the mobile market altogether and overshadowing actual mobile games such as Monument Valley which I’ve written about previously. It’s difficult to find a legitimate game on the mobile app store these days that does not offer some kind of in-app purchase.
There’s no doubt that Candy Crush Saga will see further success on Windows 10 when unsuspecting owners find it already installed on their personal computers after upgrading to their new operating system. But it begs the question, does it really deserve to be there alongside the classic greats like Minesweeper and FreeCell? Not in my opinion.
Enter Minecraft, indie gaming’s biggest success story, a household name and and absolute indie giant. A game that I think needs no further introduction, you’ve most likely played it or watched someone else play it at least once since its conception in 2009. You may also have heard that Microsoft recently purchased Minecraft for the modest sum of US $2.5 billion last year, not a bad investment. To date, Minecraft has sold over 60 million copies over a number of platforms and its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson has since retired from leading its development and currently resides in a rather impressive mansion in Beverly Hills, California.
The Minecraft craze among children particularly has been totally insane, probably dwarfing the popularity Pokémon had for my generation growing up in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Some content creators make money simply streaming the game for others and creating videos of themselves playing it. Kids don’t just love playing Minecraft, they love simply watching it too. Like many others, I’ve spent a decent amount of time playing with the multiplayer sandbox building block adventure game. I remember first trying it back in 2009 when it was only just catching on and existed only as an in-browser block-building game; later hosting and playing on my own multiplayer server with a group of friends, we had an absolute blast while it lasted and it was pretty clear just what it was about it that also had both children and adults hooked.
Minecraft inspires kids to create, not just play. When Mum and Dad walk past little Jimmy’s bedroom and see him glued to his TV engrossed in all its pixelated voxel imagery, they probably don’t realise just how hard his little imagination is working and the things his little developing brain is creating. Unlike my childhood spent enslaving, trading and battling colourful little monsters, today’s kids are hard at work building their dream houses, creating intricate machines and learning to cooperate with one another; highly reminiscent of the days before video games when children were left outdoors with nothing but their imagination, probably hitting each other with sticks and reenacting things they’d seen on television. Next time you see your child or younger sibling playing Minecraft, stop and ask them to show you exactly what it is they’re doing, you may be surprised.
In fact the benefits of playing Minecraft and video games in general have been thoroughly studied and documented over the years. Did you know one school in Stockholm, Sweden even requires that their 13 year olds play Minecraft? One study showed that “video game players, regardless of gender, reported higher levels of family closeness, activity involvement, attachment to school and positive mental health”, other educational institutes have taken steps to incorporate Minecraft into the classroom to help younger students learn in new ways while teaching the benefits of teamwork and cooperation. There’s no doubt that Minecraft has numerous positive benefits on children (although it can sometimes be dangerously addictive). But of course there are plenty of adults and teens that enjoy Minecraft also, I may have been in my late teens when I first discovered it, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up with such a game. Minecraft has received considerable praise for its influence on children and families alike.
Which brings me to my main point. Microsoft, don’t you think it would be better to include a brilliant and positive game like Minecraft which you just happen to already own with Windows 10? Rather than the shallow and money-grabbing time-waster that is Candy Crush Saga?
Microsoft have previously claimed they want to have a more gaming-orientated focus with their latest iteration of Windows, with a tighter connection to both Windows Phones and the Xbox One system as well as a more solid commitment to the PC gaming community as a whole. But this announcement seems almost like a joke; going completely against all that they’ve said in the past. Would Windows 10 really benefit from the inclusion of a disposable game like Candy Crush Saga from a developer as out-of-touch with core gamers as King? A game focused purely on revenue versus a game that has inspired and captured the imagination of a generation. A game that’s simply part of a trend like that Crazy Frog ring tone or the ‘planking’ craze versus a hugely successful franchise with a bright future ahead of it. I know I’d much rather see a productive and creative game like Minecraft have the honour of being included with the world’s most-used operating system over a mobile game that has peaked in popularity and is well on the way out.
Such a move could bring the world of Minecraft to new audiences that might not have previously been exposed to it while also heavily associating the Microsoft name with its newest multi-billion dollar acquisition, it would be a great way to build brand recognition. Microsoft’s plans for Minecraft aren’t all that clear at this point, but it would be a safe bet to assume they have a successor or at least new content in the works. What better way to promote and encourage sales of further Minecraft products than by gifting Minecraft to those that don’t own it and solidifying the relationship between Microsoft and gamers new and old? I’m no business man, but after selling over 60 million copies of the game already, I don’t think it would be too much of a hit to Microsoft’s revenue to bundle Minecraft with Windows 10 even just for a limited time and expand the game’s reach to newer and broader audiences. Sure, it may not make a whole lot of financial sense initially, but with the release of Minecraft Realms, a subscription service that easily allows players to purchase and run their own Minecraft Server with ease, revenue for the game would still pour in. If profits are still a problem, why not offer new paid content and services for the game through the Windows Store to help promote it? Seems like a win-win to me. King deserves neither the publicity or the revenue, what have they done that has earned them such a partnership other than bully the little guy and part fools with their money?
The appeal of Minecraft is universally broad, innocent, inoffensive and well-liked, bundling it with Windows 10 over Candy Crush Saga seems to benefit almost everybody, a small trade-off of revenue for fantastic publicity and worldwide brand association between Microsoft and Minecraft. But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world and money is what talks most. Why give away a hugely successful game like Minecraft when a seedy developer like King will give you money to promote garbage like Candy Crush instead? At the end of the day I know which game I’d rather have my future children play, and I know which game will still be around in 10 years time. (Spoiler: It won’t be Candy Crush Saga)