Tjodolf Sommestad is on level 4,447 in Candy Crush Saga, the iconic mobile game made by King that turns over billions of pounds a year.
The president of the Swedish video game developer pulls this figure off the top of his head – “I just played it on my flight to London” – and, with a smile, he remarks, “I’ve only got 10,000 to go!”
Now turning over more than $2bn a year, Candy Crush is the undisputed jewel in King’s crown, with over 5bn downloads since its inception in 2012.
A mobile game created over ten years ago, is it time for King to diversify? Sommestad seems to think not.
He firmly believes the mobile gaming sector is still the one to chase, with Candy Crush’s heyday far from over.
“We’re really focused on mobile, we do have some games on the web you can play in the browser but we want to be where players can be,” he said.
“Here and now there’s so many players that have a mobile phone and that’s a really great device for us to present our mobile games on, we’re really leaning into that opportunity right now.”
Recent research from Enders Analysis seems to echo his sentiment, projecting the global mobile games market to surge past $115bn (£94.5bn) annually by 2025 – dwarfing the combined revenues of the global music and box office industries.
“In the long term future, if cloud gaming would give us the possibility to reach more players, we would be interested,” added Sommestad.
For now though he is interested in “mastering mobile” where he reckons there is still a lot to be done, especially with the company’s most beloved game.
Back in 2012, King foresaw the mobile frontier as the future for ‘freemium’ games, a model that allows free downloads with in-game purchases, and launched Candy Crush.
The decision has paid off handsomely. In 2021, the blockbuster game amassed $1.2bn (£987m) in revenue, securing its position as the seventh highest-grossing mobile title.
Last year, the developer’s revenue hit almost $2.8bn (£2.3bn).
“Candy Crush is really phenomenal and we’re going to keep making it better. It’s here to stay,” said Sommestad, who describes himself as an introvert and has had to overcome anxieties of public speaking at the helm of the company.
But with every new smartphone generation comes new niggles which developers have to fix to ensure there are zero disruptions for candy crushers.
According to chief technology officer Steve Collins, King is using artificial intelligence (AI) to “supercharge the business” and push Candy Crush to reach new levels – literally.
With the help of Peltarion, a Swedish AI software firm that King bought last year, AI is driving data insights that can make games more fun for players by more accurately predicting what users like. In turn, this enables King to optimise ads and boost revenues from gamers who play for longer.
Can King make a game to rival Candy Crush’s success?
“Well, that’s crystal ball territory,” said Collins, “You know, we have a great big game called Candy Crush. So in some sense, it’s our responsibility to keep that going,” he added.
As of September, Candy Crush offers 15,065 levels on the Windows app, with 14,960 available on Facebook, iOS, Android, and various mobile devices.
Todd Green, the general manager of Candy Crush, said King is “chipping away at thousands of levels every day”, continually crafting fresh challenges for their players.
But, for Green, the challenge lies in evolving the Candy Crush franchise and the company as a whole amid a highly competitive mobile gaming market.
“King has done a masterful job in keeping Candy Crush relevant and enticing,” said Gareth Sutcliffe, equities analyst at Enders analysis. “There is no reason to doubt that AI will provide a useful angle to attract and retain audience.”
“The broader issue is King’s lack of portfolio diversification and inability to replicate such a successful franchise. The eventual new owners, Microsoft, will be right to expect more,” he added.
King has been owned since 2016 by Call of Duty creator Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft is currently trying to snap up, subject to official regulator approval.