candy crush

3 Unexpected business lessons I got from playing Candy Crush

February 19, 2014
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candy crush 3 Unexpected business lessons I got from playing Candy Crush

First, I just need to say this.

I didn’t want to play Candy Crush. I was one of those people that quietly judges others for playing those games. Especially when they are poking and prodding me on social media to join them. It’s really not my thing; unless you count the time I played Tetris for two weeks in college and started dreaming in geometric shapes. But I digress.

WTH is Candy Crush?

For those not in the know about Candy Crush, it is a mobile app game that you can play on your phone or tablet – maybe a computer (I never have tried that). It’s free to download. The basic premise is a grid of candies in different colors and shapes, and you move them around to get three matchy ones in a row. When you achieve this, you are rewarded with more candies to move on the board, along with encouraging voice prompts like “Tasty” or “Sweet” (I wish you could actually hear the voice as you read this, because it’s part of what makes this silly game fun (here is a sampling from YouTube).

bar 3 Unexpected business lessons I got from playing Candy Crush
I started playing it by accident – okay, not by accident, that was a lie. I really am still shamed by this secret crush. The truth is that I downloaded it for my daughter. She saw it on the app store and wanted it. I figured what the heck, it’s free and looks harmless. I might get some work done while she plays on my iPad.



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The First Download

It took her about thirty minutes to really understand the game – she is five, so don’t judge. It took another 10 minutes for me to get sucked in while watching over her shoulder. I eventually realized that I was sitting on my hands to keep myself from reaching over her sweet little shoulder to drag a purple candy into a row of other purple candies – I mean, it was right there in front of her and she wasn’t seeing it – but I didn’t want to be that mom. So I sat on my hands. I distracted myself by reading work emails on my phone, once in a while looking up when she giggled and imitated the funny voice saying “Suuuhweeet”.

Addiction Becomes Us

I’m not proud of it, but this game became part of her bedtime ritual. She would actually go to bed early so that there was extra time to still read three books and also play Candy Crush for 20 minutes. I was a stickler for the time limit – you know, being a mom who doesn’t want a child to rot her brain on candy games.

Then one night, no longer sitting on my hands, I was reaching into her game for the millionth time and she politely pulled my hand away from the screen, turned to me and shared her kind council… “Mommy, I think you can play my game on your own phone, can’t you?” I sat quietly for a few minutes and then downloaded it on my phone. We sat together playing the same game. It was fun.

Over the next few days, without words, we had spontaneously created our own rules for playing next to each other. When I had a sprinkle (a special reward for getting five in a row that can be used to take out an entire shape or color at once) on my screen, she got to decide how I would use it. When she needed to match a striped candy with a wrapper on, I would help her find a way to do it. Like that. It became our little inside joke. Everything was “Suuuhweet” or “Taaaaasttyyyyy” with much giggling and mommy-daughter bonding. This you cannot get from an episode of Dora.

Oh Yeah, The Lessons

So after a while, I realized that I was actually learning some real-life strategies by playing this game with my daughter. Not lessons about how to match colors and shapes. My lessons from Candy Crush were about work and real life. About strategy and focus and keeping the thing the thing. I’ll explain.

Business Lesson #1 from Candy Crush: Keep Focus on the Real Goal

Each level of the game starts with a clear goal. Example: Clear all the jellies (jellies are squares on the grid that are filled with a shimmery gummy looking substance). It’s not that hard to clear the jellies. What is difficult is keeping to that goal. The game offers you a variety of colorful candies to match, sprinkles to zap, funny voices that talk when you go toward these distractions.

It’s really easy to lose sight of your goal – clear the damn jellies. It’s so easy to be distracted by the shiny candies and other “pay-offs” that you miss the bigger prize of moving up to the next level. I think we all do this in real life. There are always distractions and it’s easy to stop paying attention to the real goals you have when there are so many other things to do, offering immediate pay off.

Once I mastered this in Candy Crush, it became pretty easy to move up quickly, and I found myself sitting at my desk trying to figure out what things on my work calendar were distractions and what were really going to help me get to my goals for work. And productivity went up. Go figure.

Business Lesson #2 from Candy Crush: Slow Down and Survey The Board

The visuals and sounds in this game have that same sensory “thing” you get in a casino where you can put your money into a slot machine, rapid-click the button to add multiple credits, and keep bells ringing and lights flashing – it’s so fast that you don’t even realize you’ve spent $500 over the last hour in quarters. It’s an adrenaline rush. To be clear, this game isn’t offering me any kind of a payout. I’m not going to hear sirens go off, clutch my heart and stumble backward as I sign IRS documents to accept a huge cash prize for playing this game (I didn’t make up that scene in my head – I watched someone win $250K on a slot machine once and that’s what he did).

But there are moments when you’re playing Candy Crush and you find your rhythm, you’re clicking, you’re moving quickly, you’re thinking you’re doing great and then bam – no more clicks – and you didn’t get to the next level. What happened? You were so busy clicking and thinking you were amazing at this game that you didn’t stop and look at what else was available. You kept your eyes trained on one spot and reacted to changes you made in that corner of the screen – meanwhile, you missed a huge jackpot opportunity on the opposite side of the board.

What’s the hurry? Why do humans do this? I do it at work too. I read an email, reply with my immediate thoughts and send it. Inevitably I have another thought and have to send another reply. Then another. My co-workers know this. It’s a bad habit. Now that I’ve spent some quality time with my friend Candy Crush, I’m at least aware of my tendency to do this. I make a conscious effort now to stop and survey the board. I pause before responding. Speed is not the goal. It’s a good lesson. I need practice.

Business Lesson #3 from Candy Crush: A Little Healthy Competition Can Be Motivating

This is not a competitive game, and there aren’t players pitted against players. In fact, you can give other players on the game your extra time and other nifty gifties. The thing is, you can see where others are on the game. You can see your Facebook friends on the game. And it’s just there. You don’t really care if you’re “winning” until you pull ahead of others, and then you’re #winning even if there is no winning in Candy Crush.

And then, something switches over in your brain and you are unwilling to yield that lead if at all possible. Is this healthy? I don’t have any idea. But I know that when I apply it to my work life, there is a strong correlation. Very recently in my world, some of my co-workers and I have started to have access to each other’s work objectives and achievements. It’s a new experience as we aren’t competitive (I didn’t think, anyway).

I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat of a leader and on top of my game. But when faced with spreadsheets and reports that show the accomplishments of others, there are a couple of categories where I am at the bottom half of the grid. Not the top? What? I’m doing great in the areas that I’ve focused on but who knew people were tracking other things??? And how long is it going to take me to fix this? These are actual questions I asked myself.

I’ve taken a step back and re-evaluated the way I do my work. I was leaving some things to chance while mastering what I was already good at. Now, with the rest of the team watching, I’m struggling to correct course. But by God, I’m correcting it. And honestly, I wouldn’t have without seeing the rest of the team’s performance in those other areas. It’s not a sweet pill to swallow. But Candy Crush served up this lesson just in time.

Bonus Lesson: Free is not free and you know it

I’m an adult person. An American consumer. I know there’s no free lunch. But free apps are easy to justify. And yeah… we all know this. Candy Crush is free. To download. It has built in stops for play, meaning that it will force you to stop playing after a few rounds if you fail to get to the next level. It makes you wait 2 minutes, 4 minutes – sometimes 6 minutes to be able to start again. Unless you click a little pink button that says Keep Playing and willingly pay 99 cents for something that would be free again in 2 minutes, or 4 mintues, or 6 mintues… depending on their algorithm’s assessment of your need for immediate gratification.

On the iPad, where my daughter plays this game, payments are disabled. Because she cannot be trusted to not pay for what should be free. My phone, though, is all set for payment. I cannot be trusted and shouldn’t be. I knew I had a problem the moment I clicked Keep Playing the first time. I knew what was happening. And it jolted me into reality. You try to set limits for yourself – I’m only going to click it once. You say it costs less than a manicure – and that’s true, but you still get the manicure. You make yourself stop clicking it and realize that the time limits on the game went back down to two minutes.

There are actually two business lessons here – one for the consumer side and one for the business side. Lesson for me: Don’t kid yourself. Free isn’t free and YOU KNOW IT. Bonus Lesson – Knowing your audience and predicting their behaviors can be a cash cow. Overall, I spent about $30 total on Candy Crush in a few months – and while I find that embarrassing to admit, it’s about the same as what I would have spent on lunch one time, so I’m over it.

What Now?

My daughter and I still play sometimes – though as things do, it has fallen back in her list of top apps to play at bedtime. I shattered my phone in a parking lot last month and haven’t downloaded Candy Crush on my new phone. Partly because I’m busy with lesson number three at work, and partly because I kind of liked watching my daughter play it herself and resisting the urge to reach in over her shoulder. It’s not something I see myself playing in the future. Well, unless someone turns it into a fun drinking game – nah, even that isn’t so fun anymore.

Things change. And things stay the same. And that’s ok with me. Candy Crush was a fun little distraction that packed some meaningful punch. If you have a five year old, I highly recommend it. We still say “Suuuhhhweeet” when something cool happens.

Niehoff speaks and writes about marketing strategy and best practices for small business and nonprofits. She is the Director of Education & Development for Constant Contact, and serves as Vice Chair of Marketing Communciations for the Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations



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