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How King's Candy Crush making 'factory' creates hits

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Stephane Kurgan, Candy Crush Saga developer King Digital Entertainment's Chief Operating Officer, is the executive in charge of what he calls "the factory" — the part of the business tasked with creating games. 

"However, this is a different kind of factory, because we keep running our products for years after they get out of the production line," Kurgan said today during a Q1 2014 financial earnings call. "For example, Candy Crush Saga was launched a little more than two years ago, and we are still actively managing the game and continuously updating it with new content and features.

"In short, we run a service business."

During the company's first financial call after it became a publicly traded company in March, Kurgan explained how King makes games. 

According to Kurgan, King's success rests on five pillars: art, craft, science, technology and marketing — each of which has to be balanced with the other. 

The art pillar encompasses more than 180 titles. The developer launches single-level games on its website and monitors its most competitive players, many of whom have been playing King's games for as long as a decade. The most popular games become candidates for mobile and social platform ports. 

That leads to the craft pillar, a process of creating what Kurgan calls "game envelopes."  King adds monetization options, multiple levels and social hooks. "Saga" is King's "main envelope," which encompasses games like Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heros Saga.  

"In short," he said, "we design game envelopes to turn great game ideas into deep, social, interactive entertainment experiences. All of our current mobile and Facebook Saga games originated from royalgames.com."

The next pillar, science, encompasses economics, mathematics and statistics with more  than 50 employees dedicated to "game and network optimization." Science also covers quality because of King's belief that "retention is synonymous with quality." 

"We make great games and design them to suit the mobile lifestyle."

King's technology pillar is about creating "highly scalable technology" that powers its games in cross-platform environments, while its marketing pillar is designed to spread the word about its games to new and existing users. 

"The main objective of our ... marketing is to maximize the aggregate value of our network," he said, and King shifts his efforts between platforms and geographical areas as it sees fit. Kurgan credits the success of Farm Heroes Saga, which launched earlier this year and entered the top 10 chart in Google Play and iOS, to the company's cross-promotion prowess. 

The company's strategy seems to be paying off. During the same call, King CEO Riccardo Zacconi said that the company's network of players grew to 352 million monthly unique users — an increase of 16 percent from Q4 2013. 

"This means we have more players playing at least one of our games each month than the entire population of the United States," Zacconi said. 

In Q1 2014, King grew its average daily active users to 143 million. That's nearly quadruple the 36 million average daily users from the same time last year and an increase of 15 percent from Q4 2013. 

"Our vision is to be the leading interactive entertainment company for the mobile world," he said. "In simpler terms, we make great games and design them to suit the mobile lifestyle.

"Consumption habits have changed. Mobile has meant that people consume more digital content than ever before, and they want to be entertained over short periods of time, whenever and wherever they are. We develop casual games, a category of games which typically include a puzzle element, are easy to learn but hard to master and can be played in a few minutes on any screen size and any device, and their form perfectly fits mobile consumption habits."

Be sure to read Polygon's coverage of King's Q1 2014 financial results to learn more about the company's recent success.