POSTED: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 3:19pm
UPDATED: Sunday, June 30, 2013 - 12:59pm
(CNN) — Julia Enright often plays at night while watching TV. Billy Byler plays in the airport while waiting for his flight. University student Breanna Reboca, a skilled multitasker, plays on her phone while walking to class.
Their addiction? "Candy Crush Saga," an easy-to-play, hard-to-master puzzle game that's seemingly ensnared everyone from your kids to your co-workers to your Aunt Sally. Launched last year, the game is now the most popular app on Facebook, where it has almost 32 million fans.
"Candy Crush," as it's usually called, also is among the most-downloaded mobile games for Android and Apple devices and has more than 15 million daily users, according to AppData, an analytics firm. The game has been such a hit for its creator, London-based game publisher King, that the company has plans to go public, according to a report Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal.
Like predecessor "Bejeweled," to which it's often compared, "Candy Crush" requires players to form chains of brightly colored tiles -- shaped like jelly beans, lemon drops and other candy pieces -- to earn points and advance. The game also borrows from mobile-game blockbuster "Angry Birds" in that players must successfully complete one level before going on to the next.
"It looks like the most childish, simple, throwaway game you could ever think of. And then you start playing it," said Byler, a pastor to young adults in Wichita, Kansas. "It's challenging, and a real test on your brain, because you really have to think about what your next move is going to be."
The phone version of the game has 365 increasingly difficult levels, and it's not unusual for daily players to be stuck on a level for several weeks at a time -- a source of much frustration for many Facebook commenters.
The basic version of the game is free, although players only get five "lives," or chances, a day without paying for more. Some obsessed players have even hacked the game to get access to unlimited play.
Enright, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, got hooked after she began playing the game three months ago with her boyfriend. Now she's on level 213.
"I got a lot further than he did, and now he's given up," she said, with a trace of pride. "I've always liked puzzle games -- 'Tetris' and games like that."
Players also can share their "Candy Crush" progress with friends via Facebook -- something that Byler was reluctant to do at first because he was weary of friends posting "FarmVille" updates.
"I didn't want to be that guy," said Byler, who limits his "Candy Crush" public postings to other players within the game itself. Byler is on level 254 and has been surprised by how hard it can be for him to put the game down.
"If I'm not careful, it can suck up a half hour or an hour real quick," he said. "I have to put the phone down and read a book or something."
The game's cruelly seductive nature has even inspired a spoof trailer for a fake film, "Candy Crush: The Movie," about people grappling with their addictions to "Candy Crush," "Temple Run" and other mobile games.
"In the beginning, it's fine. You can go in and out of these (game) worlds as you please," says one character. "The thing is, the longer you stay in this world (of "Candy Crush"), the more likely you are to be imprisoned." The clip has been viewed on YouTube more than 3.6 million times.
Casual mobile games appeal to people like Enright because unlike traditional console games, they can be played in bite-sized chunks while waiting for a bus. A game like "Candy Crush" also feeds on people's competitive nature. Who wants to quit halfway through when there are more levels waiting to be conquered?
"I really enjoy it. It helps pass the time," Enright said. "I'm going to just keep going until they run out of levels."
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