Crushing the microcopy game? A Candy Crush UX writing review

Alana Fialkoff
Jun 23, 2020 · 10 min read
Two characters of Candy Crush Saga’s eccentric cast beam and give thumbs up beside the game’s title and token candy grid.
Image by Clayton Cyre on COGconnected

We all know a Candy Crush fiend. Their match-three swiping knows no bounds. Their level count pushes into the thousands. After its launch in 2012, practically everyone and their mother — really! their mother! — joined the candy crushing craze.

Consequently, Candy Crush notifications took Facebook feeds by storm. If you weren’t actively playing, your notification center filled to the brim with reminders you should. In fact, users were bombarded with so many “Joe Schmoe invited you to play Candy Crush Saga” messages that my quick Google of “turn off Candy Crush notifications” turned up over 1.95 million results. There’s even reports of people receiving Candy Crush notifications from deceased friends. Yikes.

For a game so vocal — my dad claims he receives at least 5 push reminders to play per day — conversation about their copy is pretty quiet. Articles about the app’s UX like this gameflow review are plentiful, but isolated microcopy reviews are few and far between.

I decided to change that. I’ve never succumbed to the Candy Crush beast, but this past week… well. I swallowed my pride to get a taste.

I chose to focus solely on the original Candy Crush Saga, which has gained over 273 million active players since its launch in 2012. What is King’s microcopy doing right? Where does it have room to grow?

In other words, how do in-game UX writing choices keep those 273 million users hooked?

Candy Crush keeps introductions short and sweet.

I tapped the Candy Crush icon and watched the opening screen leap to life, only to have my copywriter senses tingle. This loading screen microcopy markets your wait time and eventual click, promising an effective escape from your daily grind.

Three different Candy Crush loading screenshots, pulled from opening the app three separate times. Notice how Candy Crush cycles their opening CTA copy, marketing their game as a luxurious candy-coated escape.

Swipe the stress away.

Time to relax.

Escape the stress of today.

If Candy Crush users need to defend their cumulative time spent dragging tiny candy icons into three-piece combos, this is their pass. These 3–5 word lines populate the screen for a maximum of 4 seconds, just long enough for the user to scan and absorb their amicable call. Candy Crush is the chill friend of the group: the one who urges us to, “c’mon, kick back, relax!” on a weeknight.

Then comes the Did you know? section, 2–3 lines of game lore. From character candy favorites to hyperbolic claims about Candy Kingdom’s size, King’s UX writers give Candy Crush a story. And that’s what transforms this simple puzzle game into an immersive user experience.

Two examples of game lore shared in the “Did you know?” section of the loading screen.

Opening the Candy Crush app transports you away from the material world. Those tempting, friendly calls to action (CTAs) make users feel like kids strolling into a candy shop. Tap Play to open the door: you can practically hear the tinkling bell.

Easily navigated menus guide user action, but with lackluster clarity.

When the app opens, users choose to tap “Play” or “Retrieve My Progress.” You can also access settings by tapping a (well-camouflaged) pink gear.

1. Settings, the field title.

2. My Profile, a button leading to an account creation screen for all King games.

The Settings screen allows users to access their user profile, game instructions, and other settings. Clicking “My Profile” leads to an account creation screen where they can sign up with email, Facebook, or Apple ID.

3. How to play, a clickthrough that slides the user right, to a three-stack deck of directions. The copy here is quick and digestible. They do capitalize “candy” on the first slide but use lower case thereafter, which I found a bit off putting.

In the “How to play” sequence, animated characters demonstrate user actions.

4. Notifications. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. A user can opt in or out of notifications by toggling a switch.

The Notifications toggle switched to its On (green) and Off (red) settings, paired with assistive microcopy.

5. Features, a plural header that leads to a singular feature: the ability to opt in or out of in-game hints via a similar toggling mechanism. Maybe King planned on rolling out more user-controlled features for their game… As a writer myself, I think a more specific header like Hints would be more usable.

The Hints toggle with no assistive microcopy, switched green for On and gray for Off.

As a user well-acquainted with toggled settings, I experienced no guesswork before gameplay. Seasoned mobile app users will see toggles and act accordingly. However, the toggle design from Notifications differs from the one appearing in Features, with one switching from green On to red Off, and the other alternating between a green check and gray X. This might confuse users who first set their Notifications and then navigate to Features to set their hint preferences. On and off may implicitly correspond to the check and X, but omitting copy from the Hints toggle assumes every user will connect those dots. The UI wouldn’t suffer from two small word additions, especially since their absence does nothing to streamline user action. The UI would be better off if King’s UX writers stayed consistent with one toggle design and tacked those On and Off prompts beside both.

The game would earn more microcopy points if it featured some kind of standard onboarding sequence for new users. Besides hitting Play, users aren’t walked through the Settings framework at all: how to find it on the home screen, access its menu, and alter its components. It’s true, good designs are intuitive, but cold-introducing a user without filling their UI toolbox can be a bit alienating. Candy Crush doesn’t provide any written instructions for modifying game settings — I didn’t encounter any until my third time opening the game. And even so, if I had accidentally toggled in-game hints to the X option, I doubt I would have been prompted.

An in-game popup informs the user how to opt in or out of hints.

The game’s marketing microcopy could use a boost.

Users are prompted to view their boosters by clicking on “the profile.”

After one level of gameplay, the UI informed me that my “booster collection” can be found in my profile. Prior to this prompt, I hadn’t heard of a “booster collection,” nor had I been informed that the pig avatar at the top of the screen was meant to be my profile.

To me, a former English major used to Play-Dohing words and their meanings, Candy Crush’s 7-piece phrase leaves a bit too much room for interpretation:

“Your booster collection is inside the profile.”

If someone said this to me aloud, in person, would I be able to grasp what they meant? Or would the statement’s meaning suffer without added non-verbal clues? A user could assume the speech bubble is coming from the profile, that’s true. But they could also assume the supposed profile at the top of their screen is just another character persona used to provide helpful tips. With these ambiguities in mind, how helpful is this tip, really?

What does this “booster collection” do for me? How would it be an asset to my game performance? Leading with the benefit would be a useful move here — users are more likely to open links or tap buttons that emphasize why they’re worth the click.

I have a gripe with this prompt’s wording, too — the profile? Is it not my profile? Consistent pronouns and prepositions would help clarify the instruction and grant me more ownership of the act. An informed user is a happy user. If I were one of King’s UX writers, I might replace the text with something more personal and direct:

Enhance your gameplay with boosters. Tap this avatar to access your profile and collection.

Three C’s: Consistency, consistency, consistency.

Whether you’re on level 2 or level 3,872, Candy Crush microcopy reads the same. It’s playful, engaging, and uplifting. Sweet lines fly your way — even when you lose.

To test this, I (very purposefully, thank you) lost a few levels. At first, losing… didn’t really feel like losing. I didn’t want to quit. In lieu of a stereotypical Game Over screen, Candy Crush opens a window of potential boosters you can play or purchase as a last resort. The game doesn’t want you to throw in the towel. And that’s because they’re marketing: extending your level will cost ten gold bars, which can, of course, be purchased in-app.

When you’re about to lose, Candy Crush invites you to “Play On” by making in-app purchases.

But what happens if you don’t take the bait? I didn’t bite. And the end-of-level copy after you refuse those lifelines… That makes your loss more apparent.

The immediate level-loss screen (left) and followup panel (right) drive home a user’s failure.

From a marketing perspective, it’s brilliant. Nobody wants to hear they’ve failed. Associate negative emotions with losing a level and suddenly you’ve got an evergreen formula for continued user engagement. Players who win keep chasing that high, and players who lose keep trying to get a taste.

Candy Crush’s curling typeface and plentiful exclamation points maintain a lighthearted tone even in disappointing moments. Losing isn’t the end of the world, but it stings just enough. What’s there to do but give in and press Retry? If at first you don’t succeed…

Nobody logs in to Candy Crush expecting to get hooked. Nobody starts swiping candies expecting to swipe their card. But sweet victories and bittersweet downfalls make Candy Crush a money-making machine: the proof’s in the numbers.

However slick their business model is, Candy Crush’s copy isn’t as smooth. Its aversion to contractions makes some lines clunky. “Level failed! You did not reach the goal!” reads a bit robotic. “You did not clear all the jelly,” while factually accurate, doesn’t make for the most personable interaction.

The app’s play-reward gameflow works without a hitch. But its prompts could be more human. Candy Crush’s CTAs are sufficiently conversational, something its UX writers should’ve kept consistent across the entire game.

Let’s talk more about those sweet CTAs.

Upon level completion, a prince character throws confetti and
dances across the screen under the words, “Wonderful!” and
“Level completed!”

Candy Crush’s in-game prompts and level-based design make it a dopamine powerhouse. The game generated a lot of buzz when it first hit the app store — but its progressive challenges and rewards drive its staying power.

Particularly crafty swipes earn audio encouragements — “Tasty! — framed by bright pinks and blues. These in-game exclamations celebrate users throughout the puzzle solving process.

As UXers, we know users stay on a webpage when they’re actively engaged and motivated by its content. For gaming interfaces, the same idea holds.

Beat a level? Candy Crush bookends victory with encouraging copy (usually a positive adjective) and 1–3 gold stars depending on your score.

Candy Crush lures potential users with its fun format and entices them to keep coming back by recognizing their in-game accomplishments. These encouraging words spark dopamine rushes, an industry standard designed to motivate user engagement.

Dopamine production is directly linked to sustained user interaction. People are more likely to linger when they experience the rewards of tapping into something new. Candy Crush constructs this experience for its players by bookending each level with celebratory copy. Hence why users often spend hours rearranging sugar coated pixels: these dopamine doses transition them into flow, a state of extreme focus triggered by action-based delight.

A good example of this dopamine cycle in action lies in the level performance rating system. Each of the three stars has an adjective associated with it, and is afforded to a user based on how many points they acquire during a given level.

Get too used to earning a “Divine!” and anything less won’t do. Candy Crush’s copy helps make the game into a pursuit of validation. Beat a level, you’re rewarded. Purchase a booster, you reach that reward faster. Users are conditioned through positive reinforcement. Substitute gameplay for bells and rewarding lines for food — we’re looking at a modernized case of Pavlovian conditioning.

So the next time you encounter someone who just can’t put Candy Crush down, consider the gameflow. Consider the copy. This strong link between gameplay and positive feedback is engineered and effective.

Candy Crush shapes an immersive and rewarding experience. But before we give this candied UI three stars, its microcopy has its own leveling up to do.

We know Candy Crush excels at creating a positive user experience. Its game pattern doles out frustration and dopamine in cycles, encouraging sustained engagement with their UI. Until users beat a given level, they’ll keep trying, vying after that promised sweet reward.

But while the game’s fun, loving tone encourages players, its microcopy prioritizes brevity over clarity. Games should be fun and intuitive: but their UIs should also support user navigation so they can be enjoyed to their fullest.

From inconsistent toggle designs to unnatural level-fail text, Candy Crush gets away with some iffy UX writing choices. Can you really coax users through an experience with these disparities? Clearly, Candy Crush does — but sacrificed consistency begs sacrificed authority.

Candy Crush could sweeten its microcopy by adopting the following changes:

  • Comb through graphics and copy for consistency.
    The toggles in the Notifications and Features menus should match. If it doesn’t exist yet, compiling a game copy style guide could help unify UX writing decisions by defining brand voice. This could include a consistent rule on capitalizing “candy” in the gameplay instructions.
  • Incorporate more second-person pronouns into their direction prompts. Change the profile to your profile. Center game tips around the user to grant them more context and ownership over actions within the framework.
  • Supplement copy in places where the interface relies on user assumptions.
    In the UX-ified words of Fergie circa 2013, a little label never killed nobody. It’s better to provide succinct guidance than to leave a user to their own devices. (I’m looking at you, odd settings gear/flower from the main screen.)

In short? Candy Crush microcopy is pretty sweet — but it doesn’t quite crush the game.

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