Often, cheating is understood as transgressive and non-playful. A breakdown of gameplay that diminishes the experience for everyone. Thinking of it this way, and defining it just as a 'violation of rules', is an unproductive way to think about cheating and its relationship to game design.
Back in 2014, we started looking at Candy Crush Saga, the frighteningly successful 'casual' game. We did a little work interviewing players about their experience in order to lay the foundations for a larger project that really brought home for us how significant a concept 'cheating' is for game design, and how its much, much more than just 'breaking the rules'.
In an early interview for this study, one of our participants brought up that they had cheated; they had downloaded a browser-extension that gave them unlimited moves. They provided some fascinating insights into how they justified their cheating (in order to level the playing field against their friends who made micro-transactions). Consequently, we started asking every participant in the study "have you ever cheated at Candy Crush?"
More often than not, our participants assumed we were talking about the in-game purchases that aren't just within the rules of Candy Crush, they're its entire (billion dollar) business model!
In this blog post, we're going to discuss the results of our research into cheating in Candy Crush Saga, unpack the motivations for cheating, and discuss the design implications for freemium casual games and explaining how a more nuanced understanding of 'cheating' can be useful for game design. For those who still don't know about this game, Candy Crush Saga is a puzzle game released in April 2012 on Facebook and November 2012 for mobile devices (iOS and Android). The game extends earlier tile-matching games like Bejeweled (itself an enormous, and relatively unstudied success) with a progression system, Facebook integration, limited ‘lives’ and increasing difficulty over time.