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Apple Inc. and Candy Crush Saga Profit From a Facebook Connectivity Loophole

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Millions of unaware users may be getting swindled one dollar at a time.

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Syncing your iPhone (NASDAQ:AAPL) or Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) phone game with Facebook (NYSE:FB) could lead to unnecessary expenses.

In the case of Candy Crush Saga, a wildly popular game by UK-based developer King, Facebook connectivity eliminates a cost-free option to access new levels, at least on Apple's version of the app.

Candy Crush, launched for Facebook in April 2012, features differently colored candy-esque tiles on a board. Players attempt to strategically swap adjacent tiles in order to get identically colored candies to line up in rows of three, four, or five in an effort to accomplish specific objectives.

Using this simple premise, reminiscent of Bejeweled, as well as a smooth soundtrack and bright colors, King had 45.6 million Facebook users playing Candy Crush each month by March. In late June, rumors began to spread of King considering following in fellow casual game maker Zynga's (NASDAQ:ZNGA) footsteps and going public.

Like many successful mobile and social games, Candy Crush is initially free to play and makes the bulk of its profits off of in-app purchases. By offering 35 uninterrupted levels before cash is even mentioned, aside from purchasable "powerups" that make completing challenges easier, King strategically gives the player time to get addicted before confronting them with a purchasing decision.

It is the options available upon the completion of level 35, however, that are rather suspect.

I'm not too proud to admit that I'm one of the millions of players of this brightly colored, child-friendly game. I am, however, not a big fan of being swindled. Let me explain how it happened.

Upon my completion of the first 35 levels, I faced three options. I could sync to Facebook and "Ask friends" to play the game in order to help me advance. I could "Unlock now!" and just shell out $0.99 on the spot. Or I could "Play quests!" which essentially amounted to recompleting three previously beaten levels.

With wonky Internet access available on a train, I opted against syncing to Facebook or paying up, and began to replay levels. Though I had to wait 24 hours -- an excruciating time for an addict, designed to get you to give up and opt for the $0.99 option -- for successive quests to unlock after completing the first and second of the three, I did eventually manage to move on to the next set of levels without giving up a dime.

The confrontation in question -- "Ask friends," "Unlock now!" or "Play quests!" --- comes up every 10 to 20 levels, that is, however, unless the user decides to sync to Facebook. Upon doing so, only the "Ask friends" and "Unlock now!" options are available.

By syncing to Facebook then, the player eliminates the one option that enables them to continue unlocking new levels without nagging friends or paying additional cash. Given that many people are averse to being that "friend" who spams their friend list with game requests, this elimination of the one socially and monetarily cost-free option likely results in a substantial increase in $0.99 payments to unlock levels.

Apps that offer Facebook connectivity tend to do so because it enhances the in-game experience. For games like Words With Friends, for example, connecting to Facebook means being able to easily play with familiar people, rather than connecting with a random opponent.
Candy Crush, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to reach out to friends for additional lives and access to new levels.

Despite this, the opportunities and prompts to connect to Facebook are ever-present in the game, though Apple and King's wallets seem to be the primary beneficiaries whenever a user does so.

Candy Crush is currently listed as the top grossing app in Apple's App Store. Additionally, the App Store made 76% of its revenue from in-app purchases in February, reports Distimo.

This strange change of options may be completely unintentional, though King did not respond to Minyanville when asked if this occurrence on the iPhone version of its app is meant to occur. If it is a purposefully made development choice, however, Apple, King, and maybe even Facebook have some explaining to do.
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