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Why Candy Crush Saga is so Engaging - An Audio Breakdown

A surgery of the audio in the game everyone is playing and why it makes me one very happy audio designer!

@PJBelcher http://pjbelcher.com/

PJ Belcher

July 12, 2013

7 Min Read

We've all played it, we've all seen every other person on Facebook play it, but have you ever wondered why it's so popular? Let's take a look at Candy Crush Saga.

In short, it's very well made, excellently designed and very cleverly implemented onto Facebook. And I'm sure there are many other people on the internets that can give you an run down about why it's so good from a game design perspective, a monetisation perspective etc... but what pleases me so much about the game is the audio.

The game is very audio content rich, there's plenty of it, it's well designed and for the best part well made. And I'm happy about this - too often do I find developers underestimating the value of audio. It's either left till last, done themselves, done as cheap as possible or worse not done at all! And this has been worrying me until Candy Crush Saga came along.

The game is massive, incredibly popular, has good customer retention and user acquisition is still on going. The audio is also very in depth, good quality and well designed. The 2 are not coincidental.

So let's look at what the audio in Candy Crush does, and what it adds to the game. I always say the best audio design is that, that isn't so in-your-face that you're constantly conscience of it, and isn't so subtle that it adds nothing to the game, but is a perfect middle ground. Where it can sit there doing it's job perfectly, reiforcing game events, adding depth and building emotion whilst not being a distraction.

I'm biased, I purposely listen out for the audio in games, that's my job! And reading this article may also make you artificially aware of it, but from a blank slate Candy Crush is doing a pretty good job of it.
So how about the specifics?

The game has one main piece of music that plays on loop while you attempt to solve the puzzle (There are also pieces for the cut scenes and the level menu, for which the following also applies). The music is fitting and sets the scene well. It covers any silence that the player may otherwise be sitting in, compliments the sound effects well and draws the user's and other player's attention to the game. That last part is important, and often forgotten. If you want you game to stand out and shout louder than the rest then actually give it a voice! Candy Crush has that piece.

Unfortunately it plays on loop in game, which is a tricky subject. To me, any music, no matter how good, if played enough times will become boring. The game has an easy 'music mute' button which is good step in the right direction (a frustrated player is not a good one!). What I would suggest though, would be too have the piece play on loop once or twice each new level or game, then stop. That way the player doesn't become irritated to the point of switching it off and it continues to add worth to the game while it does play. King, if you're reading this, you can have that one for free ;)

Spoken voice is a great tool for games and so often goes unused! I guess developers find the process daunting, you have to write and proof a script, find and audition a voice actor, get the lines recorded, then edit, produce and master the audio which is a skill in itself.

Candy Crush has great use of spoken voice with single lines being voiced by a great, deep, sultry American tone, backed up by on screen text. Delicious! Spoken voice is great, it sounds unique, has far more depth, dynamics, nuances and timbre than most other sounds. Minus language barriers, it's widely understood and can be easily repeated! You've got people walking around say 'Divine' and 'Sugar Crush' they're promoting your game and you've just got yourself a catch phrase. Try doing that with the jump sound from Mario, we all know it, but I bet you can't do it with your mouth!

User Interface:
UI sounds often go unconsidered in a game, but they are very important. Having a resultant to the user's input is key to making any game feel visceral. If the user makes an input, and nothing happens (even if their input is incorrect) then this is very frustrating to the user. The player needs constant feedback, whether what they've done is correct or wrong, good or bad, re-enforce this, and the best way is with sound design. This rings even more true on Mobile since there's often a touch screen, the user is even more disconnected, at least with a mouse and keyboard you have a buttons (which move and make mechanical sounds) and a pointer on the screen.

Candy Crush's UI sound design is well laid out, each menu advancement has a sound, each regression, each item clicked has a sound (This is true in game too). Even when a new menu swoops in, that has a sound to fill the gap while you wait for the animation to end and you can once again interact with the menu. All very important!

Sound Design:
Unfortunately all the sound design seems to be at a low sample rate and other pieces sound heavily compressed. I'm assuming this is due to trying to keep asset load down (the game already loads comparably slowly) and simply destroying the quality of audio files is the easiest way to do it. Although I am glad they'd rather keep extra content at the sacrifice of quality, instead of just omitting sound files.

This is a shame though, since, with some thought this doesn't have to be the case.

The only other audio criticism (aside from a bug I noticed where multiple dialogue pieces can play at once, if you're reading King?) I would have, is that none of the animated cut-scenes have sound design. This strikes me as very odd and a missed opportunity. Sure there's music, but the game's very cartoony and you're developing a storyline, build this with sound.

This aside - the audio content is good, and very well thought out. The audio design is almost there entirely to reinforce the good things the player does. Think of each sound as a good pat on the back, a well done for doing that right, here's a little audio gift. The game also has little or NO negative reinforcement, which is odd for a game, but a very clever design tactic, especially in a casual game like this. This is no mistake and it's the audio's job to back this up.

The only 2 negative sounds I can think of are the error noise, when you attempt to do a move that you can't. It's not nice, and you quickly learn the game rules. And the other is when you Fail a level, there's a downward scale on a piano there's the sound of someone crying and a swoosh, but it doesn't matter right? You can try again! It's light hearted, and still conveys the message it needs to.

Now for the positive sound design. You eliminate a row, cue nice sound. You eliminate several rows with one move? Each subsequent row has the same sound, but a semi-tone higher. This gives the feeling of elevation, building jubilance - an even bigger pat on the back. Then to really put the cherry on the cake you get told it's 'Delicious'.

Audio design like this is true throughout the whole game, majority positive and does a brilliant job of really bringing home just how much of a happy experience playing Candy Crush saga really is. So you tell your friends, you play some more and the cycle continues.

Like I said,,,,,, very clever. And I'm very glad to see good use of audio design in such a popular game and I hope more people can now see the value of audio in a game and more importantly, what it can do for your game aside from just being an added aesthetic or 'necessity'. Don't begrudged the audio in your game, use it. You just need to find the right audio designer.

Thanks for reading!

PJ Belcher

Follow me on Twitter for regular updates on the games world and audio!


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PJ Belcher


PJ Belcher is the owner and operator of PJ Belcher Pro Audio, a freelance Sound Design and Music Audio Production company for games, based in Cambridge, UK. He first started looking at different user interfaces (UI's) and their application in real-time music performance when he noticed the potential of the iPhone. This led to the development of an interactive music system designed for the iPhone based on it's unique UI's. This allowed PJ to develop a broad knowledge of the iOS devices and what effects it has on audio design. Since then he has worked on audio for iPhone in a variety of projects, utilizing the skills and information he has establised.

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