Candy Crush's Architects of Addiction

The ruthless engineering behind one of the world's most popular mobile games

Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

It's well past midnight on a Tuesday, and I'm chasing a Candy Crush high again. Staring at my iPhone, I am trying to decide which of the game's neon yellow gumdrops to swipe into oblivion. I've been rearranging the same pieces of candy on the same square grid for three days, and I am finally about to score enough points to win. My pulse quickens. My finger flicks. "Sugar crush!" booms a voice from the phone as rainbow-colored fireworks explode onscreen. Thirty-six levels down — and several hundred to go.

I may be addicted, but at least I'm not alone. In the past year, Candy Crush Saga has been downloaded some 500 million times and played more than 150 billion times. The game got off to a slow start as an online game two years ago, but after some design changes expressly intended to thwart players tempted to put it down, it has become a global phenomenon — popular everywhere from Brazil to Hong Kong.

The rules of play are simple: line up three candies of the same color and repeat. But within that basic premise, Candy Crush's maker, a London-based software company called King, has devised an apparatus that is almost frighteningly effective at turning new players into fanatics — and making money too.

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