I know my mom plays Candy Crush Saga in her free time. I know this not because she told me about it on her own, but because her activity in the game dominated my Facebook feed for a moment in time.
While I was sharing pictures and videos of her grandson at play, she was sharing her accomplishments in a match-three puzzle game. Quite a trade-off, if you ask me.
That stopped. My mom hasn't stopped playing the game, of course, she's just figured out how to turn off all the feed spam on the side of the application.
My mom obviously knows I write about games for a living. She also knows that the games I write about and the games she plays for fun have a large gap between them. I'm not much for Candy Crush Saga, and she's not much for games like Titanfall. You might share the same type of disconnect between games with your parents, aunts, uncles, friends or siblings.
My mom and I aren't special in this regard.
With all the craziness that's gone on with King.com, the makers of Candy Crush, and their trademark pursuit of words like "Candy" and "Saga," I started to talk to my mom about the game.
During our first conversation, she sort of sheepishly owned up to the fact that she's actually put money into the free-to-play experience that is Candy Crush Saga. She's part of that less-than-one-percent demographic of players that actually pays to play. The crazy part? She's almost embarrassed by this.
She's not "put Quasimodo in the belltower" embarrassed. Just, you know, a little ashamed.
I wanted to know why. So she agreed to let me talk to her, which didn't take much asking, and do up a story on it.
"So, I spent the 99 cents."
It wasn't that my mom plays Candy Crush Saga that was interesting to me. It wasn't even necessarily that she dumped money into the game. It was the way she perceived the transaction that I found so fascinating.
"I guess I'd been playing the game for about four or five months," she told me. "I couldn't get over this hurdle. I hit a wall. No matter how many times a day I'd play it, no matter what I'd do, I just couldn't get past it."
My mom told me that she typically plays for around 30 minutes to an hour of the game every night. It's a way to relax for her, much like rounds of NHL or FTL: Faster Than Light are for me. It's what we do in our downtime.
I asked my mom how the money switch flipped. I asked her what, at that moment, took Candy Crush Saga from an entirely free game to one that she'd pay for.
"It became almost like a quest," my mom explained. "I had to get over this hurdle. I had to get to the next level. I was tired of being stuck, all my other friends were surpassing me, and it was really bothering me."
"So, I spent the 99 cents."
This was at around level 154, she later explained. She knew this because her friends would talk to her about how easy the game was. She'd interject with "yeah, well wait until you hit 154." My dad, it turns out, was stuck on the same level for a while.
They both were. For months, actually. That didn't stop my mom from getting a little buyer's remorse, though.
"I felt like, maybe, it was a bad thing to do. You know? How could I let this game beat me? There was a little remorse, not for the 99 cents, but that I let the game beat me. I let it get to me."
For my mom, and I'd imagine for a lot of Candy Crush fans, paying money was like losing.
"It's a lot like lying…it gets easier the second time."
It was at about level 154 that my mom hit her first paywall, and it was then that she dumped 99 cents into Candy Crush Saga. She doesn't do the value packs, the ones that are slightly more expensive but get you a bigger return. She does the cheapest one… I didn't ask, but I think it's a little bit of her guilt that keeps her from going higher.
I asked her if she'd be willing to dump more money into the game now than before her first transaction.
"A few weeks later, I did it again!" It was around this point that my mom kept telling me not to tell my dad. I will, by the way. Dad's totally going to hear about this. He'll rub it in, and I know she'll turn it around on him and throw one of his $1.99 Facebook game transactions in his face.
My parents always go after each other like that.
The microtransactions, my mom told me, the ones that felt like losing before? "They became easier." After that first purchase, it was a lot easier to drop money into the game.
This isn't the point where my mom's story turns into one about how a retired woman dumps $100s of dollars into a single Facebook game. My mom didn't do that. She stopped at around $8.00 spent, though I'm sure she'll cough up a few more bucks between now and when the Candy Crush Saga is over.
But, once that first microtransaction was made, my mom told me that it's like the adage about telling fibs. "It's a lot like lying," she jokingly explained. "It gets easier the second time."
And All Her Friends Are Playing, Too
You ever hang out in large groups with your friends at, maybe, a bar or at someone's house? If your friends are a little bit nerdy, conversation might shift towards video games.
Now, my parents and their friends aren't nerdy. Well, not about video games. But they talk about Candy Crush Saga.
"How did you beat this level?," they might ask one another. "What did you do to make this easier, or how did you move up to the next level?" The answer, my mom said, is always "perseverance."
They beat each level by being patient, or so they all say. My mom told me that she'd never, ever tell her friends that she spent money on the game to advance. She's actually a little mad that this article will reveal her secret.
Like she explained earlier, paying money is like losing, and she doesn't want her friends to know that she lost.
"Perseverance, mom?," I asked. "When they say that, do you ever think to yourself 'oh, shut up, I know you paid to win?'"
"Oh yes. Oh yes. They'll never admit it, though. 'Oh no, I never pay, never…'" she was getting a little sarcastic here, of course. "You know darn well they pay."
My mom is in the late 200s in Candy Crush, a level she asserts really isn't all that impressive. I got to 30 before I quit, so I wouldn't know. Her friends? Some of them are in the 350s and later. I got my mom to tell me about some of her friends at that level, folks I've known for literally my entire life. We laughed when names of people I would never in a million years expect to play something like Candy Crush were dropped.
Her friends in the 350s? I asked her if she thinks they paid money. "Oh, absolutely. Absolutely." She was really assertive there, the way she only gets when she knows she's right about something.
I asked her to clarify. "There's no reasonable way those people made it to that level without paying money. No way."
Of course, they'd never admit it.
There's No Giving Up the Game
I asked my mom what would make her stop playing Candy Crush. She let me throw the word "addicted" around a bit before getting to this point. She totally admits to being addicted, too.
"Another Candy Crush" is what she said will be the replacement. "Until something better than Candy Crush comes along," and it will, "I'll stick with this."
My dad's quit playing, though. "I think it got the best of him," my mom told me. I know, right? It's like Candy Crush to my dad turned into some insanely hard game that was more frustrating than fun. My mom figures it's because my dad never put money into the game.
He's dumped a few bucks into others, though.
I know it's just anecdotal evidence, but my mom's perspective on Candy Crush Saga sort of informed my opinion about the genre of Facebook and mobile gaming that depends on microtransactions. I'd never pay for Candy Crush. I have no reason to. My mom? She'll pay. Her friends? Of course.
Forget the trouble King.com has gotten itself into with the core gaming community over the trademark nonsense for a minute. The company has, for better or worse, produced a cheap and accessible product that's given folks like my parents something to do in their downtime.
My mom put at least 100 hours into the game before paying that first buck. A penny per hour of play? That's a rarity in today's gaming world.
I asked my mom what she thought of King's attempt to trademark words like "Candy" and "Saga" at the end of our chat. She told me it's borderline ridiculous on their part. I asked her if it made her want to stop playing their games.
"Who cares?" she countered.
I guess I don't, either, mom.