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‘Candy Crush’ Creator on Loot Boxes, ‘Call of Duty’ Mobile

As the practice of selling randomized “loot boxes” in video games comes under increased legal scrutiny, the CEO of “Candy Crush” creator King told Variety he’s not worried about it impacting his company’s billion-dollar microtransactions.

“Our strategy is to focus first and foremost on making the game the most fun,” Riccardo Zacconi said. “Retention is our first concern, not monetization. We focus on two-day, seven-day, 10-day retention. You have to have a very long view of the game, not a short-term view of monetization.”

King, which just released its biggest take on the “Candy Crush” franchise in nearly half a decade, doesn’t rely on loot boxes to make money, instead it historically earned cash through microtransactions based chiefly on granting players more time to play its free games. But a majority of King’s players don’t actually spend money on the game, Zacconi said.

“Most of our players have never paid and it’s OK, we’re not trying to bring them in to pay,” he said, adding that the company recently rolled out advertising to its titles to help monetize those non-paying players.

Players now have the option when they run out of play time to pay for more time, watch a video advertisement, or simply wait until they earn more for free. That’s also true for “Candy Crush Friends Saga,” released this week, which includes the ability to unlock cute costumes for the many characters now in the game.

“We’re not going to go into loot boxes,” Zacconi said. “Video advertising is a new area we are building out. We’re making sure you can continue to play as soon as the video is over and that it is relevant to the player.”

The relatively new service is being developed in-house in partnership with an advertising firm.

Another shift the company is making after being purchased by Activision Blizzard in 2016, is an expansion outside of the casual games where it has for so long thrived. The company has been slowly moving into the mid-core and may soon have hardcore games in its slate of titles.

Earlier this year, King released “Legend of Solgard,” a game that combines the casual, puzzling element of match three, with a more strategic, combat-based play of typical role-playing games. In it, players match up different sorts of characters, which then causes them to attack an opposing army. Each character has unique attacks and special abilities, leaning into the strategic element of the game.

Zacconi said the development of that game was inspired in part by the popularity of similar games in Asia.

“So we are trying to bring this genre to the Western world,” he said. “It’s a much more intense sort of gameplay than we usually create.”

It’s also a step toward what will likely be King’s most hardcore creation to date: A mobile “Call of Duty” game created in partnership with Activision. Zacconi declined to say much about the in-development game.

“It’s probably too early to say (what the game will be), but it won’t be a match three game,” he said.

Zacconi called the in-development game a massive opportunity and noted that Activision Blizzard has a multitude of brands that haven’t yet come to mobile.

“I think Activision Blizzard as a whole has some of the most beloved brands for all games,” he said. “Some are not available for mobile. The opportunity is massive to bring some of those brands to mobile.

“We have today investments in live games and sequels, but we are also investing in developing entirely new games, some that appeal to our audience and some that target a new audience in the area of mid-core.”

He estimates that about 40% of the company’s development is focused on creating entirely new things. Currently, King has 2,000 employees spread across 13 offices, he said. About 60% of King’s players are women and 40% men, he said, noting that King keeps that in mind as it develops games, but they also look to expand beyond their existing audience.

“Our target is to be the leading mobile games developer,” Zacconi said. “If you have a great game, you have to invest even more in it. But you also have to create new games in new genres.”

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