Candy Crush v.s 2048: What mobile games so addictive?

During my research on the Candy Crush phenomenon, I noticed the growing popularity of another, new game. Some people were even dubbing it ‘The New Candy Crush Saga’. I deleted Candy Crush a little while ago, when I started to interrogate my own technology use. But, I thought I would see what the fuss was about with this new game and if it had the same addictive qualities.

What is 2048?

2048 is essentially a puzzle game where you match the same numbered tiles on a board made up of 16 squares. The aim of the game is to add as many tiles as you can to get the biggest number. The game is over when:

1. There are no more moves available and you cannot match any more adjacent numbers

2. You get the numbered tile 2048.

Reading this back, it seems like a difficult concept to grasp – but once you start playing,  it becomes apparent that it’s easy to learn – and fast. It’s instinctual and every possible number combination gives a little spike of adrenaline and excitement (especially when you can see a combination that will yield a bigger result).

If you add to this the addictive game mechanics (randomness, quick restart etc.) and you can start to see a clear picture of why many of us become addicted to this type of game.

2048 and me

After the first couple rounds, I thought the game was ridiculous. It didn’t have the same aesthetic appeal as Candy Crush. I found myself missing the unexpected explosive nature of play. I also started thinking more about the moves, without as much of a dopamine payoff. However, something kept me coming back. Now, in retrospect – the payoff was still there, just in a more subtle way.

Getting into the game

When you enter into the mindset of the game and its intricacies, you get a different type of hit. The dopamine still secretes, but you also feel a type of intellectual mastery which you do not get whilst playing Candy Crush. I felt that my every move influenced the board in a way Candy Crush never did. This element is still there in Candy Crush, but it is more to do with the random pay-out generator.

2048 gives you a sense of power and control that many games don’t allow you to feel. The animations are extravagant and the tiles materialise at random, but it feels at your discretion. They are easy to match because there are usually others of similar value to be found nearby. I found the matching of the smaller numbered tiles also gave me constant dopamine hits, while I waited to match the bigger numbers. Plus, 2048 games last a matter of minutes. When you do lose, you feel that you have only put a small amount of effort into the game. You don’t feel the same dejection you would feel when playing something with more substance (for example a game of chess).

Candy crush v.s 2048

Now we have an understanding of the gameplay dynamics of 2048, it’s time to discuss why so many of us are moving away from Candy Crush – and towards 2048.

Firstly, the games are similar, even though they look very different. Both games are about matching tiles to achieve a goal. Candy Crush has lush 3D graphics with colourful tiles and eye-catching explosive animations, whereas 2048 has simplistic lines and numbers with monochrome graphics.


In the diagram above, you can see that Candy Crush and 2048 have similarities and differences in player engagement (in the flow channel). On the one hand, they provide a challenge and perceived skill to offset boredom and anxiety.  This often leads players to keep trying – playing again and again.


Candy Crush inflicts random events, which have explosive results based on your actions. For example, one set of matched candies can produce random power-ups or an unexpected mass exodus of candies. The game makes it seem like your skill is improving, further offsetting anxiety and boredom – when in actuality, it is a part of the game mechanic to keep us hooked. These game mechanics provide us with a timely dose of dopamine when the game thinks you need one. 2048, on the other hand, puts the player in the driver’s seat and asks them to take responsibility for their decisions, with less unexpected interactions from the game.

If we use the diagram supplied by Yuksichou, we can see that many of the core game mechanics are similar: accomplishment, social influence, empowerment. When you add the unpredictability of Candy Crush to the mix, we get a clear picture of why both these games have engrossed so many people. Not to mention, the random additions of low tiles after every move in Candy Crush, is something seen in many gambling machines.

However, there is a lack of levels in 2048 (linear empowerment on the diagram) and a lack of time restraint. This was also introduced by Candy Crush (after you lose all of your lives, you must wait to restart). The extra involvement in the game adds depth and a new kind of involvement (story, levels, power-ups etc.) which is not found in 2048. Candy Crush has gone to a different level when creating a game mechanic which will engross its audience and keep them hooked (and spending more) for longer.


It seems that other games are trying to take the Candy Crush crown in terms of becoming our latest addiction. It will be interesting to see what game mechanics are added in the future. Will these keep us addicted for longer? and will we keep spending more money on ‘freemium’ apps and games? Only time will tell.

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