Match-3 games, the game concept of swiping three matched items in a row, have topped charts across Google Play and the App Store for as long as they have existed. It’s easy to see why. They’re easy to learn, simple to play, and don’t require a lot of time to rack up high scores and thrash level after level. Even after some years on the scene, these big-hit puzzle games continue to cajole addictive personalities all over the world to pick up their smartphones.
It Goes Back Further Than You Think…
Match-3 games are nothing particularly new. Puzzle games have entertained generations with their strategy-like approaches, fun use of cognitive skills, and ability to teach you about new places, nature, and animals. Humans possess an innate need to find patterns in everything we experience and give them with meaning. Ancient man found patterns in the stars, initiating legends, science, and even religion. The real revelation is when you apply that formula to highly accessible mobile platforms, and then add colorful graphics, styles, and personas. It engages that instinctive problem-solving part of our humanity.
Match-3 Games Engage Our Human Instincts
There are other subtle aspects that are positioned in many match-3 games that intuitively relate to our actions and emotions. For example, regardless of the fact that there’s usually no overriding storyline, it has elements that are intrinsically social. Games like Goober’s Candy Craze incorporate motivating mini-narratives, such as earning diamonds and offering incentives to ‘walk’ in real-life. They reward users for immersing themselves in real life as well as in the game itself. Additionally, with gaming’s close integration with social media, players can introduce the game to their friends on Facebook and ask for help. This builds up the game’s longevity for a greater sense of accomplishment.
Match-3 type games also have visuals designed to keep users enthralled. They share a similar user interface framework, with the objective of matching three or more similar things, like colors, candies, fruit, or jewels to score points. Though the mechanics are simple, the lavish, vibrant, and even fantastical core graphics present an alluring sequence of levels that get harder as you progress. The seemingly limitless challenges pave the way for more complex and ever elaborate stages, but the fundamental simplicity of the puzzle always stays the same.
For those with a sweet tooth, the simple user interface is paired with obviously sweet elements that allow us to tap into our inner child. With an extravagantly colored visual game board, enchanting shapes, and of course, that palpable association with hyperactive sugary candy, players are unconsciously brought back in time to their childhood. As you swipe tasty-looking candies into rows, and then see a whole cascade of candies fusing with each other, the user feels a youthful sense of triumph. This simple nostalgia is a key reason for us to want to keep matching.
The very nature of app games being mobile has also made these kinds of games more accessible than ever. Hop onto a subway or bus anywhere in the world and you’ll see any number of kids, teenagers, moms, and middle-aged professionals fixated on their luminous candy-filled screens, swiping and silently reveling at their victories. Unlike a console game, where you have to be plugged into a station at home, you can play on your way to and from work, at lunch, and in-between meetings. The stress of commuting is reduced with the ability to complete the next level with just one hand.
All-in-all, successful match-3 developers have blended a polished cocktail of gaming elements, combining much-loved puzzles with free play on a personal, portable device we already spend 86 hours a month on. We’ve come a long way since gaming was associated with a niche activity for unsociable teenagers to do in their parents’ deserted basements. Today, all types of gamers can enhance their intuitive problem-solving skills with entrancing candy treats. Match-3 games are the most contemporary way for virtual platforms to keep feeding their players a sweet calorie-free deal, and keep them coming back for more.