Here are a few game mechanics you should think about borrowing from Candy Crush and including in your loyalty program or next promotional campaign.

Content unlocking

Content unlocking creates a barrier between the player and a reward, which is motivating because it creates a challenge. Candy Crush uses content unlocking in a couple of ways.

First it unlocks special ‘boosters’, extra moves, and new ways to crush candy only after completing a level or beating a goal. These special rewards can then be used to help the player win during subsequent levels.

Candy Crush also uses this mechanic as a challenge tied to specific objectives. In later levels of the game, once you complete an episode, you don’t automatically get sent to the next one.

You can either pay $0.99, request help from three of your friends, or complete additional challenges to unlock the next level. All three options serve different purposes: generating revenue, social interaction, and spending more time with the game.

Similar to Candy Crush, Chipotle used this mechanic to increase participation frequency and drive sales in its ‘Adventurrito’ campaign promoting Chipotle’s 20th Anniversary.

The campaign used a 20-day long treasure hunt where a new puzzle was unlocked at 20:20 MT every day. Consumers solved the puzzle and collected a medallion for each one completed.  

If they needed a hint, they could find a code on their receipt that unlocked ‘hai-klus’ to help them solve the puzzle.  

Consumers who correctly solved all 20 puzzles were entered in a sweepstakes for a chance to win the ‘burritoful’ grand prize: 20 years of free burritos. The unlocked puzzles drove frequency while the unlocked clues drove sales.


The premise is simple: require that a task be completed in a given timeframe. Countdowns are effective because they create a sense of urgency and force you to focus on what’s important.

They are particularly effective in non-game scenarios when you want to motivate specific behavior during a defined time period.

Candy Crush uses the countdown mechanic to get players to complete levels by clearing their level in 60 seconds or earning a certain number of points during a time frame.

My Starbucks Rewards strategically used this approach in a program overlay that awarded bonus stars for making consecutive purchases over a 15-day period.

This offer was an exclusive to select My Starbucks Rewards members who Starbucks wanted to drive to its stores more often. Bonus stars were awarded for making a purchase a day with a registered Starbucks card for 9, 12 or 15 days in a row.

Nine days earned members nine bonus stars, 12 days earned 12 and so on. The sooner the member got started, the more bonus stars they could earn.

This simply executed program successfully leveraged the countdown mechanic in a way that helped Starbucks increase sales and store traffic, while also building a habit among its less frequent customers.  

Additionally, Starbucks focused the call to action over a short period of time, 15 days. This strategy created both a sense of urgency, while making the goal feel attainable.

If Starbucks had a similar strategy over a longer period, the sense of urgency would have been lost and there would have been risk of member burnout.

As a marketer, you should think about using countdowns not just in terms of time but in terms of quantity – like limited reward quantities – to create a sense of scarcity among potential customers.

Leaderboard with social influence

While a leaderboard helps build a sense of competition it can also be de-motivating if a player perceives a large gap between his score and the top player. Candy Crush successfully overcomes this challenge by combining a traditional leaderboard with social influence.

Candy Crush’s approach, a personalized leaderboard that compares stats against friends, is an effective element for marketers to consider.

After all, isn’t it more fun playing against someone you know rather than a complete stranger? When you open Candy Crush the first message you receive is a request asking to invite friends to play the game.

If they accept the invitation, Candy Crush then uses this social connection to build your leaderboard. You can see where you stand against your friends from multiple views – scores, stars, leaderboard positions, number of levels beaten or progress within the game.

This combination of leaderboard plus social influence creates competition that is more motivating because it is more personal.

Orbitz Rewards borrowed this mechanic as part of its ‘Bags of Swag’ campaign. Orbitz wanted to generate awareness for Orbitz Rewards while encouraging advocacy through social sharing.

In the sweepstakes program, it invited consumers to pack a suitcase as quickly as possible. Upon packing the bag, consumers saw their time and were encouraged to challenge friends to play and beat them.

Each friend that played the game appeared on the consumer’s leaderboard. Consumers could come back every day to try to improve their time and those at the top of their personal leaderboards at the end of the promotion earned extra sweepstakes entries.

This more subtle approach to awareness and advocacy is an effective way to acquire new consumers and, in the right context, should be considered as an alternative to a more direct refer-a-friend process.

Drive loyalty with effective game mechanics

Candy Crush has more than 6m daily active users who have played the game more than 150bn times in-part because it is so well designed. And this design, which includes the three game mechanics described here, plus dozens of others, can teach marketers a lot about creating engaging experiences – ones that capture your consumers’ attentions and drive loyalty.

HelloWorld is hosting a webinar series on gamification that will expand on the strategies described here. You can register for our next webinar here.