Office Space: Behind the scenes of the Soho headquarters of games developer King, the creators of Candy Crush

 
Steve Hogarty
Follow Steve

The bright yellow King logo above the entrance to a London office on Wardour Street must trigger some kind of Pavlovian response in the pedestrians who pass by it every day.


King is the studio responsible for Candy Crush, which is less a game than a global phenomenon. Since its launch in 2012, games in the Candy Crush franchise have been downloaded 2.73bn times, and 1.1tn rounds have been played. By the latest count King has 262 million active users, meaning you’re more likely to spot somebody on the tube swiping right on a jellybean, than on their next Tinder date.

Beyond the iconic logo, and through the candy-coloured spiral that decorates the building’s front door, is a 67,808sqft office housing 464 staff. The Soho wing of the operation is King’s third largest, with its main headquarters in Stockholm, another in Barcelona, and smaller offices scattered around the globe. At the centre of this building, hidden from the street, is a glass atrium spanning all four floors, and rising to a skylight that floods the office with natural light. It’s colourful, even in the depths of winter.

“What you see here is a literal expression of how we work,” says Todd Green, head of King’s studio in London. “There’s a high degree of transparency at King, and a high degree of collaboration, too. Making games is a mixture of all of these different crafts: developers, designers, artists, testers, producers, analysts. We’re trying to make it as easy and as natural as possible for all of those different groups to interact, within the studio, but also across the different floors.”


On the ground floor of the atrium is a collection of meeting cubicles. From there a spiral “living staircase” connects each of the floors, ringed by hanging plants and vines that run all along the handrail like leafy tinsel. “For a long time I thought they were plastic,” an employee admits, “until I noticed the gardener visiting on Fridays to water them.”

The outdoor space runs the length of two sides of the building, and overlooks the crowded rooftops of Soho and the London skyline beyond. There are certainly worse places to enjoy a beer after work.

On the fourth floor – and unsurprising for a games company – is a well-appointed gaming area, with beanbag sofas arranged in front of televisions hooked up to PS4s and Xboxes. Here and there are assorted gaming peripherals, Rock Band guitars, drum kits, and arcade sticks. A wall-mounted iPad controls the music, which drifts in from hidden speakers.

For the less digitally inclined there’s table football, pool and table tennis, and a giant Connect Four game with pieces the size of dinner plates. Around one corner is a well-stocked kitchen with shining, barista-grade coffee machines and all the fixings for a decent breakfast and lunch. Around another is a row of fridges, unlocked at 4:30pm when staff are invited to enjoy a drink on the terrace. The outdoor space runs the length of two sides of the building, and overlooks the crowded rooftops of Soho and the London skyline beyond. There are certainly worse places to enjoy a beer after work.

“We see ourselves as both a technology company and a creative company,” says Green, “so being part of the creative heart of London makes a lot of sense to us.”

Other floors are home to an arts and crafts room which, as well as hosting King’s weekly knitting club, is used for prototyping new character designs. A wellness room is intended as a place for nursing mothers, or those who feel poorly or need a quiet place to rest. And then there’s a soundproof music rehearsal room with electric guitars, a keyboard and a full drum kit (a real one, unlike the Rock Band version upstairs). “We have a house band,” explains Green, “made up of a few people from around King who perform at our company events. They would play impromptu concerts on a Friday evening.”

Designers, artists and project managers roam a jungle of whiteboards and standing desks laden with colour-coded post-it notes. King is constantly improving its games long after they launch, releasing new versions every two weeks, adding new levels, new features and polishing up the art.

One especially colourful corridor contains a small cross-section of Candy Crush’s vast merchandising empire, which includes the obvious – sweets, cookbooks and plush toys – as well as the more unexpected branding tie-ins, like a candy-scented perfume and, in what surely must be an attempt to assuage some corporate guilt, an official Candy Crush toothpaste.

At noon the music room falls quiet, and the terrace is empty, but downstairs in the studio proper, developers are busy at work. Designers, artists and project managers roam a jungle of whiteboards and standing desks laden with colour-coded post-it notes. King is constantly improving its games long after they launch, releasing new versions every two weeks, adding new levels, new features and polishing up the art.

“We try to set up the teams in such a way that we have the right people working together at the right time on the right projects,” says Green. “Rather than having everybody fixed and locked into their terminal, we have the ability to move people around with these wheeled desks. We use the agile method of software development, which means we have lots of small cross-functioning teams. So here for example we’ve got two developers, one from QA and one an artist, discussing what was achieved yesterday and what will be done today, figuring out if anybody is blocked, and if so what can be done to help them.

“Stand-up meetings like this help us to move a lot faster through the day. We’re trying to use the best practices we know of, not just in game development, but in software development, to be as successful as we can.”

King also hosts regular game jams, three-day events in which teams are encouraged to collaborate with one another on new prototypes and experimental game ideas. “For several weeks after a game jam you get this incredible burst of energy and productivity from those new connections created across the studio,” says Green.

Above the studio is an extensive library, filled with reference books that Green and his teams will draw upon for inspiration and solutions. “There are a number of classic texts on game design and art theory in there,” he says. “We’ve run a couple of book clubs with the leads in the Farm Heroes Saga team, usually around a particular topic that we’re trying to spend some time on.

"If we see games as an island that’s isolated and cut off, and we don’t take inspiration and ideas from outside, then we’re shrinking our horizons."

“What’s critical about those reference books is that we’re drawing inspiration from outside of games,” says Green. “We’re very proud to be part of the games industry and community – that’s our craft and our passion – but we also don’t see games as something that’s disconnected from the wider world. We’re here in Soho. Down the road you’ve got two of the major CG houses. Out towards Holborn are a lot of the TV companies. On Denmark Street you’ve got the historic hub for music shops. We’re part of that broader creative milieu, or at least we want to be.

“If we see games as an island that’s isolated and cut off, and we don’t take inspiration and ideas from outside, then we’re shrinking our horizons. Hopefully that’s expressed in this office space, as well as in everything we do.”