Willowbrook grandmother Jannet Schimmel admits it: she’s addicted to Candy Crush Saga.
"Oh, I’ve done it all day, [for] like four or five hours,” she laughs. "You don’t even realize what time it is."
Schimmel, like an estimated 90 million other consumers, plays the game every day. What she does not do, likely to the game maker’s chagrin, is pay to play. But millions of others do: Candy Crush parent company King.com netted an estimated $2 billion dollars in 2013, much of it from players who make in-app purchases, such as the all-important "lives" that allow them to keep playing after they fail to move up a level in the allotted playing time.
But a lawsuit filed in Chicago in March accuses the maker of the gaming sensation of systematically deleting players’ "lives" in order to spur sales. Game maker King.com and affiliated companies are accused of taking away without warning the key "lives" that allow a player to keep playing the game, even if he or she fails to move up a level. Players who do not have extra "lives" are otherwise locked out of the game for 30 minutes unless they pony up 99 cents to buy five new lives.
"The lives cost 99 cents, and that doesn’t sound like very much until you realize how many people across the country have had this problem,” Chicago attorney Joseph Siprut told NBC 5 Investigates. "Millions of people -- now it starts to add up pretty quickly -- and we’re talking significant damages."
The complaint alleges that due to the addictive nature of the game, King knew players would buy replacement lives. Therefore, King allegedly violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The suit seeks damages on two levels: the value of lost donated lives and the cost of purchasing new ones.
"This case challenges such intentional profiteering at the expense of customers," the complaint reads.
"They [the lives] just disappear. And this is a problem when you couple that with the fact that the game is so addictive. Because they will play the game," attorney Joseph Siprut told NBC Chicago.
For its part, King gave the following statement to NBC5 Investigates:
"We believe the claims are without merit and intend to defend them vigorously. If any of our players run out of their free lives in Candy Crush Saga, more free lives are available (and always have been available) to all our players either by waiting 30 minutes or getting friends to send you lives."