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How Candy Crush Saga maker went from hero to villain

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One year ago, King.com was one of the most widely admired companies in the mobile space.

But just as its stock performed on its first day of trading, things have gone south for the Candy Crush Saga creator’s public image.

King earned a lot of early praise for its spunk. Candy Crush Saga, created when just three people worked for the company, turned into a phenomenon and was largely responsible for the $1.89 billion in revenues King.com took in last year.

The company grew quickly -- it's now operating with 655 employees -- and it's modeled itself much along the lines of a traditional publisher, churning out games as fast as it can (many of which, note critics, use a formula that's very similar to the one that made Candy Crush Saga so popular).

That’s rubbed some developers the wrong way, but it's the company's legal actions that have really shifted public opinion.

In January, King applied to trademark the word "candy" across a variety of platforms, ranging from computer games to cassette tapes to shower caps. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the application initially, opening up a 30-day window for opposition. And boy, did that opposition come.

Existing app makers that had used the word in their title howled. A ‘game jam’ was launched (called "The Candy Jam") where the goal was to make as many games featuring the words "candy" and "saga," another word King trademarked, in their titles.

Reports quickly surfaced that Apple had begun sending letters to some app makers on behalf of King, demanding that they change the name of their apps. King said the takedown effort was aimed at a developer who it believed used King's IP to help boost its popularity, but that fell on deaf ears.

After weathering a PR hailstorm for weeks, the company ultimately abandoned the trademark attempt in late February -- in the U.S., at least.

In the European Union, King did obtain a trademark registration on the word ‘candy’. On Tuesday, ZeptoLab (creator of the popular Cut the Rope) began the fight to overturn that.

"Candy is an integral part of the Cut the Rope franchise,” said ZeptoLab CEO Misha Lyalin, “And we do not support King.com trademarking and preventing others from using it.”

ZeptoLabs says King plans to use its EU "candy" trademark as a launching pad for additional trademark filings for the word in other countries.

Love/hate relationships are nothing new for King.com. Even though it was played by 97 million people per day at the height of its popularity, Candy Crush Saga addicts grumbled about the game. They loved the gameplay, they conceded, but its heavy promotion of in-app purchases (which, obviously, lots of people paid for) and its forced time outs after you lost five times rubbed some people the wrong way.

Whether King is a hero or enemy of Wall Street won't be entirely clear for several weeks. Shares quickly fell 12 per cent when trading began Wednesday, eventually bottoming out at a depressing 15 per cent down. But the early days of a stock are often volatile.

The IPO carried an initial value of roughly $500 million. But critics note King has only one demonstrable super-hit -- and that makes investors hearken back to fellow social game maker Zynga's 2011 IPO, which quickly fizzled.

"It's a Stephen King horror story," said CNBC's Jim Cramer of King. "It might be 'Misery.' It could be even 'Cujo.'"

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