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What's King Digital worth to a Blizzard?

Characters from King Digital Entertainment "Candy Crush" game stand for a photograph in front of a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, March 26, 2014.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Characters from King Digital Entertainment "Candy Crush" game stand for a photograph in front of a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, March 26, 2014.

A lot of people gasped Monday night when Activision Blizzard announced it would acquire King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion. Some might even have choked on their candy. But it could be a savvy move: The average "Candy Crush" player spends upward of $80 a year on the saccharin swiper.

If that sounds to you like a lot to pay for a game company, consider that King Digital — most famous for its "Candy Crush Saga" mobile games — had revenue of $2.1 billion in the 12 months ended in September. The deal clears the way for Blizzard, one of the most successful developers of desktop and console games, to move into the mobile space.

As we've reported, mobile is the great growth area in the gaming arena. Within mobile gaming, it's all about games that offer in-app purchases (nee "microtransactions" or "freemium gaming"). That's when a user spends small amounts, often a dollar or so, at a time to play their favorite game. The game itself is free to play, but you can spend a bit to get an additional feature or to skip past a frustrating level.

And people get stuck on a lot of frustrating levels, apparently. Mobile gaming is forecast to bring in $30.3 billion in 2015, beating console games for the first time, according to Newzoo, a market research firm.

King is a pretty good deal if you look at its holdings. The company developed two of the biggest games on mobile platforms — "Candy Crush Saga" and "Candy Crush Soda Saga." Data from NPD Group's Checkout Tracking offer a glimpse into who pays these freemium rates and what their spending habits tend to be.

The NPD system has 2 million active users across the country, providing a pretty good representative sample of the habits of Americans on their smartphones.

The "Candy Crush" games are the most popular of Kings' holdings and some of the most popular overall. Only "Clash of Clans" and "Game of War: Fire Age" are more popular among NPD's sample.

iPhone users spent an average of $39 on "Candy Crush Soda Saga" in the six months included in NPD's study period. And those $1 level-skipping microtransactions add up — that worked out to more than $727,000 in revenue for King Digital. All for one game people play while waiting in line at the supermarket or on the subway.

"With a combined global network of more than half a billion monthly active users, our potential to reach audiences around the world on the device of their choosing enabled us to deliver great games to even bigger audiences than ever before," Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement.

Blizzard and King Digital will have a combined active monthly user base of around 550 million, the companies said. Activision agreed to acquire King for $18 a share, for a total of $5.9 billion. That's a 16 percent premium over the closing price.

The deal's announcement comes during a surge in M&A activity, led largely by U.S. companies. There were more than $1.8 trillion in deals announced globally in the first half of the year, according to Deloitte. More than $35 billion in deals was disclosed Monday.