Supercell's mobile millions

Supercell's mobile millions
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

November 1st 2012 at 10:00AM

CEO Ilkka Paananen talks about becoming part of the mobile hit parade

It’s all too easy for games to be swallowed up in the deluge of apps available on Apple’s App Store. But when you’re generating more than $500,000 a day from your iOS titles you're doing something right.

That’s precisely what Finnish mobile studio Supercell has achieved with combat strategy game Clash of Clans.

We asked Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen about the studio’s sudden rise to fame and why Finnish developers are behind some of today’s most popular titles.

To start with, take us back a bit. Where and when did things start for Supercell?
Six of us started Supercell back in mid-2010 in a very small, cramped office in Espoo, Finland. Since then, we've moved offices two times here in Helsinki. And, this month we’re getting ready to move yet again. We’ve now found a very cool space, which will hopefully serve as our home for the next years to come. Please come and visit us there.

And how many people work at the company?
Fifty-eight people. All 58 people are key members. That is not just a line. It's true because we only hire top stars who really shine. For us, game development is all about the team, the people behind the game. When we succeed, we succeed together. And when we fail (and we fail often!), we fail together. We are all in this together.

Why do you think Clash of Clans has connected with so many people?
It may sound clichéd, but it's all about fun gameplay. Also, I think we were able to make a relatively deep, midcore game mechanic more accessible by putting a lot of effort into UI design, art style and polish. All of this made the title more approachable for the mass market.

When did you realise you had a hit on your hands with Clash of Clans?
Clash of Clans soft launched in Canada first. During the weeks leading up to our global release, we started to see the first signs that we may have tapped into something special. The users who played the version in Canada were clearly very excited about the title, the level of engagement was very high. Also the first fan sites started to pop up on the internet.

You’ve called Supercell a “tablet first” company. Can you describe how this informs your development decisions?
Tablet first means we focus all of our energies on creating the very best game experience possible on the tablet. We make no compromises for other platforms. Only after the game is fully baked and ready for the tablet, do we then look to optimise it for smartphones.

What are the significant differences between making same the game for tablet computers and mobiles?
The single most significant difference is the gorgeous, large screen with a much bigger canvas for our games. The screen enables higher quality art assets, and perhaps even more importantly, a new type of touch UI design with larger swipes.

Why do you think Finland is seeing a surge in hit products, from Angry Birds to its up-and-coming digital sector?
There is definitely something in the water here. In Finland, we have this pretty unique combination, the perfect mix of creative and technical talent. We've had a very thriving game development scene for almost 20 years here, led by companies like Remedy Entertainment.

But what has really unleashed the full potential of our industry here is the disruption that came along with the app stores and these new incredible gaming platforms, smartphones and tablets. Those rare creative and technical talents are now being organised into very strong teams and companies throughout Finland. So you can expect to see more great games and games companies from Finland in the coming years.

Tell us a little-known fact or anecdote about your company.
When we succeed, like when Clash of Clans made it to number one in the App Store, we organize a party and open a few beers. But, when we really screw up, such as when we need to cancel a production, we celebrate that with champagne.

For us, the greatest opportunity to learn is when you fail. Without failures, there is not enough risk-taking and thus no success. Failure is an essential part of being in games and it is always worth celebrating.

What are your plans for the future?
For us, the most important aspect of the recent success we’ve had is that it enables us to build the company we’ve always dreamed of. One that is full of amazing and fun people, one with an open, warm atmosphere. We love having these small, independent teams and hate bureaucracy so we try to avoid that at all costs. We also plan to keep on having fun and creating more great games for our amazing fans as well as to reach out to new people. We are in this for the long term.