Supercell的总部就坐落在前诺基亚研究大楼里，这座建筑本身就象征着一个教训。这家芬兰公司因《Clash of Clans》和《Hay Day》这两款手机游戏的成功而迎来辉煌。它把公 司的51%股份以15.3亿美元的价格出售给日本的软银和GungHo Entertainment。这样，Supercell的市值就达到约30亿美元，超过另一家雇员人数达2200人的社交游戏巨头公司Zynga
但是Supercell的首席执行官表示，虽然该公司做了这一交易，但这并不意味着他们不再创造游戏，他们是为了确保拥有足够的稳定性，如此才能为今后在娱乐业务中的探索打好基 础。他认为自己的工作是寻找最出色的人去创造最出色的游戏，并为他们提供最棒的工作环境。他们在6人一组的团队中工作。他们致力于游戏中，清除所有糟糕的理念，并测试最 有发展前景的理念。通过这么做，Paananen希望Supercell能够像迪士尼和任天堂那样，并且在这个有超过12亿人口在玩游戏的环境中对游戏业务带来持久且重要的影响。
Ilkka Paananen：到现在我们还保持着属于自己独特的文化。我们已经将其融入到这些小型且独立的团队中，也就是我们所谓的“细胞”。这也是“Supercell”这个名字的由来。 我们认为有关游戏的决策制定权利应该下放到玩家手上。因此，独立开发者应该能够决定与自己的工作以及任何可能影响玩家的内容有关的决定。如果你这么做，你便能够优化速 度，并在致力于同一款游戏中的团队成员间创造一种归属感。
如你所知，在游戏产业中，公司经常会经历一个许可过程。我们却没有，因为我们并不需要。在Supercell，两个实体进行着把关。一个便是团队本身。在开发过程中，唯一一个能 够推翻制作的便是团队自己。甚至连我都不能这么做。当一个团队将其游戏推向测试市场时，这一权利便从团队手上转向玩家。这时候，他们将变成以参数或数据为中心。为了实 现全球发行，他们拥有游戏必须到达的一定参数。
简单地来说，在Supercell，两个实体拥有控制权。在开发过程中是团队，而在开发结束后，也就是在测试过程中则是玩家。这真的很简单。所有的一切都是由此展开。我们已经尝 试着创造一个零官僚主义的环境。这里只有真正有天赋的人。我们只有极少数管理者的角色。我们的主要目标只是为了创造环境，然后保持这种方式，让人们可以真正专注于他们 的工作。
此外，我们也会去庆祝任何一次的失败。这并不是因为我们想要假装失败是有趣的。当我们需要终止一款游戏的制作时—-想象一个由5，6个人组成的团队连续好几个月夜以继日地 致力于这款游戏中。也许游戏并未成功。也许出现了一个糟糕的焦点小组结果。也许团队进行了测试但是用户却并不喜欢游戏。当然，在这种情况下当我们想要终止一款游戏便是 因为它并不有趣。但我们认为值得庆祝的理由在于，我们可以从失败中吸取教训。当我们不得不终止一款游戏时，我们总是会为此举办一场聚会。游戏负责团队会走上台与我们分 享哪些东西做得好，哪些做得不好，以及他们从中学到了什么。然后我们便会递给他们一瓶香槟去庆祝他们的收获。
实际上，作为一家公司，比起成功，我们经历过更多失败。去年我们便至少终止了5款游戏。最终我们只发行了2款游戏。我们将许多游戏带到测试阶段，但是许多游戏却并未如我 们期待的那样顺利。这便是商业的本性。但是我们相信如果你不主动冒险，你便不可能创造出真正受欢迎的游戏。如果你想要做一些富有创造性的尝试，你就必须承担风险。承担 风险的自然结果当然有可能面临失败。但这也是推动一家公司继续向前发展的关键。
Paananen：我们的任务是成为第一间实至名归的全球性游戏公司。对于我们来说，真正的全球性游戏公司便是同时在广阔的西方市场（包括北美和欧洲）和每个大型东方市场（包 括日本，韩国和中国）拥有一款热门游戏。我们的目标是创造能够联合世界各地玩家的游戏。尽管离这一目标我们还有很长的一段路要走，但是至少我们已经收获了一些可喜的结 果。
我们面向iOS平台发行了两款游戏。《Clash of Clans》已经成为了139个国家的iPad畅销游戏排行榜上的冠军。《Hay Day》也在102个国家中取得了同样的结果。对于《Clash of Clans》，我们在年初将其带到了日本市场。人们都觉得我们疯了。因为他们认为日本是西方游戏公司的巨大坟场。但是我们认为必须试看看。并且对于结果我们也感到非常满意。 《Clash of Clans》在这里取得的最好成绩是iPhone畅销游戏榜单中的第3位，并且直到现在仍停留在第5位或第6位。最近我们将它带到了Android平台，并进入了排行榜的前10名 —-《Hay Day》也是如此。
人们会问我，秘诀是什么？我想可能是因为我们认为这些游戏都是与众不同的吧。许多公司都是基于“即发即弃”模式推出游戏。推出游戏，它不断发展，然而在几个月后它便会 迅速衰败。我们的游戏已经在排行榜前列维持了1年多的时间。《Hay Day》是在去年6月面向全世界发行，从那时起它就一直待在前5名内。《Clash of Clans》是在去年8月发行， 而现在它仍是美国排名第2的游戏，仅次于《Candy Crush》。它们都有很强的持久力。
为什么呢？第一个原因便是当我们创建公司时，我们最初的目标便是创造人们愿意玩好几年的游戏，而不只是几周或几个月便舍弃的游戏。Supercell中许多富有创造性的人都曾是 MMO游戏的开发者或用户。我们玩过许多像《魔兽世界》或《英雄联盟》这样的游戏。这类型游戏都具有很长的保质期。我们的梦想便是创造出像那样的游戏，但却是面向大众市场 和手机平台。当然这是我们在早期时候的想法，但很庆幸我们能够拥有这样的结果。
另外一件让我们兴奋的事便是最近面向Android发行了《Clash of Clans》。有两件事带给我们很大的鼓励。一件是来自玩家的反应。我们获得了超过25万的评论，以及4.7的星级 。这表示用户真的在接纳我们的游戏。同时我们在2周时间里便进入了前10的排行榜单，不管是在美国还是日本。上次浏览时发现，我们在美国Android畅销游戏榜单中的排名是第3 ，而在日本是第6。在不久后《Hay Day》将紧随其后。
接下来我将说说我们近来与Softbank 和Gung Ho的交易。从根本上看，之所以会出现这笔交易是因为我们在芬兰建立了这家具有特殊目的的公司。该公司是Softbank和Gung Ho共同 所有的，前者拥有80%的股份，后者是20%。该公司拥有Supercell51%的股份。我和Mikko Kodisoja（游戏邦注：Supercell的创始人之一）都是公司的董事会成员。所以这与传统的 收购并不相同。这更像是来自合作伙伴的支持，一种策略性投资。就像你所了解的，他们已经为这些股份的获得支付了大约15亿美元，并将我们公司估值30亿美元。
Paananen：主要有四个原因。最重要的原因是，我们认为现在仍是这一公司的发展初期。我们喜欢自己所做的事，并希望Supercell能够继续作为一家独立公司运行下去。而这一协 议能够保证公司的独立，这点非常重要。关于这一份协议中一个很大的部分便是公司的创始人对于业务仍具有表决控制权以及决策权。可以说签订了这份协议后的我们比之前更加 独立，因为创始人对于我们想要做的事有实际的控制权。我们将继续完全第独立运行。所有有关策略，产品，规划图，平台，市场营销等内容都处于创始人的完全掌控中。这是协 议所明确规定的。
这也将我带到了第二个原因。在签订协议前，以及在与Softbank的创始人见面前—-投资界的人在说到“长期”时往往意味着5至10年的期限。而当你接触了Softbank的创始人 Masayoshi Son时，你会发现在他眼中的长期期限是30年计划以及300年的愿景。他与我之前遇到的其它商业主管（特别是来自西方国家的商业主管）都不同。如果你将他们的模式 与传统的风险资本家进行比较，你会发现这些人可能永远将Supercell的股份握在手中，只要他们愿意这么做的话，这便是他们所追求的目标。
第三个原因便是，我之前曾说过我们想要成为一家名副其实的全球性游戏公司。显然Softbank能够帮助我们更快第朝着这一目标前进。他们在日本拥有很强大的占有率，并与中国 和韩国市场也维持着很好的关系。他们最近收购了美国的Sprint，在全球范围内更加活跃了。这也不是一种短期发展。在中期到长期的过程中，我们相信让他们担任股东将是一种 有益的决定。
第四个原因是，我们与Son都认为生活和商业生活并不是一种零和游戏。我们都认为自己拥有同样的意识形态，所以公司所创造的所有经济价值也是由所有参与人员所享有的，包括 所有雇员。Supercell便证实了这点。而这一协议也是另外一个案例。对于我们来说，所有人共享公司真的非常重要。不管你是一个参与者还是创始人或者只是一名普通雇员，这种 条款都是一样的。再向前发展的话我们将进行股利分配。这是Supercell文化的一大重要组成部分，我们也很高兴Softbank也具有许多相同的看法。
Paananen：我们相信自己处在一个全新的游戏时代。这与一些内容相关。其中一点是游戏作为一种大众市场现象将朝着手机和平板电脑走去。下一代的主机将找到一个新的落脚点 ，并且再一次的它也不会是一款零和游戏—因为即使手机表现得很好也不意味着主机就表现得很糟糕。但是我们相信这一设备是大众市场娱乐消费的超级设备。我们认为当提到大 众市场的消费者时，免费游戏模式便是赢家。我们相信这些游戏正变成一种服务。这不只是关于发行了某些内容并转向下一个新内容。当你发行了游戏时，你的工作才算真正开始 。我们相信自己能够创造出足以持续好几年的游戏服务。我们也相信自己可以创造出真正具有世界吸引力的游戏。
这是我们所相信的有可能改变这一产业的驱动力。为了支持这些改变，我们认为必须创造一家全新类型的游戏公司。我们的目标是创造一家深受雇员喜欢，并受到玩家长达好几十 年追捧的公司。也就是我们希望即使20年，40年或者50年过去了，你也仍会想起Supercell。到了那时候，Supercell的存在才真正具有意义。想想任天堂。我们很难找到有人不喜 欢他们所创造的角色，品牌和游戏。而我希望在30或40年后Supercell也能做到这点。
我们想要成为游戏历史的组成部分，即创造一家足以改变我们对游戏看法的公司。但这显然需要花费一定的时间。这不是1年，5年甚至是10年内就能做到的。这也是我们想要签订 这一协议的最大原因。我们希望找到一个可以与我们分享同样愿景的合作伙伴，更重要的是，他们有足够的耐心能够等到那天的到来。如果你想要尝试着做类似这样的事，那么你 需要的最重要的资产便是时间。
Paananen：这也是我与许多其它公司拥有不同想法的地方。我们面对着许多这样的问题。人们会问我或其他人：“为什么你们会在清晨早早起床？你们已经不需要在为了赚钱而工 作了啊。”我的答案始终是，我从来不是为了赚钱而工作。这听起来可能很奇怪。因为我们已经取得了成功，所有人都想要谈论我们昨天赚到了多少收益。这本身就是一个主题 —-Supercell的每日收益是多少？这对我们来说很尴尬，因为我们创造这些游戏并不是为了赚钱。我们只是对制作游戏充满热情罢了。我们只是想要创造有趣且优秀的游戏。
所以对此我的答案便是，因为我从未想过以创造游戏去赚钱，所以我不认为事情会因此发生改变。同时，我们想要在Supercell中创造最好的环境去制作游戏。这是我们作为公司的 第一个目标。这也是我们公司的创建理念。为什么人们会想要去创建自己的公司呢？如果在某些时候我们未能呈现出最适当的游戏制作环境，他们便会选择离开而创建自己的公司 。但就像我所说的，这是我们所思考的一大部分内容。我们想要为最优秀的人呈现最舒适的工作环境。
Paananen：这归根究底就是我们如何设计一跨优秀游戏的原理。就像我所说的，我们的目标是设计出人们愿意玩好几年的游戏。我们的游戏已经做到了这点，就像《Hay Day》便在 排行榜前列维持了18个月。我们还未看到任何下降的痕迹。但再一次，我们必须清楚这是游戏产业。我们很难在此预测未来。我们也谦逊地意识到这种情况也会出现在自己身上。 我们尝试着去专注的唯一一件事便是确保在每一周这些游戏能够变得更好，更适合玩家，即不断发行更新内容和新内容，并听取玩家的反馈。我们尽所能地做好这些事。这也是我 们唯一能够做到的。
但我认为像我们的游戏这样的游戏是属于新游戏文化的组成部分。游戏几乎成为我们日常生活的一部分了。我们的许多《Hay Day》玩家便表示自己会在每天吃早饭和睡觉前检查农 场的状况。这些游戏成为了他们日常生活众多一部分。平均我们的每个玩家一天会玩9次游戏（即包含这两款游戏）。这是一个平均值。更活跃的玩家一天会玩10次。这些游戏就像 Facebook一样，即你每天都会检查多次的一种服务。只要你能够将这些游戏真正融入玩家的生活中，它们便能长久地存在着。
让人们愿意回到这些游戏的另外一个元素便是游戏的社交属性。《Clash of Clans》便在这方面表现突出。人们愿意回头玩这款游戏的一大原因便不是因为游戏本身。而是因为他 们在游戏中遇到的其他人。这听起来可能很奇怪，但的确是别人吸引你回到游戏中。
问题：以《Clash of Clans》为例，你们平均中每个玩家身上获取多少利益？
Paananen：我们并未真正公开这种收益KPI。就像我之前所提到的，对于我们以及其它免费游戏来说，大多数玩家都是非付费玩家。只有少部分玩家愿意为游戏掏钱。这是一种很棒 的模式，因为只要我们做得合理，这对于所有人来说都是双赢的。那些不想花钱的人可以不必花钱，并且可以免费玩高质量的游戏。当然，那些愿意花钱的玩家也可以选择想要支 付多少费用。如果执行得当，我想免费游戏便是一种制胜模式—-不管是从开发者角度来看还是从消费者角度来看。
Paananen：这是人们所建议的。我们很愚蠢地开始为本土市场改变游戏。但是不管如何改变，他们都不如本土的游戏出色。所以我们开始思考其它方法。除了本土化游戏，我们不 再改变任何内容。这便是我们的游戏，是游戏的灵魂定义了它们。如果你开始改变游戏的灵魂，它便不可能成为任何人的选择。所以我们保持游戏不变，只是对其进行本土化。这 就是我们所遵循的方法，也符合我们想要成为一家名副其实的全球性游戏公司的愿景。
Paananen（以下简称P）：（笑）当它准备好的时候。在Supercell，开发团队有控制权。我们一直坚守的一条原则是：尽早测试游戏是合理的。你可能已经知道我们现在正在加拿 大的应用商店测试游戏《Boom Beach》。我们的模式是管用的，正如我所说的，先由团队做决定，再于由玩家做决定。对于《Boom Beach》，如果玩家喜欢它，我们就全球发行； 否则我们就放弃它。就这么简单。我们公司还有其他团队在做其他游戏，也采用了相同的原则。那些团队也快有一些东西要测试了。如果可行，那就太好了。他们就会把产品正式 发布；如果测试结果不好，那就放弃然后转向下一个产品。
P：我想我可以自称是连续创业者吧。2000年时我和我的朋友一起创办了我们的第一家游戏公司Sumea。2004年，雇员达到40人时我们把公司卖给了Digital Chocolate，我于2010年 时离开公司。我休息了几个月后很幸运地成为后来的Supercell的创始人之一。
我的另一个教训是，尽量减少官僚主义。许多公司都有游戏审核会，也就是让团队把他们的游戏摆在委员会面前，然后由委员会反馈意见。这是很费时间的活儿。这可能导致恶梦 般的情况——团队游说委员会和准备游说的时间比做游戏还多。而在Supercell是不会发生这种事的。那就是为什么甚至连我都不能叫停一款游戏。我的目标之一是，我要把自己变 成世界上最没权力的CEO。我对自己以及管理层的定位是促成者，其作用是保证最优秀的人才能专注于他们的工作。我们努力为他们创造最好的环境。
游戏是一个看重人才的行业，人是关键。这是我学习到的最重要的一课。第二个重要的教训是保持“小”的价值。与我们的许多竞争者相比，我们仍然是一家非常小的公司，并且 我们希望继续保持“小”。在小公司工作更有趣得多。当工作成为一件有趣的事时，你做出来的游戏就会更有趣。就是这么简单的道理。“小”的附加优势是，当公司很小时，你 就不需要管理层、官僚主义和走程序这类人人都讨厌的东西。
P：《Clash of Clans》的开发团队一开始是5个人。我们尽量保持团队小——大约5到7、8人吧。至于运营团队，因为我们每天服务于百万玩家，所以人数要多一些，但规模仍然控 制在约10到15人之间。
P：是的，非常好。现在这里有非常适合小公司的生态系统。在芬兰，创立公司是很容易的。我们的企业税率非常有竞争力。从明年起，这个税率应该只有20%，是欧洲最低的税率 之一了。从这一方面来说，芬兰的经济环境是非常有竞争力的，很容易吸引国外的创业者到这里来。另外，这里的官僚主义氛围很淡，治安好，非常适合居住。我们还有世界上最 好的教育体系。在过去几年，芬兰在这些方面一直是榜样。总之，优势非常多。
我们有一个很大的优势是，政府提供财政支持。Supercell就是这么成立起来的：我们6个人组成团队，投了几千欧元创立了公司；然后我们向政府贷了大约40万欧元。如果没有这 笔钱，Supercell可能不会存在了。政府给创业者提供这些贷款。即使你失败了，你个人也不会破产。这是一种非常好的模式。除了这些贷款，你还可以得到补助金。这一路走来我 们已经拿了几百万的补助金了，这些钱帮助很大。在芬兰还很容易从国外融资。大风投公司如Accel、Index和Atomico等等都有投资芬兰的公司。
P：我希望在这整个游戏行业中，更多的力量回归到创意人才手中。我玩过老LucasArts工作室的游戏和《模拟城市》，那都是好游戏，但都不是大团队开发的。那些游戏受硬盘空 间等条件的限制，所以更专注于玩法，毕竟不可能靠图像吸引玩家。那些游戏就是有趣，正是当时的创意天才们留下的宝贵遗产。我希望游戏行业回到那个游戏的黄金时代—-充满 创意能量和热情的小团队具有更多的控制权。
游戏行业一直以从业人员过度劳累而招徕骂名。加班几乎是惯例。有些团队一整年都在加班赶进度。首先，这本来就是错误的。它是扼杀生命。但从商业的角度看，我也不认为是 合理的。谁能够全年每天工作18个小时还保持高效率的？在这种情况下，你不可能有什么效率和创造力的。这对公司来说也不划算。我们坚持正常的工作日。但当我们工作时，我 们就要非常努力非常专注地工作。
P：我们最大的共通之处是，我们对游戏的整体看法。GungHo的人可是运营着这个星球上最赚钱的游戏——《Puzzle & Dragons》。然而，你几乎听不到他们谈论赢利的事。他们认 为游戏就应该有趣，如果你做的游戏有趣，你就能赚钱。这就是他们的理念。据我所知，他们也非常尊重创意人才。
P：我不是诺基亚的分析师，但它显然是有一些失误的。说其他什么话都是说谎。他们没有抓住一些相当重要的趋势。那些后来者消灭了诺基亚。所以，我认为确实是有失误。但那 也是商业生命的一部分。听起来有些可笑，但我认为它会好起来的——特别是与微软的最近合作，我想它会好好努力的。正如我所说的，它迫使这个国家改造自己。我们可以放下 过去，继续做一些新的东西。
P：也许吧，但我也不肯定，因为除了游戏，我在其他行业都没有经验。给建议是危险的，特别是如果你曾经成功过的话。（笑）成功竟然会改变人们对你的看法，真有意思。两年 以前我在游戏开发者大会上说过同样的事。当时大约有30个人在听我的演讲，其中有约25个人是我叫得出名字的。（笑）没有人是真的对我说的东西感兴趣。然而我现在仍然讲相 同的故事相同的文化相同的价值观，却人人爱听。唯一的不同就是，现在我们成功了，而那时我们还没有成功。
Supercell’s chief wants every game to be as good as Clash of Clans (interview part one)
By Dean Takahashi
HELSINKI — Ilkka Paananen and most of his 130 employees at Supercell, the maker of the incredibly successful Clash of Clans mobile strategy game, are rich enough to retire. They just sold 51 percent of their Helsinki-based company to Japan’s SoftBank and GungHo Entertainment (the makers of the popular and lucrative Puzzles & Dragons puzzle-role-playing game) for $1.53 billion. That makes Supercell worth about $3 billion, or more than Zynga, the social gaming
giant with 2,200 employees.
But Supercell’s CEO says the company did that deal not as its end game but to secure stability for good and to set about its quest of “making history” in the entertainment business. He believes his job is to get the best people to make the best games and provide the best environment for them to work in. They work in “cells,” or teams of a half-dozen or so. They toil on games, kill off the bad ideas, and test the ones that are promising. By doing so, Paananen hopes Supercell will make a lasting impact on the game business in the same way that companies such as Disney and Nintendo have done — and in an environment in which more than 1.2 billion people play games.
Paananen met with a group of media attending the Slush conference in Helsinki. The company’s headquarters is on one of the upper floors of an abandoned Nokia research center, one of the ghosts of Finland’s tech economy. Now much of Finland’s game industry and its government investment programs have been inspired by Supercell’s success.
Here’s an edited transcript of our group interview with Paananen. The pictures in this story were taken at Supercell’s headquarters.
Question: Tell us how you work.
Ilkka Paananen: What keeps it all together is our unique culture. We’ve organized into these small, independent teams that we call cells. That’s where the name “Supercell” comes from. We believe that decision-making power about games should be as close to the player as possible. Therefore, the individual developer should be able to make decisions about their own work and whatever affects their players. If you do that, you can optimize for speed, and you create a sense of ownership among the people who work on the games.
We’re also very big believers in the concept of “small.” Small teams move quicker. There’s less management and bureaucracy and process. That results in happier developers and better games. Again, at Supercell, it’s really the team that owns the game.
As you know, in the games industry, companies usually go through a greenlight process. We don’t have one, because we don’t need one. At Supercell there are two entities that have control. One is the team itself. During development, the only entity that can kill a production is the team itself. Even I can’t do that. Then, once a team ships their game to a test market, power shift from the team to the players. At that point, they become very metrics- or data- centric. They have metrics a game has to reach in order to proceed to a global launch.
To put it simply, at Supercell, two entities have control. During development, it’s the team. After development, during the beta, it’s the players. It really is that simple. Everything unfolds from there. We’ve tried to create an environment of zero bureaucracy. Just super talented people. The role of management or leadership—First of all, we have very few of those people. But our main goal is just to create the environment and then stay out of the way so that people can focus on their work.
We’re also fully transparent as an organization. Every morning, an e-mail gets sent out to the entire organization – from trainees to the CEO – that has all the key performance indicators for each game. The same information is always available to everyone at the same time. We believe that if you provide people with the right information, you don’t need to tell them what to do. They can figure it out themselves.
Further, we really do celebrate failure. It’s not that we pretend that failing is fun. When we need to kill a game production–Imagine a group of five or six people who’ve worked day and night on a game for many months. Maybe the game just doesn’t fly. Maybe there’s a poor focus group result. Maybe the game goes to beta and users don’t like it for whatever reason. Of course it’s not fun when we have to kill a game at times like that. But what we think is worth
celebrating is the learning that comes out of that failure. When we have to kill a game, we always organize a party around it. The team gets up on stage and talks about what went well, what didn’t go well, what they learned. Then we hand them a bottle of champagne to celebrate what they’ve learned.
The fact is that, as a company, we’ve failed way more often than we’ve succeeded. Last year we killed at least five games. We launched only two. I fully expect that to be the case going forward. We’ll bring games out to beta and many of those games won’t fly. That’s the nature of the business. But we believe that if you don’t take those risks, you won’t get hit games either. If you want to do something innovative, you have to take risks. A natural outcome of taking risks is of course failure. This is what keeps the company together.
Question: What’s your mission?
Paananen: Our mission is to become the first truly global games company. For us, a truly global games company is one that has a hit game in the big western markets – in North America and Europe – and also in each of the big eastern markets – Japan, Korea, and China – at the same time. Our goal is to create games that somehow unite gamers all over the world. While we have a long way to go, there are some encouraging results I’d like to talk about today.
On iOS we have two games. Clash of Clans has been the number one game on the iPad top-grossing charts in 139 countries. Hay Day has been the same in 102 countries. With Clash, we got really excited about the Japanese market early this year. People thought that we were absolutely crazy. They said that Japan was just a big graveyard for western game companies. But we thought we’d give it a try. We’ve been quite happy with the results. At its peak, Clash made it
to three on the iPhone top-grossing charts, and it’s still in the top five or top six. It recently launched on Android and also made it to the top 10 – same with Hay Day.
People ask us, what’s the secret? I believe that it’s because we think quite differently about these games. A lot of companies bring their games out on a fire-and-forget type of model. Put the game out, it goes up, and after a few months it comes back down. Our games have stayed on top for more than a year now. Hay Day was launched globally in June of last year and it’s been in the top five ever since. Clash was launched in August last year and it’s still the number two game in the U.S. after Candy Crush. They have that staying power.
Why is that? The number one reason is that when we founded the company, from very early on our goal was to create games that people would play for years, not just for weeks or months. Lots of the creative people at Supercell have a background as developers or as consumers of MMO games. We play a lot of games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends. Those types of games have a very long shelf life. Our dream is to achieve something similar, but for the mass market and mobile platforms. Again, it’s early days, but we’re quite happy about the results.
It all comes from this mentality of thinking of a game as a service, rather than just a product. One of our explicit missions is that every single week, we want to make these games better for users. They always have to become better.
Question: Are you still in the lead?
Paananen: I haven’t seen the updates. I think in September we were number one, at least, but I can update you on those. But I’d assume so, because we’ve made some progress since then in Japan. But this is iOS only.
The other thing we’re quite excited about is the recent Android launch of Clash of Clans. Two things are encouraging for us. One is the reaction from players. We had more than a quarter million reviews, and the average was 4.7 out of five stars. It was a really good reception from the users. We were able to make it to the top 10 in two weeks, both in the U.S. and in Japan. Last I checked we were the number three game in the U.S. and I think number six in Japan on the Android top-grossing chart. Hay Day will follow a little bit later.
I’ll talk about the recent deal we did with Softbank and Gung Ho. Basically, how the deal was structured was that we established what’s known as a special purpose company here in Finland. That company is jointly owned by Softbank, which has 80 percent, and Gung Ho, which has 20 percent. That company owns 51 percent of Supercell’s shares. Both myself and Mikko Kodisoja, one of the founders of Supercell, sit on the board of directors of this company. So it’s not
a traditional — I wouldn’t characterize this an acquisition. It’s more of a kind of partner support, a strategic investment. As you know, they’ve paid roughly $1.5 billion for those shares, valuing the company at about $3 billion.
Question: Why did you do the deal?
Paananen: It boils down to four reasons. Most important, we feel that it’s still very early days for this company. We love what we’re doing and we want to continue to run Supercell as an independent company. This deal, more than anything, guarantees the independence of the company. A very large part of the deal is that the founders of the company still have voting control and decision-making power over the business. We can almost say that after this deal we’re more
independent than we were before, because the founders have substantial control over how we want to do things. We’ll continue to operate completely independently. All matters related to strategy, products, road maps, platforms, marketing, and all that are completely in the founders’ control. That was explicitly agreed upon with them.
This brings me to the second point. Before this deal, and before meeting the founders of Softbank — When people in the investment world talk about “long term,” they usually mean a period of five or 10 years. Then you talk to the founder of Softbank, Masayoshi Son. For him, the long-term is a 30-year plan and a 300-year vision. He’s completely different from any other business executive I’ve met, especially here in the west. These guys are all about the long term. If you compare their model to a typical venture capitalist, these guys could hold the stock of Supercell forever if they want to, and that’s exactly what they’re looking for.
Third, I talked about the dream of becoming the first truly global games company. Softbank obviously accelerates our path of progress toward that point. They have a strong presence in Japan, and also strong relationships in China and Korea. They recently bought Sprint in the U.S. and are becoming more active globally. It’s not a short-term thing. In the mid- to long-term, we believe there are benefits to be had from having them as a shareholder.
Fourth, what we share as a philosophy with Mr. Son is that we both think that life, and business life, isn’t a zero-sum game. We’re both about this ideology that we’re all in this together, and so it’s fair that all the economic value created by the company is shared by everybody who’s involved, including all the employees. That’s been proven by Supercell all along. This deal was another example. For us, it’s important that everybody with a share of the company is able to participate on exactly the same terms. Whether you’re a partner or one of the founders or an employee, the terms are the same. Going forward, we’ll pay dividends and so on. Every single employee has stock options, and they’ll be included in dividend payments. That’s a strong part of the culture of Supercell, and it’s great to see that Softbank shares many of the same ideas.
Question: What is the long-term view?
Paananen: We fundamentally believe that we are in a new era in gaming. It has to do with a few things. One is that gaming as a mass market phenomenon is heading to mobile and tablets. There’s going to be a place for the next-generation consoles, and again it’s not a zero-sum game – just because mobile is doing well, that doesn’t mean consoles should be doing badly. But we believe that this device is the superior device for the mass-market consumption of
entertainment. We believe that the free-to-play model, when it comes to the mass-market consumer, is the winning model. We believe that these games are becoming services. It’s not just something you launch and then move on to the next thing. You launch and then the real work begins. We believe we can create game services that will last for years, if not decades. And we believe that we can create games that have a truly global appeal.
Those are the fundamental drivers that we believe are changing this industry. On the back of those changes, we believe it’s possible to create a new kind of game company. Our goal is to create a company that is loved by its employees and also by players in the decades to come. What we’d like to create here is something that, say, 20, 40, 50 years go by, and then you can look back and think about Supercell. At that point, Supercell would really mean something. Think about Nintendo. It would be hard to find somebody who wouldn’t love the characters and the brands and the games that they’ve created. I would love to feel the same way about Supercell in 30, 40 years.
We would love to be part of the history of games, to create a company that changes how we think about gaming. But that obviously takes time. You can’t do that in a year or five years or probably even 10 years. That’s the single biggest reason that we wanted to do this deal. We wanted to make sure that we have a partner that shares our vision, but more than anything, has the patience to wait. If you want to try to do something like this, the most important asset you’ll need is time.
Question: I wonder how you feel about all these contradictions here. You raise money, but you don’t need it. You have teams that are structured to be really small and fast, but you make games really slowly. You can share the wealth with all your employees, but then maybe they’re more likely to leave and start their own companies. There are all these very strange things that come from having so much success.
Paananen: It’s part of how we think a little bit differently from many other companies. We get that question a lot. People ask me and the others, “Why do you guys get up in the morning? You don’t really need to work for money anymore.” My answer has always been, and still is, that I’ve never worked for money. None of us have ever worked for money. That’s the strange thing. Since we became successful, all people want to talk about how much revenue we made yesterday. That’s become a topic in itself – what’s the daily revenue at Supercell? It’s awkward for us, because we’ve never made these games to make money. We’re passionate about games overall. We just want to make fun, great games.
So my answer to that would be, since we’ve never made games for money, I don’t see things changing in that way. Along the same lines, we want to make Supercell the best possible environment to make games. This is our number one goal as a company. That’s the idea that the company was founded upon. Why would anybody want to go and set up their own companies? If at some point we’re not the best possible environment to make games, of course they should leave
and set up their own companies. But as I say, that’s a very big part of how we think. We want to be the best environment for the best people.
Question: Do you think that Finland is the best place to look for workers?
Paananen: I do. It’s important to us — We explicitly agree about that with Softbank, and with our shareholders as well, that the company will continue to be headquartered in Finland. This is our home. Having said that, we have people who have come from 30 different countries. Roughly half of our employees are Finns and the other half come from somewhere else. It’s a very diverse group.
Having this kind of multicultural environment makes working a lot more fun. But it also has a clear business benefit. If you’re trying to be a truly global games company, it helps that you have your own mini-globe in the office. No matter what market we’re talking about, we have someone who comes from that country who can walk to my desk and have a chat about something.
Question: You primarily launch games on iOS and then on Android. Do you think that model is going to change as Android’s market share grows, or are you still going to be focused on Apple first?
Paananen: For the foreseeable future, that’s going to be the model we follow. The one thing that all of us have learned the hard way in this industry is to never say never, but right now that feels like the right approach.
Question: Is that because the ecosystem is better, or is it because you earn more money from iOS users than Android users?
Paananen: I think it’s a combination of all of tose things. We have less fragmentation on the iOS platform. And yes, it’s not a secret, but in terms of revenue the market is slightly bigger on that side. But as I said, that’s been the approach so far. It’s something we’ll continue to think about as far as
Question: It looks like Angry Birds has hit a peak and has sort of gone down on the top-grossing lists. How do you deal with that possibility in the future?Paananen: It comes down to the philosophy of how we design good games. As I say, our goal is to design games that people will play for years. We’ve had our games on top for, in the case of Hay Day, almost 18 months. We don’t see any signs of slowdown. But again, it’s the games industry. It’s extremely hard to
predict. We’re humble enough to realize that it could happen to us. But the only thing that we can do—We don’t worry about it too much. The only thing we try to focus on is making sure that these games become better and better for our players, every single week, by releasing updates and new content and listening to the users. We’re going to do that as best we can. That’s all we can d.
But I do think that games like ours are part of this new culture of gaming. Games have almost become part of your everyday life. Lots of our players say that in Hay Day, they check their farm before they eat breakfast, and then it’s the last thing they do before they go to sleep. These games have become part of their everyday routine. Our average player plays nine times a day, in both games. That’s an average. Active players play tens of times a day. These games
are almost like Facebook, a service you check in on many times per day. They become part of your life. As long as we can keep these games a relevant part of our players’ lives, they’ll have a long lifespan.
The other thing that makes people come back to these games is the social nature of the games. We’ve noticed this best in Clash of Clans. The number one reason people come back to the game isn’t the game itself. It’s the other people they’ve met through the game. It’s a strange thing, but the other players draw you back into the game.
Because of these two things – how people consume these games and how we’ve designed them, and more than anything, how they’re so social – those are the reasons we continue to believe they’ll have a lifespan of years and years.
Question: Why did you make a multinational and multicultural work force a priority?
Paananen: For two reasons. One, it’s so much more fun to work in an environment like that, with people from different kinds of backgrounds. Two, it makes a lot of business sense. When you’re trying to develop games for a global market, it’s incredibly helpful to have people from different cultures who can give feedback on the games. When you localize the games you can talk about everything. It makes a lot of sense.
Question: How much do you earn from each player of, say, Clash of Clans, on average?
Paananen: We don’t actually disclose that type of revenue KPI. For us, as I say, and every other free-to-play game, the vast majority of players play for free. There’s a small group who decide to pay for games. That’s a beautiful model, because if it’s done right, it’s a win-win for everyone. The people who don’t want to pay don’t have to, yet they can access and play very high-quality games for free. And then of course the people who want to pay can choose how much they pay. If it’s done right we believe the free-to-play model is the winning model, both from a developer’s perspective and from the consumer’s perspective.
What’s so important when you design for that model—I’m sure you’ve heard about the concept of play-to-win. That’s the one thing that you want to avoid. The key thing about free-to-play games is that they have to be fair. It must be possible to play the game without ever paying. That’s one thing we’re very proud of. In both of our games, there are quite a few users who haven’t paid a dime, and yet they’ve been quite successful.
Question: In Asia, it seems like this “pay to take a turn” model is quite popular. Do you have to make entirely different games for different markets?
Paananen: That’s what some people have suggested. We would be foolish to start changing our games for a local market. No matter how much we change them, they’ll never be as good as the local games. So we think of it the other way. We didn’t change anything beyond localizing the game. This is our game, what defines our game, the soul of our game. If you start to change the soul of a game, it won’t be good in anybody’s opinion. So we’ve kept the games intact
and just localized them. That’s definitely going to be approach we’ll follow, in line with our vision of becoming a truly global games company.
HELSINKI — Housed in an abandoned Nokia research building, Supercell’s headquarters is a lesson in itself. The Finnish company has become rich off its Clash of Clans and Hay Day mobile games. It sold 51 percent of its Helsinki-based company to Japan’s SoftBank and GungHo Entertainment for $1.53 billion. That makes Supercell worth about $3 billion, or more than Zynga, the social gaming giant with 2,200 employees.
The deal was one of the most interesting in gaming history. But all glory is fleeting, as World War II general George Patton once said. What guarantee does SoftBank have that Supercell’s next game will be a hit? We caught up with Ilkka Paananen, the chief executive of Supercell, with a media group attending the Slush conference in Helsinki.
Paananen says the company did that deal not as its end game but to secure stability for good and to set about its quest of “making history” in the entertainment business. Paananen hopes Supercell will make a lasting impact on the game business in the same way that companies such as Disney and Nintendo have done – and in an environment in which more than 1.2 billion people play games.
Here’s an edited transcript of our group interview with Paananen. The pictures are from a tour of Supercell’s headquarters, and we’ve included a photo gallery at the end.
Question: When we can expect the next game from Supercell?
Paananen: [Laughs] When it’s ready. At Supercell the teams have control. One of the things we believe is that it makes sense to test a game as early as possible. You might have read that we’re testing a certain game right now in the Canadian App Store, Boom Beach. Our model works, as I said, that it’s up to the teams, and then it’s up to the players. In the case of Boom Beach, if the players like it, we’ll launch it globally. If they don’t, we’ll kill it. It’s that simple. There are other teams working on other games, and the same rules apply. At some point those teams will launch something to beta. If it
works, great. They’ll proceed to a global launch. If it doesn’t work they’ll kill it and move on to the next thing.
Question: Are you a serial entrepreneur? How many companies have you worked with?
Paananen: I guess I could call myself that. A few of my friends and I founded our first games company back in 2000. The company was called Sumea. Then we grew to about 40 people and sold to a company called Digital Chocolate in 2004. I worked almost six years as the president of Digital Chocolate, and left in early 2010. I took a few months off and then was lucky enough to be one of the founders of Supercell a bit later on.
Question: What were the most important things you learned, going from company to company and environment to environment?
Paananen: The number one thing was that it’s all about the talent. It’s all about the creative talent. Unless you have the best talent—That’s all that counts. If you have the best talent, sooner or later the best games will follow.
The other thing I learned is to try to minimize the bureaucracy in the process. A lot of companies have these game review meetings, where teams bring their games in front of a committee that gives them feedback. It takes a lot of time. In the nightmare scenario the team spends more time pitching for the committee and preparing for the pitch than they spend on the game. There’s none of that at Supercell. That’s why even I can’t go kill a game. One of my explicit goals is to make myself the least powerful CEO in the world. I see my role and the role of the management is as an enabler so the best people can focus on their work. We try to create the best possible environment for them.
Games is a people business and only a people business. That’s the number one learning I found. The number two learning was the value of small, of keeping
things simple. We’re still a very small company compared to many of our competitors, and we want to keep it that way. Working at a smaller company is just a lot more fun. When working is more fun you make better games. It’s as simple as that. As a side benefit, when you’re small you don’t need the layers of management and bureaucracy and process that everybody hates.
Question: What’s your optimal team size? What sort of planning and management do you use around each of those teams and the games they’re working on?
Paananen: Clash of Clans was developed from the start by five people. We try to keep the new game teams as small as possible – anywhere from five to perhaps seven or eight people per team. The live game teams, because we’re serving millions of users every day, for practical purposes they need to be bigger. But even then the size stays between about 10 and 15.
Question: Is the Finnish economic environment friendly to startups?
Paananen: Yes, very. We have a great ecosystem for startups here these days. It’s easy to set up a company. We have a very competitive corporate tax rate. Starting from next year it’s going to be only 20 percent. It’s one of the lowest in Europe. It’s super competitive from that perspective. It’s easy to get people from abroad to move here. The bureaucracy is very low in that respect. And the environment is a very safe environment to live in. We have the best school system in the world. Finland has been on the top of those studies for the last couple of years. There are a lot of benefits on that side.
One huge benefit is the public funding that we get from the government. How we started Supercell is that we formed a group and invested a few hundred thousand euros from the six of us into the company. Then we got a loan from the government for 400,000 euros or so. Without that loan, Supercell probably wouldn’t exist. They give these types of loans to entrepreneurs. Even if you fail, you don’t need to file personal bankruptcy. It’s a great model. On top
of those loans, later on you get subsidies. We’ve gotten a couple of million in subsidies along the way, which have been quite helpful. It’s also quite easy to raise money from abroad into Finland. Leading venture capitalists like Accel, Index, Atomico, and others have invested in Finland.
One of the personal reasons I have, outside of Supercell, I truly believe that one day the Helsinki area can become a gaming hub – the Silicon Valley of Europe, if you want to call it that. A lot of other areas are trying to do the same, like Berlin and London and others, but I do think we have a great environment. We have a shot at it, at least on the gaming side. There are a lot of great gaming companies here.
Question: You mentioned the subsidies that you got after the initial loan. Could you elaborate on how that works?
Paananen: Basically, the government, from its organizations, can give two types of funding. There are loans. They can fund us with up to 70 percent of the total cost of a project. Those loans, eventually you need to pay them back, but they have a very low interest rate – like one percent, and maybe you have to pay them back in five or seven years’ time.
Then you have these subsidies, which you don’t have to pay back. At best guess, they might subsidize 50 percent of whatever expenses you have. We also got that type of funding very early on.
Basically, if you think from an investor’s perspective, or a venture capitalist’s perspective, it’s a beautiful thing. Say that I’m a VC and I invest one million euros. In relation to that one million, I already know that the company will get an additional one million from the government. That’s non-diluting money, so it won’t dilute my ownership stake. The public funding makes Finland a really attractive investment landscape.
Q: I understand that this is very good for you, but I’m curious about what it means for the Finnish taxpayer. [Laughs]
Paananen: This year alone, Supercell—I think the founders and the company together are paying something like [€270 million] in taxes. They spent maybe five or six million on us early on. So I think it’s a good investment from the Finnish government’s perspective. Somebody calculated that Supercell alone returns every single penny that the government has ever invested in any startup combined. Just with the success of Supercell, we’re paying it all back and more.
This country needs to reinvent itself after the collapse of Nokia. We need new companies. It won’t be enough to just have Rovio and Supercell. We need more and more. Everybody here realizes that. It’s a long-term investment from the government’s point of view.
Question: What’s your view of the game industry as a whole? Are you hoping that it becomes much more like Supercell? Do you see the large publishers losing influence?
Paananen: I wish that, in the games industry overall, more power would shift to the creative people. When I grew up, I played games like the old LucasArts games, or SimCity, all these great games. They weren’t made by big teams. Teams were quite small then. They were limited by disc space and all that stuff, but still—Because you couldn’t really impress people with graphics, there was more focus on gameplay. They were just fun. There were all these legendary creative geniuses working on games at the time. I would love to see the industry going back to that golden age of games, where small teams full of creative energy and passion would have more control.
It feels like the marketing people took over. For some reason, games started to use movies as their role models. All of a sudden you had to make a massive investment in a game. It was all about the first week’s sales, exactly like in the movies. Companies tried to create huge buzz before a launch, exactly like in the movies. I’m not sure it’s the right model for games.
Question: What do you think is the key factor behind innovation, when you think about the development of new games?
Paananen: It comes down to two things. One, give all the power to your creative geniuses. Organize your company so that you put the creative people front and center. Give them all the freedom possible. And then give them the permission to fail. You have eliminate the fear of failure completely, because if you don ’t, those guys won’t take risks. Without risks, there’s no innovation. Without innovation, there’s no hit games. You need to create a friendly, warm environment for those creative folks.
Question: Is there a rule or any criteria for deciding what’s a success and what’s a failure?
Paananen: Yes, there is. Sometimes people misunderstand our culture. Some people think that this is just a culture where teams can do whatever they want and results don’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before the teams start to work on something, we do spend quite a bit of time with them to pre-define the metric goals that they need to reach when they go to beta. We’re really strict about those goals. If they don’t reach those goals, we’ll kill the game. That’s it.
I won’t specify those goals, but they mostly have to do with retention and engagement in the game. How many people come back after 30 days? How many times do they play per day? And so on. We define those very carefully. That’s the agreement between the team and the company. So long as the team reaches those goals, we’ll proceed to launch. If they don’t, we’ll kill it.
Because of the small size of the teams, Supercell can be a relatively high-pressure environment to work on games. It’s not for everyone. You need to be proactive and very passionate about games and what you do. If you’re not, you won’t do well here. But for the right kind of people, it seems to be quite a nice place to work.
Question: Some say work-life balance matters less now that we just accept that we have one big life. But what do you do to manage people who have families or need to work flexibly? Do you not like to see people at their desks at 10 at night?
Paananen: We absolutely don’t like to see people at their desks that late. If you come here at 5:30 p.m., you’ll see that the office is pretty much empty. I’m not kidding. We’re extremely flexible when it comes to hours. Again, we trust our people. We don’t tell them how much to work. We don’t track their hours. We don’t track them at all. We just trust them.
We have only one simple rule – do what’s best for the team and for the game. For some people that’s working certain hours at the office and then working certain hours at home. That’s fine. The only thing we care about is results. We don’t care about how many hours you invest.
The games industry has been guilty of burning out people. It’s almost the norm, that you have these crunch periods. Some teams can crunch for an entire year. First of all, it’s fundamentally the wrong thing to do. It ruins people’s lives. But I also don’t think it makes any sense from a business perspective. Who can be productive working 18-hour days for a year? You won’t be productive and creative. It just doesn’t make sense for the company. We believe in working normal work days. But when we come to work, we work really hard and very passionately.
If you want to make the best games in the world, it does require extra effort and extra hours too. But you compensate for that. You take time off. We try to be sensible about that. If you burn out all your people in three years, you won’t be able to make history. As I say, it takes decades to do that.
Question: Do you share some things in common with GungHo?
Paananen: The biggest thing we share is how we think about games overall. Those guys are running the most profitable game on the planet in Puzzle & Dragons. And yet you hardly hear them talk about monetization at all. They think that games should be about fun, and if you make fun games, you’ll figure out how to monetize them as well. That’s a big part of their philosophy. They respect the creative people, as far as I can tell.
In my opinion, they’re some of the best guys in the industry. It’s funny. We don’t even share the same language with most of them, but whenever we go out with those guys, we have loads of fun. There are some really surprising similarities between Finnish and Japanese culture that turn up. We take our shoes off when we go into somebody’s home. [Laughs] Both peoples seem to know how to have a good party. It goes to all sorts of things.
I just have a massive amount of respect for those guys. That’s why we’re so happy that they decided to partner with us. It meant a lot to us. Even if it’s only 20 percent, in terms of absolute sums it’s a significant amount of money that they put in.
Question: Do you think that Nokia’s demise was inevitable? Was that just a cyclical thing, or do you think it made some missteps?
Paananen: Well, I’m not a Nokia analyst or anything, but clearly there were some missteps. Saying anything else would be lying. Of course they missed a few really important trends. These guys really came on and killed them. So yeah, I think clearly there were missteps. But that’s part of the business life. This will sound funny, but eventually I think it will be—Especially with the latest deal with Microsoft, I think it’s going to be a very good fulfillment. As I said, it forces this country to reinvent itself. We can close that book, I hope, and start to work on some new stuff.
Question: The model that you talk about comes from your experiences in gaming, but do you think that this is something companies should be applying more widely to other industries?
Paananen: Maybe, but I don’t know, because I don’t have any experience with anything other than games. It’s dangerous to give advice, especially if you’ve been successful. [Laughs] It’s funny how success changes the way people look at you. I was talking about these same things at GDC two years ago. There were maybe 30 people listening to that talk, and I knew maybe 25 of them by name. [Laughter] Nobody was really interested. Yet it’s still the same story and the same culture and the same values. The only difference is that now we’re successful and before we weren’t.
I truly believe that this is the thing that’s made us a success, but that doesn’t mean that we could make somebody else a success. Everybody needs to figure out what’s the best model for their business. But as a general rule of thumb, this type of model gives a lot more ownership to the people who do real work. That must be beneficial in general.