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Supercell CEO offers mobile game development update

While Supercell has five hit mobile games, it has killed off more than 30 in the process, according to Ilkka Paananen, the company’s CEO

Image from the Supercell development update showing a pig and a woman sat on a steel-armed wooden park bench looking at each other, with wavy grass on a hill behind them. The pig has a cartoon grin. The woman is in a red top, blue dungarees, shin-high brown boots, and a straw hat. She has long black hair and big cartoon eyes, is holding a book open in front of her, chewing on the end of some straw, looking into the pigs eyes humour fully, but kind of suspiciously.

Ilkka Paananen, CEO of mobile game developer Supercell, has written up a blog post titled The Next Chapter of Supercell. It’s a refreshingly open piece exploring the difficulties the company has faced making hit live service games in recent years.

Paananen talks about a two-pronged challenge live service games face: being good in the first place, and staying good with regular updates. To combat this, Supercell has an approach he outlines in surprising detail.

The first route is by “assembling small independent teams (‘cells’), full of very experienced developers.” The second is “trusting developer intuition, experience, interest and passion over data.”, while the third and final mention is simple: “leading, not following.”

“When this approach works, it leads to success beyond our wildest expectations,” Paananen says,  “with positive secondary effects. We can attract even more great developers to join us. We can attract more players organically (more than 90% of our new users come in organically/unattributed vs. heavy reliance on advertising/UA).

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“This approach isn’t flawless. We have launched 5 hit games but we have killed 30+, by my latest count. We haven’t launched a new game globally since Brawl Stars on December 12, 2018. I’m not counting, but 4 years, 1 month, and 3 days seems like too long! Clearly we can improve.”

While the tone may but humourful, it does boggle the mind that such a massive mobile game developer could have such a long period without a release. While talking about tackling the second challenge (keeping a live service game alive), Paananen has even more honest thoughts: “As I wrote about last year, a big mistake (my responsibility!) was that, for the longest time, we applied the same thinking on team size to both new and live game teams.”

So, what does the company do? “Supercell is known today for its mobile games, but perhaps thinking exclusively about mobile is too limiting?” Paananen says. “We want to make the best new games, period. I imagine mobile will remain our most important platform for the foreseeable future, due to its reach, but maybe we need to draw inspiration from everywhere/anywhere innovation is happening.”

Interesting. Maybe we’ll see Supercell move beyond its home ground into different consoles. Either way, it’s incredibly interesting to hear what feel like pretty plainspoken thoughts from a billion-dollar company’s CEO. Give it a read.

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