Supercell CEO IIkka Paananen on ‘Clash of Clans’ secret sauce

Mobile games tend to be ephemeral, with short half-lives expiring once the next big game appears. But clash of clans has been a leader in space for over a decade now, with no signs of slowing down.

To collideReleased just over two years after developer Supercell opened its doors, it has helped the company grow into a multi-billion dollar organization with more than 300 employees spread across its headquarters and offices in Helsinki, Shanghai, San Francisco, and Seoul.

The success of To collidealso hayday, Boom Beach, Clash Royaleand Brawl Starsled to Supercell being acquired by Chinese Tencent in 2016. At the time, the deal valued Supercell at $10.2 billion.

As clash of clans celebrates its 10th anniversary and surpasses 3 billion downloads, Fast company spoke with Supercell CEO and Co-Founder Ilkka Paananen about what’s behind the game’s staying power, gaming industry trends, ongoing consolidation, and why the company has been so slow to roll out new game franchises.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Fast Company: Clash of Clans started when mobile gaming was still largely in its infancy. What do you think has been key to its longevity and relevance?

Ilkka Paananen: We like to see games as services. One of our goals when we started out was to create something that would be so meaningful to the players that it would become a part of their everyday lives, and I guess you could say clash of clans has passed. It was really not available for mobile devices at the time.

When I talk to players, many have played five, six, seven, eight years. My favorite question to ask is, “Why do you keep playing the game? And why do you come back to the game?” And often they talk about their love for the game and the humor and the characters and the gameplay, but just as often, if not more often, they also refer to the other players, it really is the clan.

[Image: Supercell]It’s fun to play the game with other people because you got to know them. Games make the planet a little smaller; they bring people together from all kinds of different backgrounds, different cultures and different parts of the world.

For the 10th anniversary, you collaborated with other brands on a To collide-themed breakfast cereal and clothing collection. Do you have ambitions from an IP perspective to push that further and explore other entertainment spaces? there is the graphic novel is coming. Anything beyond that?

You always try to think about things like this from a player’s perspective. How can the To collide experience more interesting and exciting for the player? We are always looking for different ways to give players the opportunity to delve deeper into the To collide universe and get to know the characters better. And we’re always looking for those kinds of opportunities. Can’t say much more, but there’s definitely more to come on that side.

Clash is clearly Supercell’s crown jewel, but what about new games? Is that something on your radar these days?

In the past 12 years, we’ve only released five games. A big part of our culture is that the quality bar is extremely high. Small game teams, which we call cells, are constantly building and prototype new games. But most of those games unfortunately never get to see the outside world.

We test them internally and the teams decide to kill them. A small number are soft-launched. We test them in markets like Canada and New Zealand and get feedback from real players. But even at that stage, we kill those games more often than not.

It’s really the game teams that run the show here, not me. I’m just here to support the game teams. You have to take a lot of risks, and at some point you end up killing [that idea]but every now and then a game comes out.

There is a lot of chatter in the industry these days about NFTs. Do they play a role in Supercell’s future plans?

As with everything, we look at it through the lens of the player. The question we ask ourselves is how could it be? [the experience] better for our players? Several hundred million people play our games every month. We serve a very broad demographic and a broad mass of players. So how [many] of those players would be in NFTs in the first place? And how would it improve the experience for those players?

To be honest, we haven’t found a way yet. We haven’t seen an opportunity for NFTs to really, really make the experience better. Maybe that day will come one day, but we haven’t seen it yet.

What do you think of all the mergers and consolidations we’ve seen in the past year? Is that something healthy for the wider video game industry?

It’s obviously very interesting for us to see all these big deals being made, but I wouldn’t say it’s changed the way we approach game making.

There will be consolidation and bigger companies will be formed, but there will be some creative people who will then move from those bigger companies and start smaller companies. That’s how this industry always runs. So personally I’m not worried about it.

I’m hopeful, actually. I think the small teams are so crucial to our industry. That’s often where innovation comes from.


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