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Supercell: Why it’s not about the money

Supercell: Why it’s not about the money

No matter how many times Supercell’s founders say they “didn’t create this company to make money”, the biggest misconception about Supercell remains how the money it makes shapes external perspectives.

For example, during 2019, Supercell’s revenue was $1.56 billion, and profits before taxes $577 million.

On one level, that’s an insane amount of money and Supercell remains a massive success.

On the other hand, sales were down for the third year in a row, so obviously Supercell is less successful than it used to be.

The wrong measure?

Of course, this all depends on exactly how you measure success.

Because companies need to generate sales and profits to survive, we’re all very focused on changes in companies’ sales and profits.

But when companies get to a certain size, actually their sales and profits become broadly irrelevant (unless you’re a shareholder). Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet and Microsoft are obvious examples.

Yet, on a per employee basis, Supercell is much more successful than these companies. It has 320 staff, hence its revenue per employee is a staggering $4.9 million.

And it’s Supercell’s staff who are front and center of CEO Ilkka Paananen’s annual letter - “My take on Supercell in 2019 as we enter our second decade”.

Size matters

In this he talks about the challenges of making successful games; Supercell now has five live titles but has famously killed dozens of in-development projects over the past decade.

That anyone would consider a company taking 10 years to grow to over 300 staff being a case of ‘too big too fast’ seems ridiculous.

Also stressing one key components of Supercell’s success has been its small headcount, Paananen discusses internal issues that arose during 2019 as the company grew to over 300 staff.

“Some of our game developers actually got concerned that the company might be getting too big too fast,” he writes.

“We had a big discussion about this and, as a result, decided to slow down our growth significantly until we feel confident that we can keep our culture intact despite the growth.”

Smaller is beautiful

Of course, in some ways, this statement is joyously laughable.

That anyone would consider a company taking 10 years to grow to over 300 staff being a case of “too big too fast” seems ridiculous.

But given some Supercell staff do feel this and for that reason Supercell has paused its growth plans throws such an initial reaction into stark relief.

As Paananen himself puts it:

“For someone outside Supercell, the above might sound really odd, even very inward focused.

“But, we believe that without our unique culture, and the small-company feel that goes with it, we could not develop the best games for you. Balancing things is not always easy and, as you may guess, we have our internal struggles, too.”

And given it continues to make an insane amount of money, who are we to judge?

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Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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