Supercell is, and remains synonymous with mobile gaming. The Finnish studio, maker of Clash of Clans, Brawl Stars and Boom Beach, are one of the industry's leaders.
They’re also open and communicative, which is not something that can always be taken for granted. CEO of Supercell, Ilkka Paananen, publishes an annual blog update on the state of the company giving an idea of where the studio is headed, their motives, philosophy and most importantly where they see the industry moving.
With new games in the pipeline, some being sunset and outside investments into new studios and teams, what's the state of play for Supercell?
Where we are
The current financial position of Supercell can be broken down into three key figures. That being the revenue, EBITDA and their corporate tax. Those figures are:
- Revenue €1.77bn (-6% compared to previous year)
- EBITDA €632m (-14% compared to previous year)
- We paid €132m in corporate taxes
Paananen’s explanation for the slump in revenue and EBITDA is two-fold. That being their continued outward investment, which acts as an increase in general costs - “Supercell EBITDA decreased more than revenue did, due to increased investments in our future” - And their highly publicised break from the Russian and Belarusian market in the wake of the Ukraine conflict.
“Supercell’s financial strength positions us to make big investments in the future and to truly think long-term. In an environment where many great developers across the industry are facing cost-cutting and layoffs, we are very lucky to be able to continue to build and invest.”
Overall, at a time when the global gaming market is facing a slump, as Paananen points out, the company remains in a relatively good position. Notably, instead of cutting, they’re adding.
What Supercell is doing to grow
Supercell has numerous plans in motion to begin strengthening their position. One of them being to drastically strengthen their live teams. These are the teams that manage and update their games such as Clash of Clans. Their responsibility is paramount to Supercell’s ambition to retain and acquire more players.
Paananen also touches on one of the most important aspects of a live team, which is the scale of it. “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.”
As Paananen points out, a live team shouldn’t be a skeleton crew, but a much bigger team wholly devoted to improving the game. And even now with over a year of investment and growth he still doesn’t believe they’re where they need to be. As for the “why” of “why you need to scale live games”, he explains there are two key considerations,
- As the game gets older, there are more areas that need to be modernised and rethought with fresh thinking for today's players
- As the game gets bigger, there are more new things made possible that would be great on top of what's come before
Paananen then points to their success based on their live game formula. In case there was any doubt as to the pedigree of their two earliest games, Clash of Clans has $10bn of lifetime revenue and Hay Day has accrued $2bn.
“Clash of Clans and Hay Day both celebrated their 10th anniversaries in 2022. Millions and millions of people still play them every day, and many have played them for years and years. Incredible milestones built on top of the achievements of both teams and the many people who were part of those teams, dating back to 2012 (or was it 1982?).”
How to build a better live team
The most important element for Supercell, even more so than their brand, is their constant desire and emphasis on developing a wider variety and number of games. For Paananen it’s not simply a paint-by-numbers exercise. While Supercell embody that great dream of a game studio striving to be creative, it also takes a very business-like approach to constantly cut games that aren’t going to be their next big hit.
But Supercell are also looking outside of just mobile gaming to bring in new inspirations. “Supercell is known today for its mobile games, but perhaps thinking exclusively about mobile is too limiting?,” writes Paananen “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.”
While this is far from an indication that we’ll see a Clash of Clans beat ‘em up on consoles anytime soon, it does indicate that Supercell aren’t insular in their thinking. The gaming world is more alike than it is different, and Supercell is looking to not only grow their development staff further - at a time when other studios in gaming and beyond are cutting back - but to also improve their own internal engine (“Even to rival third-party engines.”)
Paananen also reiterates the need to build strong live teams, especially as their games continue to grow. “[Soon] One or more of our live games will reach a new peak, in terms of players or engagement or revenue (or at least be heading in that direction).” To support this, he iterates three key roles for these teams,
- Develop both the fundamentals, expected by players, and new surprises that may or may not work
- Constantly improve development, tools, and workflow so the team can be more productive for players
- Train and grow more new developers to be future leaders and creators
As Paananen points out, “To these teams, it’s always day one. No matter how long a game has been around, or how successful it has been, they always strive to make it better for existing and future players.”