Here at PocketGamer.biz we celebrate diversity of all kinds. Speaking to various inspiring women at our Pocket Gamer Connects events around the world, and being aware that there is still a real need to shout about the subject, we decided to focus on females for December. In this series of features we will interview various women working in gaming, as well as sharing other stories around the subject.
On a recent visit to Supercell during the Clash Fest finals, I caught up with Marika Appel, a community manager at Supercell who oozes enthusiasm for her job and is something of a legend in the gaming community.
PocketGamer.biz: Could you please describe your current role and give us a general idea of your job day-to-day?
I'm a Community Manager, and my job is to take care of our player community. This includes content creators, pro players, and casual, average farmers. That is the heart and core of my job, taking care of them, listening to their feedback, what they want from the game, and what they want to do. Like, helping them organise community tournaments, or if a YouTuber wants to make a specific type of live stream. What it is, regardless, my job is to help. And when they have hopes and wishes and feedback for the game, my job is to deliver that to our game, too.
How did you get into games in the first place, and how did that lead to you being in this role?
I’ve played games since I was a child. First board games, card games, then Amiga and Commodore 64. My first experience with video games was on my cousin’s Commodore 64.I was, I think, five, and that was just magic to me. How can I control a TV show? What is this?
Ever since then I played games, but I never thought I would end up working in games. When I was growing up I thought that I would become a lawyer!
I had to move to Helsinki for university because my group of friends had moved there to study one year before me. We were working on a video game project which never became anything, and still at that point never thought that I would end up working in games. So anyway, at university I studied Aesthetics and took a minor in Business and Management, and combined those into creating brands and images.
After my studies, I took care of marketing and PR in a Scandinavian design company and had been there about four years when a friend of mine was telling me great things about working at Supercell. The founding team was thinking about making games in a totally different way. He said I should call Ilkka, the CEO, as they needed somebody for marketing. And I applied, got the job, and on Monday it’s going to be my 11-year anniversary at Supercell!
And how did you end up as Community Manager?
When we first launched Hay Day, and then Clash of Clans, of course we needed somebody to take care of the social media. Everybody was wearing a million hats at that time. So we thought I would be the Hay Day Community Manager and another colleague would do CoC.
But during Clash of Clans’ internal playtests and beta launch, we very soon found out that I’m highly competitive, and I was one of the highest ranking players in the world during beta, and after we’d launched globally I was in the top 100 in the world. So the Clash of Clans game team at the time asked us to switch.
And you still obviously really love it.
I really, truly love the game, and I love our players. Our community, our content creators – the game itself is endlessly challenging. And the community is so smart, welcoming and resourceful. They want to do cool things for other players. We have many different types of content creators, not just YouTubers but bloggers, tool developers, website developers, tournament organisers… all these different types of people who create amazing stuff for other people.
Do you have any advice for somebody who might be looking at becoming a community manager?
Hmm. I think the most important thing for you as a person is to be humble, empathic – so listen to people. When players have problems, when they don’t like the update, you should never take that personally. The person – regardless how they say it, sometimes they say it in a nasty way, but they are saying it because they truly love the game and they want it to be the best possible. So, keeping calm and being able to separate your personal ego from your work.
So these games, especially Hay Day and Clash of Clans, have been around for a long time and are still incredibly successful, and have reinvented themselves over and over to stay relevant. What changes can you see being necessary to keep up those levels of player retention?
I think as a Community Manager, I can have a huge positive impact on the direction the game is going. Usually it’s listening to these weak signals from the player community. They might be talking about thing A, and when I bring it to the game team, they realise that actually it’s thing B that we have to change.
So listening to these weak signals and bringing them to the game team – super important and when we prototype new troops to the game, new spells, new game mechanics, new features, it contributes to that balance.
At the moment, we have an 18 month roadmap. Which sounds like a super long time in an industry which can change overnight. And of course, plans can change. If the world changes, we change our plans. And if our player base brings up something, we react to it. So plans can change – probably will change, but we do have this long-term dream where we want to take it. The game is not finished!
Gaming appears to be a very inclusive community – is that something that you’d agree with? Or is that a myth?
This depends, of course. If we are talking about being a programmer, we are getting more females, but I think it’s just a statistical fact that at the moment, still, we have more males. So it depends on which area of the gaming industry you’re looking at. If we talk about players, I think on mobile, over 50% are actually female.
I believe that’s the case, yes
So, depending on which area of the industry we are looking at. I think we could - and should - still do even more so that any kind of person feels included. Regardless if it’s playing the game or making the game. Or writing about the game. I personally feel very much included. I think in the Clash of Clans community especially, it doesn’t matter what gender or ethnicity you are, whatever language, whatever your background, I think this community values you based on how good you are in the game, how you treat your clanmates and how nice a person you are.
Because when you go as a clan into war, and if you post to the clan chat, like, “Hey, nice try, you’ll get the next one” or, “Unlucky but you got it”. Supportive people are valued highly. It’s not so much about who you are or where you come from or anything else.
On the inside of the industry it seems to feel inclusive for a lot of people, but from the outside it can still appear very cismale-dominated and it’s hard to know which is accurate.
That is true, now that you mention it, it’s like being inside a bubble. But now that you’ve mentioned it, I actually can relate to that. My distant family members might ask, “Marika, what are you doing in the tech industry?” but I’m there having fun! [Laughter]
That’s it, how it’s perceived on the outside is very different to how it feels on the inside. I don’t know if that’s true of other industries but certainly in gaming it feels that way.
I hope this will change. I really hope it will change because how people outside of this bubble - this wonderful bubble we are in - how people outside see it will affect who will apply for the jobs, who will go to school and study this. Because in games, it’s not just the programmer and the artist, we have so many types of roles! There is something for everybody, regardless if you are interested in business, marketing, legal, or art.
What's the biggest challenge you’ve faced since joining the industry?
I think the biggest challenge has been, still is, and always will be learning to prioritise! The world is full of opportunities. Our community is global, it never sleeps. So realising that you cannot do everything, and then picking the things that you feel are the most important.
What has been the biggest change in the industry, since you started?
Mobile. A fun story from the past, when I was still in my previous job: I had just bought a brand-new Nokia phone which opened out like a keyboard from the bottom - I got a business phone, and it was very expensive. I had just graduated, and it was a very expensive purchase for me, but I wanted to invest into a high-quality business phone, because I was now an adult with a real job. Then Angry Birds came out and it was not on Nokia phones.
My friend had an iPhone with Angry Birds on it, and I was borrowing his phone so much, playing Angry Birds on it, that after a couple of weeks I had to abandon my brand-new Nokia, and buy myself an iPhone so that I could play Angry Birds. When I was growing up I played console and PC games, but as soon as mobile games came about it just somehow clicked in my brain. I have this thing in my pocket and I can enjoy this bite-sized game, or binge one hour of playing. And ever since then, it’s been all mobile games for me.
Where do you think the mobile games industry is heading in the next couple years?
I think cross-platform, in my crystal ball. For players to be able to pick up the game on one device or one platform and continue it on another.
Apart from the games that you’ve worked on at Supercell, which game do you wish that you had worked on?
Angry Birds! [Laughter] there was just something about those Angry Birds [laughter].
Is there anything else that you can tell us about the company culture at Supercell?
Yeah, I think a huge part of our success is our culture. And looking back, it’s not the moments when everything has gone right. It’s the moments when we failed and when something went wrong. I think those moments when we fail are the critical moments, because in our culture failure is a sign that somebody has tried something that maybe that has never been done before.
Maybe it failed, maybe it succeeded. If it failed, then sharing what you learned might help it work for someone else.
That’s a very scientific approach, actually, if nobody ever takes risks, then progress is never made?
Yeah, because in game development, or making a social media post, there is really no one correct answer. And if you don’t try new things, you will never find out what works and what doesn’t.
I feel that we have a safe and encouraging environment to take these risks. Go where no one has gone before. Try something that hasn’t been done before. Of course, you have to be smart and consider why we are doing this. What is it that we want to achieve and why would this take us there? And then learn from the failures.
The fact that everybody here just seems so happy and into it is great to see.
That’s super-awesome to hear. I think it’s two things; the culture, what happens inside the company, but the secret sauce behind Supercell’s success is the players. It’s the community. Probably the angle, how we look at things too, but we want to serve the players in the best possible way.
And this is the first live Clash Fest since Covid?
Yes, but this is also the first one having Clash of Clans and Clash Royale together, they’ve been separate efforts before. This is the first time that we brought our one hundred and twenty content creators on-site to experience this together.
Why did you decide to do it together this time?
It was kind of a dream for us. We have content creators who cover both games, and also players who play both games. So we had this vibe that there could be some synergy. Maybe the content creators who would want to come and watch Clash of Clans with us, maybe they would also like to see [Clash] Royale.
The games share the same universe, so we asked ourselves “what if we brought these worlds together?”.
This was a test and so far it seems like it was a success! Next we are going to gather feedback from visitors, viewers, players, content creators, everybody, and see what we do next.
That must be a big part of it as well, for the players to meet people that they wouldn’t necessarily meet in person?
Exactly that. For the past two years they’ve been online. They’ve been on voice chat for hours and hours and never met in person. So this was, for many players and many teams, the first time they met each other in person
The approach here seems to be more about how to keep people playing than attracting new users?
Yeah, in Clash of Clans and I think in all Supercell games, the key thing is long-term retention. We really want to make games that are played for years. And remembered forever.
You’re doing a pretty good job so far!