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My take on Supercell’s 2018 and things I look forward to this year

by Ilkka Paananen

Many of you, our players, have been eager to hear more about what we are up to here at Supercell. We’ve never been big on PR – we’d rather focus on creating the best possible games – but I thought that in the spirit of openness I would try writing a blog post to share what happened in 2018 and what we are excited about this year.

Brawl Stars!

When the year started, Brawl Stars had already been in Beta for a while, and we hadn’t launched a new game since Clash Royale in 2016. Given such a long gap, everyone was very eager to get Brawl out. I guess there was even some self-imposed pressure within Supercell to do so. This is precisely why I am so proud that the Brawl Stars team took all the time they needed to get the game to where they wanted it to be quality-wise. This is how we all want Supercell to operate: we should only release games that are the best possible experiences for our players; games that we ourselves are proud of. If this takes time, then so be it.

The Brawl Stars team wants it to be Supercell’s most community centric game ever. They want to draw ideas from our great player community. For example, so far we’ve had 19 maps (out of 65 maps in total) in the game designed or inspired by Brawl community members like Mordeus (Thousand Lakes & Forks Out), Lewinham (Echo Chamber & Puddle Splash), Rushalisk (Fancy Fencing & Island Invasion) and Owen Reds (Scorched Stone & Layer Cake), besides others. Oh, and Mortis obviously got his hat back ;)

A huge thank you from the Brawl team and myself to everyone who has contributed! We appreciate all the other great suggestions such as brawlers, skins, games modes and, of course, the great fan art.

In the spirit of this community centric approach, the Brawl Stars team wanted to launch the game together with the community that had been with them during the Beta. So, they invited almost 100 content creators from all over the world to our office on December 12th to launch the game globally.

It is hard to describe how awesome it was to have everyone here in cold and dark Helsinki to share the launch with us. Games can indeed bring people together from all walks of life and make the world a smaller, better place. Seeing our office filled with the excitement and passion from the content creators was very humbling.

To get an idea of the event, here’s a short video moment:

I want to thank all the countless players and content creators who believed in Brawl Stars and have been with us since the early days. I wish for a long and fun Brawl ride together! It’s still early days, but we are really excited! Right after launch, Brawl was the #1 downloaded game in more than 50 regions, including some big Asian markets like Japan, Korea and Taiwan. One of our dreams has always been to be the first truly global games company so this has been encouraging to see. At the time I’m writing this, 80 million people have played Brawl Stars, and it’s average rating is 4.5/5 stars, which is incredible. Even more incredible, we haven’t even launched in China yet, which we hope to do later this year. As for esports, Brawl just had its first live tournament in Dortmund, Germany. According to the whole Brawl team, who attended in-person, it was a lot of fun and you can expect more later this year!

Our Dream: Games That Are Played for Years and Remembered Forever

When we founded Supercell, our idea was to create an environment where the best teams can make the best games – games that would be played for years and remembered forever. It has been great to see how much this vision means for our teams, how they continue to evolve their games with this founding idea of ours in mind.

It’s crazy to think that Hay Day and Clash of Clans both celebrated their 6-year anniversaries. Clash of Clans and Clash Royale saw major updates during the year with Royale getting its own breed of Clan Wars, and Clash of Clans receiving new Town Hall levels for both villages as well as the new competitive endgame Clan War Leagues. The Boom Beach and Hay Day teams devoted their time to working on something big that they’ll bring to their players this year.

In December, we hosted the World Finals of the Clash Royale League in Tokyo. Around 25 million players participated in the in-app challenge events that served as qualifiers for the League. (I guess this might have made Royale the biggest esports on mobile.) Eventually, with millions of people watching, Team Nova emerged as World Champions. Congratulations to the team and everyone who made this event what it was!

Here’s a recap of the World Finals in Tokyo:

2018 in Numbers

You probably don’t know this but, according to Finnish law, we need to report our annual financial results around this time of year. Financially, our numbers went down. In 2018, our revenue was $1.6 billion and our EBITDA (profit before taxes) was $635 million. We paid $122 million taxes to Finland, the country where we are headquartered. Some people think we are crazy not to optimize our corporate taxes. But, we believe paying the taxes is simply the right thing to do, as they go back to the community we come from.

A few people have asked me whether as the CEO of the company I feel disappointed that the numbers went down from the previous year (and the year before). Well, sure, of course it would be great if the numbers always grew from the previous year. But, focusing on short-term financial metrics has never been the most important thing for me or for us as a company. Our concern is that if you start to be driven by short-term financials, you may be tempted to release average quality games too early or be overly focused on monetization. Instead, our approach is to focus on building great teams and creating a culture where these teams can focus on building great games. With a bit of luck, we hope that over the course of decades this approach will result in great games that players all over the world love and become part of the rich history of games.

I have to say that when we founded Supercell in 2010, had someone told me that we would be making more than a billion of revenue with headcount of just 283, I would have NEVER believed it! :)

Having said that, we did achieve some incredible financial milestones this year that are worth calling out. Each of our first four games - Hay Day, Clash of Clans, Boom Beach and Clash Royale - have now all grossed more than a billion dollars in lifetime sales. What is even more amazing is that the two Clash games have reached a combined ten billion dollars! To put that in context, that’s more than major film series like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter [1] have made at the box office, and ranks alongside iconic games franchises like Warcraft and League of Legends [2].

For someone who has been in mobile games since 2001, these types of figures are a great reminder of how far our industry has gone and all the wonderful things that games bring us. When I grew up, games were mostly played by teenage boys like me. Today, games are played by people of all ages and genders. Gamers come from all kinds of backgrounds, from all countries around the world. And there are BILLIONS of people who play! Such as Maria from Greece, Karuna from Thailand, Umit from Turkey, Ricky from Japan, and Stina & Mariama from Finland, all passionate Hay Day players whose lives you can take a look at in the “Meet the Farmer” video series.

But the most incredible thing for me is not how many people play games, but HOW THEY PLAY them. Today, most of the popular games are played together with other people. As an example, most of you play our games in groups with others, be that a “clan” in Clash of Clans or Royale, a “neighborhood” in Hay Day, a “task force” in Boom Beach or a “club” in Brawl Stars. Just to give you an idea how popular this is, last month, there were 25 million active groups playing our games, all of them created by you, with an average size of ten players. This is a great example of how games can bring people together from all around the world. Games really do make the world a smaller place!

The Best Teams Make the Best Games

One of the things I continue to be proud of is how, despite all the big financial figures, we’ve been able to keep the company quite small. You might wonder why this is important. Well, it’s because we believe that staying small allows us to maximize innovation and quality, and minimize bureaucracy, resulting in the very best games for you.

In 2018, as usual, we did not hire that many people to our studio in Helsinki. But, the people who joined are all simply amazing. It’s been great to see how talented people from all over the world really want to join us to work in our culture of small & independent teams. Just in Helsinki alone, around half of our new game developers came from somewhere else than Finland. Games truly do bring people together not only as players but also as creators! This is more important than you may think: if your goal is to develop games for global market, it certainly helps if the team behind the game is also global. And working in a multi-cultural environment is just much more fun and you learn new things every day!

One of the really big steps we took in 2018 was that we decided to start building a game studio in our Shanghai, China office. In the early days of Supercell, I thought that we would always be a single studio company – just to keep things simple. But I changed my mind when I got to know the Chinese games industry better. I admire how the best developers in China think about social gameplay and also how much new quality content they bring their players every month. There is definitely a lot us Western developers can learn. Our goal with this new studio is exactly the same as with our studio in Helsinki: create games for the global market, games that are played for years and remembered forever. We feel like this is a unique opportunity to bring together the best of two different worlds.

Building a studio is, of course, a very long process and we’ve just taken the first steps. But I am already excited about the small team we’ve been able to put together, and what they may come up with! But, remember, Supercell is a serial killer of games, and we will also maintain this high bar for any games created out of our Shanghai studio. We only release games that we are proud of and that we believe would be played for years – so getting the first game out from Shanghai might take a while :)

Continuing on the topic of teams, another highlight for us last year was that we found new talented studios to support. In 2018, we invested in the teams at Redemption Games (Carlsbad, California), Trailmix (London) and Everywear Games (Helsinki). These studios join our previous investments, the folks at Space Ape (London), Frogmind (Helsinki) and Shipyard Games (Helsinki). All these teams are unique with ambitious visions and different approaches to how they make games. I cannot wait to see what our extended Supercell Family will bring to our players and all the gamers around the world!

We started to make investments a few years ago, because we wanted to make a bigger impact in the world of games, without needing to grow our internal studio too much. Compared to traditional and usually very financially driven investors, our approach is different. The key idea is to give the teams full control of their own destiny, like we do with our own internal teams; enabling them to focus entirely on developing the best possible games, without the usual burdens that come with investors. We definitely will not tell these studios what to do; our approach is to replace control with trust. And, we will try to stay out of their way, unless they want our help. Ultimately, by unleashing the creativity of these teams and being patient investors with a long-term focus, we hope that it will result in more great games for everyone to play!

What do I look forward to in 2019?

As for 2019, there is a lot to be excited about. Brawl Stars will have its first full year as a globally live game, and there’s a TON in store since the game is still so young. Also, hopefully we can bring it also to our players in China soon. Boom Beach will have the huge “Warships” update soon. There is something big cooking for Hay Day, but it will still take a while to for us to get that out. Also, I know the Clash of Clans team is focused on improving the endgame for advanced players and making the clan experience better, and the Clash Royale team is creating new ways of progression. As usual, we’ll let the game teams speak for themselves when they’re ready!

One of our goals this year is to get better at creating more content for our players. This is a more interesting challenge to us than you might think. On one hand, we like our small team sizes because we believe that is one of the reasons we’ve been able to produce innovative games with fun core gameplay. On the other hand, there is only so much content a small group of people can do, no matter how talented they are or how hard they work. Anyway, we’ve concluded that this is something that we need to get better at. How do we keep the small team sizes that are so important for innovation, while getting much better at serving you, our players, with more content?

We have now made the first few steps to improve this. One, we’ve partnered with some talented external studios who will be helping us to build more and better content. Two, we have invested more into tools & technology that will help us create content more efficiently. And three, we have slightly grown the size of the live teams (but only the live game teams) to be able to serve all of you better. What all of this means for a game like Brawl Stars, for example, is more brawlers, more skins and more environments being added more frequently.

And last but not least, there are of course many new games in the works, all in different stages. Some are quite close to a state where we could imagine trying them in a Beta phase, others are further away. As usual, many of them will be killed before anyone outside Supercell will see them. But, with some luck, you should see a game or two from us in Beta this year. And then it is up to you, if enough players like them, we will release them globally.

Finally, I would like to conclude with two other things that, even if not directly related to our business, I personally really look forward to this year:

The first one is the launch a new type of coding school called Hive Helsinki. What makes it unique is that it has no teachers, no classes or books. Instead, it is based on practical coding assignments (including building games!) that students do in groups. Also, anyone can apply to the school via an online test that tests your logic skills, no prior coding experience is required. The school is also tuition free and based on a revolutionary concept called Ecole 42 (developed in Paris). The people behind it were kind enough to let us use the same concept here in Helsinki.

One of our big goals behind the school is make learning to code inclusive and accessible for everyone. We want creative people from all walks of life and from all kinds of backgrounds to have an opportunity to become world class coders.

The school is off to a good start; the online test has been open for a less than a month, and already a couple thousand people have passed it and made it to the next qualification phase. I am very grateful for all the support the school has received. I want to thank all the partner companies who all have agreed to offer internships, and of course the City of Helsinki; this is truly a project for the whole community.

The second non-games related initiative that I am proud of, is that in 2019, we will make Supercell entirely carbon neutral. At first thought, this might not seem like a big deal because as a company, we are quite small. But our people travel a lot, more than 2,000 days per year, and we can’t really cut this down much, as we need to spend a lot of time face to face with our people, partners and community around the world. Also, as some hundreds of millions people play our games every month, we consume a lot of server capacity (on last count we had around 6,400 servers). Of course, our players also need to charge their devices. All of this puts a burden on our environment.

Last year, we started to think how we could balance out our environmental impact. Many Supercellians had already compensated for their flights, for example, by using carbon off-set services. What these services do is nurture things that suck carbon dioxide out from the atmosphere, for example by planting trees or protecting existing forests. Anyway, we started to look into what being completely carbon neutral would require from us. We looked for benchmarks to see how other tech companies, like Apple and Mapbox, had done this. We crunched the numbers, lots of them, and hired an external consultant to verify and validate them.

Turned out that the total amount of annual total CO2 emissions that result from us doing our business are 39,475 co2 tons, of which:

  • 33,154 co2 tons from gamers charging their phones. We estimated this by taking into account the billions of hours our players actively play in a year and the average power consumed in different play modes. Obviously, these emission are not directly coming from us but we wanted to include them as well because they are a result of people playing our games.

  • 2,634 co2 tons from the servers we use

  • 2,377 co2 tons from the travels

In 2019, we will use carbon off-set services (e.g. Southpole) to get us to a place where we can confidently say we’ve become entirely carbon neutral. A very small step, but we wanted to do our part.

Alright, that’s it! Phew! This became a much longer post than I ever imagined but I wanted to take the time to share some of the many things going on around here and my thoughts on them.

I want to thank all of you for playing our games. And thank you to all our teams at Supercell for an incredible year.

Please let me know if this was useful, and if so, I will write a similar post again next year :)

Ilkka
@ipaananen