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Supercell's Secret Sauce
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Supercell's Secret Sauce

December 7, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Also echoing Valve's methods, Supercell is a very flat organization. No one has an office, and everyone sits together, reveling in zero bureaucracy. Teams operate independently, such that the majority of the power is in the hands of the individuals.

"We like to think of our guys as craftsmen -- we want to hand-craft these games for our users," says the Supercell CEO. "Giving orders like a top-down management just doesn't work at all. I think the information just flows so much better. There's the feeling that we're all in this together. It makes sense in our relatively fast-moving and dynamic environment too. It's just good to have everyone as close by as possible."

"Of course we have some processes," he adds, "but basically everybody hates processes here -- for there to be a process of any kind, there has to be a really good reason."

The next spice thrown into Supercell's sauce is transparency. Every single morning an automatic email is sent out to every single employee -- no matter if they are full-time, part-time, or trainee. Said email displays how many users each product has, how much revenue was generated, and various other key performance indicators like retention rates.

"We don't have any secrets here," explains Paananen. "Even if I wanted to keep something secret I can't, because I force myself to send all the data every single morning, and there's nothing I can do about it! It actually helps the management of the company, because it makes our culture very results-driven, and there's no politics."

This level of openness with its employees even extends to those moments when things go horribly wrong -- in fact, as strange as it may sound, Supercell actually revels in flops and misadventures.

"We have this culture of celebrating failure," explains Paananen. "When a game does well, of course we have a party. But when we really screw up, for example when we need to kill a product -- and that happens often by the way, this year we've launched two products globally, and killed three -- when we really screw up, we celebrate with champagne. We organize events that are sort of postmortems, and we can discuss it very openly with the team, asking what went wrong, what went right. What did we learn, most importantly, and what are we going to do differently next time?"

Paananen goes even further -- he believes that teams learn more from failures than from successes, and that the best companies are built on top of these failures. "That's why we encourage failure," he adds. "When you fail you learn, and that's worth celebrating. This will also encourage risk-taking. If you punish failure, that doesn't encourage you to take risks. You'll end up just doing sequels and playing safe."

The Supercell man acknowledges that certain parts of his business strategy may well clash with how others in the industry approach development and management, and so when it comes to hiring time, applicants are made fully aware of how the company operates.

"We pay very close attention when we hire people that they are okay with this working environment," Paananen says. "It's definitely not for everybody, absolutely not, because you have to be really proactive, very passionate about this stuff, and passionate about games, first and foremost. But it's definitely a very fun environment to work with."

The final addition to Supercell's secret sauce is quite simply Finland itself. In 2011, the Finnish games industry grew by 57 percent, to a value of 165 million euros, according to the International Game Developers Association. Why is Finland booming?

"People ask me 'What's in the water in Finland? Where did all these great mobile games companies come from?'" laughs Paananen. "In Finland, we have this unique combination of creativity and technology talent. We're known for a lot of great engineering talent, but the other side that people constantly miss because we're shy and silent and not very outspoken, is that we actually have this long tradition in storytelling."

And the Supercell CEO has his own theories as to where this tradition came from. "200 years back, it was a very poor country, and people were living in very small houses. During the Fall and Winter time it was cold, it was miserable. There was nothing you could do outside, so what people would do is, they would gather in their houses and tell stories. There were storytellers who were almost like rock stars."

"So there's this really long tradition of storytelling," he continues. "But the other part is that people would just then invent games, kind of like board games, just on their own. And this kind of creativity has been in our culture for a very long time. It's a combination of that, plus the engineering talent, which I think makes the games industry so great here."

It's not like the Finnish games industry has suddenly come out of nowhere, either. Finland has boasted a healthy games industry for two decades now, with names like Max Payne, Alan Wake and Supreme Snowboarding associated with the country. But, as mentioned previously, it is the falling of the publisher barriers that has really helped Finland's games industry to evolve at an alarming rate.

"I think it's interesting that, after the collapse of Nokia, Finland sort of needs to reinvent itself," remarks Paananen. "We truly believe that tablets and mobile are the future of games, and I'd argue that if we can keep our position, we're going to be one of these centers of gravity for the future of gaming."

"It definitely doesn't just apply to Rovio and Supercell either," he adds. "I guarantee you that in the next three or four years, there's going to be a lot of other companies that break through. I can see what's going on here in the game scene, and it's unbelievable how many great small companies are being started almost every month."

It helps that the Finnish government is rather excited about games at the moment, once again thanks to Rovio and Angry Birds. The country's National Technology Agency hands out subsidies to new video game business that look promising, and according to Paananen, it's pretty easy to get a games business started as a result, at this moment in time.

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