A young gaming company has accomplished more in two years than many manage in their entire lifetimes.
In February 2011, the Finnish gaming industry was surprised to learn that a tiny, eight month-old company was already releasing its first game. The shocks kept coming: not only was the game a hit, but three months later the company received a significant $12 million investment.
Supercell is a young company, but it is not run by novices. Each member of their core team has over ten years of experience in the industry, and combined they have shipped more than 165 games on 12 different platforms. They quickly got the company running and developed their first game, Gunshine, and hit the ground running.
“2011 was a great year for Supercell,” says CEO Ilkka Paananen. “It was the year we built the basic foundation of the business, both in terms of the people and the core technology. We started the year with 6 founders wedged into a small office in Espoo, and eventually moved into our current offices in the High Tech Center in Ruoholahti, where our team is now 45 people.”
Much of Supercell’s expansion is due to a major round of funding, with $12 million invested by Accel Partners, London Venture Partners and Klaas Kersting, the founder of the German gaming company Gameforge. Accel Partners, whose past investments include Rovio, Facebook and Groupon, led the round. Kevin Comolli, one of the partners in the London office of Accel, joined the Supercell board of directors.
“We are thrilled to be investors in Supercell and to be working with this incredibly talented and experienced team,” Comolli said. “We enthusiastically share their conviction regarding the opportunity to develop a new category of online games.”
Paananen is pleased about Supercell’s investors, which also include Initial Capital, Cerval Investments and Lifeline Ventures.
“The investors we have on-board bring in an incredible amount of value, in terms of their expertise, contact network and other things,” he says. “They all have fantastic international track-records in their field of expertise. Increasingly, companies are competing in a global marketplace, and having strong international investors help us tremendously. We are very proud of the investors we have in Supercell, and have enjoyed working with them.”
With this firm financial footing, Supercell began developing three more games during the summer of 2011. Yet they still had ambitious plans for expansion.
“Later in the year, we started preparing to open up an office in the US,” continues Paananen. “This process was completed early this year when we hired Greg Harper, a game industry veteran, to head our office there. Now, we have a small group working from our office in San Francisco, which has been terrific.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of Supercell’s plans include aiming at tablet computers as a gaming platform.
“We believe the tablet is the ultimate platform for games, and like any platform, the best experiences will always be designed from the ground up to support it,” explains Paananen. “Our first focus is still to make sure the core gameplay experience is fun and can stand on its own before we layer on all the other trimmings that make up a final game. Once we feel good about the core gameplay, we turn our sights on the unique qualities of the tablet platform – its amazing display capabilities, larger screen, and touch user interface.”
Paananen points out that people expect an even higher level of quality for almost anything they do on a tablet, so Supercell invests heavily in polishing the graphics and final experience with the goal of exceeding those expectations.
“Tablets allow you to go even further with some of the core features available on smartphones, such as the wonderful touch user interface,” he says. “Now, with a larger screen, you can create different controls and actions with not just a single touch but two, three, and four finger swiping gestures that open up a range of fun, new ways you can interact with a game.”
The next eagerly-awaited news from Supercell is its new game, Battle Buddies, which will be available early this year on touch devices like the iPad and iPhone.
“It is a wacky tactical combat game you can play against other players,” Paananen says. “You control five quirky characters and position them against your opponent’s team. For this game, we developed a line drawing interface, meaning that you move your characters by drawing on the screen, which is something we do not believe has been done in this game genre before. The game has some really fun strategic challenges to it with a very original look and feel. I think players will be laughing and shouting when they try Battle Buddies, and will have a lot of fun playing that against other people.”
Paananen’s enthusiasm for his work is evident: not only is he excited about what the company has already achieved, he also has high praise for the team.
“I’ve been in the games industry for a long time and have worked with lots of different folks, but this is hands down the best group of people I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “They are very experienced, very smart, very creative, but above all else, they are just fun, cool, super nice people.
“And what’s most exciting of all, it is still very early days for Supercell. I just saw a study by Gartner which predicted 665 million tablets by 2016. Given most of these users will want to play games on them, the opportunity for companies who are focused on the tablet platform is just massive. I cannot wait to see everything that we will be able to achieve together with the team that we’ve put together!”
Text: David J. Cord, Helsinki Times
Did you know?
Founded: June 2010
Founders: Niko Derome, Visa Forsten, Mikko Kodisoja, Lassi Leppinen, Ilkka Paananen and Petri Styrman
Described as: “A small elite task force, with plans and ambitions that outstrip their size, but not their abilities.”
Big hit: Gunshine
Funding: seed undisclosed, $12 million in Series A in 2011