How to Go from Zero to Two Billion: 6 lessons from the world’s biggest mobile game developer.

Supercell’s journey to success…

If you know me well, you’ll know I’m a pretty big Supercell fan. Over the last 3 years, tons of my time has been consumed “fighting the enemy” through my mobile phone. Let me start by saying, while I do love a good strategy game, I wouldn’t consider myself a “gamer” by true definition. So why then? Why I have spent countless hours playing multiple supercell games and even giving my hard earned cash over? The answer is Supercell’s combination of brilliant marketing and brilliantly designed games.

In this post I’m going to delve into what make’s the company and their games so brilliant. Trust me, there’s a lot we can all learn from  Supercell.

Let me begin by giving you a bit of background on this awesome company.

In the summer of 2010 in Helsinki Finland, Supercell was birthed by CEO Ilkka Paananen along with five friends. The initial vision of the company was to create cross-platform games that people could enjoy on mobile, tablet or desktop, but a few months after launching their first game ‘Gunshine’ they realised it wasn’t going to deliver on this vision. They decided to drop all of their ongoing developments for desktop and began to reform the entire company strategy to focus on mobile and tablets.

LESSON #1: “It’s better to kill ideas that start feeling like they aren’t going to work earlier rather than later.

Supercell’s first real success came in 2012 when they launched Hay Day – a social
-farming game. By 2013 it was the 4th highest grossing mobile game. Supercell CharactersLater in 2012 they launched what would be their biggest success to date – Clash of Clans. Six months later, both games were generating $1 million a day. Six months after that, $2.5 million, with both holding top-five positions in the App Store longer than any other game that year. They were on to something.

To date, Supercell have brought four games to market – Hay Day, Clash of Clans, Boom Beach and Clash Royale (and I’ve fallen victim to them all, long before I really looked into who Supercell were). All of their games use the freemium business model. While they’re free to download and play, players have the option to speed up the production of resources, building upgrades or troop training through in-app purchases. They are not however “pay-to-win” games. Players can obtain resources through committed gameplay (though it will take you much longer).

LESSON #2: “The freemium model is a powerful marketing tool. You can obtain large numbers of loyal users quickly from the buzz created around your idea.”

But what about the game-play? Is there some secret formula Supercell have figured out for making truly addictive mobile games? Well for starters they are the kind of games you want to go back to. There is always more to build, more to plant, new resources to collect, new players to fight. But they also aren’t the kind of game’s that take a lot of your time. If you’re waiting for your tv show to start you can turn it on for a few minutes, train a couple of troops, plant some crops or raid an enemy base and quickly turn it off before your boyfriend yells at you (true story)!

Another aspect of gameplay that Supercell executes on flawlessly is player on
boarding. I experienced this particularly with Clash of Clans. If a new player were looking at an experienced player’s base it might be a little intimidating. Clash has a lot of moving parts for new gamers to learn, which could have been an issue if on-boarding didn’t flow so smoothly.  When a player starts the game for the first time they’re immediately sent into a tutorial, but unlike some of the “swipe right for the next page” type of tutorial that just gives you text on the aim of the game and what you ned to do (I will never understand why so many apps still adopt this boring approach), the Clash tutorial is interactive and actually has a character take you through your first building, first army, and first battle. Clash Royale uses a similar concept. Everything is designed in such a way that players never feel hand held through a tutorial but instead learn through their own self-created experience.

LESSON #3: “Make on-boarding seamless and balance coaching and exploration.”

Beyond explaining things in such an interactive way, the Clash tutorial also simply
avoids many of the more complicated game aspects that aren’t needed at “new player level”. New gamers don’t need to worry about spells, troop upgrades or joining a clan. Once players are familiar with the key concepts and controls, the game’s hidden depth is gradually revealed. This not only keeps players engaged for longer but it also reduces the possibility of players giving up early on.

LESSON #4: “Don’t overwhelm new users. Teach them only what they need to know on day one. No more, no less.”

Once players have gone through the immersive tutorial’s, Supercell’s games have more than a few well designed tactics to keep people playing. Users are sent notifications to bring them back like “your troops are ready for battle” or “your building is finished”… if you’re out for too long you might even get something like “your troops miss their leader”. Players need good reasons to return and play games time and time again. Clash Royale achieves this by time locking almost all of its rewards. After each battle win, players receive a chest full of rewards, but unlocking this can take anything from 15 seconds to 12 hours. The short timers keep players engaged and the longer timers give players a reason to return.

LESSON #5: “Make engagement and re-engagement core to your product.”

In addition to all of the aspect’s that make Supercell’s games great, the company culture also has a huge impact on their success. With only 180 employees across 5 offices, Supercell’s founders believe that games shouldn’t be made by teams of dozens or hundreds of people. They should be made by small talented teams of half a dozen developers with unlimited freedom – Supercells. For example Clash of Clans was developed by a team of five guys in six months!! Supercell has a very flat structure. Teams operate independently and own the end user experience. The majority of the power is in the hands of the individuals. No one has an office, everyone sits together, revelling in zero bureaucracy. “Giving orders like a top-down management just doesn’t work at all” says Supercell CEO Paananen. Creating a feeling like everyone is in it together has been vital for creating a culture of openness.

LESSON #6: “Hire smart, passionate people and let them lead”

Supercell puts its own rapid success down to their culture, passion, transparency and employees. Paananen sums it up perfectly in the company’s core belief “The best people make the best games”.

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