More than 100 million people play the company games he runs every day. It is easy to say, but not so much to understand the dimension of what Ilkka Paananen (1978), he founder and CEO of Supercell, has in hand. This Finnish company specializing in mobile games and known for such successful titles as Clash of Clans, Clash Royale or Brawl stars it doesn't even have ten years of existence and, in such a short time, it has managed to become the first “decacorn”From Europe, that is, the first European technology company to overcome the 10,000 million dollar market valuation barrier. Again, it is said fast.
The thing does not end here, with a billing of more than one billion euros per yearSupercell is the company that contributes the most in taxes to the Finnish state and seven of its employees are among the top ten individual taxpayers in the country, with Paananen in the lead.
As one of the most important digital entrepreneurs in the world, the videogame congress Gamelab has decided to deliver Ilkka Paananen on XV anniversary award of this event, all this in an event held a few weeks ago at the facilities of the video game university ENTI-UB in collaboration with the Generalitat de Catalunya and the i2cat and Devicat foundations. I agree with this event, The vanguard He has had the opportunity to interview the CEO of Supercell exclusively.
La Vanguardia: Although they have more players and generate more income, it seems that mobile games are still not as well regarded in the media as traditional games. Do you have this perception?
Ilkka Paananen: If you have hundreds of millions of people playing your games every month, you create the games for that audience, not for the media or anyone else. We want to make games that we are proud of and, more than anything, we want to make games that our users like. We are 100% focused on that and, of course, games are a matter of taste, such as music or movies.
When three years ago they published the game Clash Royale I was pleasantly surprised by its innovative gameplay. In fact, it was one of the best games of 2016 in The vanguard. However, I am the type of player who never pays anything in games Free-to-Play. How do players like me fit into your business vision?
We appreciate you playing our games. We are grateful for each player who invests their time or money, because each one adds something valuable to the game and the surrounding community, whether competing to be at the top of the leaderboards or just playing with friends. It is super important for us and we are touched by the number of people from all over the world who have fun with our titles. So, we are grateful for every second you have put into our games.
"If you have hundreds of millions of people playing your games every month, you create the games for that audience, not for the media or for anyone else."
Anyway, I imagine they are more interested in their games being liked by users accustomed to spending money.
I don't think everything is black and white. It is important to note that more than 90% of the players in our games are like you and never pay anything; That is a conscious choice we have made. You can have people who spend nothing, people who spend a little, people who spend a little more and people who spend even more. The grace of the model Free-to-Play is that players like you can play games they like for free. This was not possible in the old days, when you had to pay 60 or 70 euros for a game that sometimes you didn't like. If the model Free-to-Play It is well implemented, everyone wins, consumers and the company.
A few weeks ago, during a video game tournament HearthStone, the American company Blizzard Entertainment banned a player from competing again in official tournaments for supporting Hong Kong protests. In recent weeks, many companies have positioned themselves around this issue. What would be Supercell's position in a similar case? Would they let their players express themselves 100% free in the game?
Of course, our players are free to express their opinions.
In June 2016, the Chinese conglomerate Tencent acquired the majority stake of Supercell for $ 8.6 billion. What would be Supercell's position if one of its Clash Royal players publicly expressed a similar opinion in an official tournament?
First of all, it is important to emphasize that we have full operational independence as part of our relationship with Tencent, in the same way as with all our investors in the past. Supercell is a global company with hundreds of millions of players from around the world and employees from more than 30 countries. Therefore, we do not take a position on political issues because we want to make games that are as inclusive as possible. But yes, everyone has the right to express their opinions.
"Our players are free to express their opinions … we don't take a position on political issues because we want to make games that are as inclusive as possible."
Recently, Supercell withdrew its games from the Apple Store and Google Play in Vietnam due to a violation of local regulations. The video game market in this country is not as big as the Chinese, but in 2018 it was the second largest in Southeast Asia in terms of mobile game downloads. Are video game companies like yours worried about such situations?
If you want to run a global video game business you must follow local laws and, of course, we have no control over them. We believe in the unique power of video games to connect people from all over the world. Idyllicly we want to launch games in all countries, but at the same time, we know that sometimes we cannot do it unless we follow the local laws of all countries. You may not agree with these local laws, but, so far, we have decided that it is better to participate in this global market than simply being outside.
The Chinese market is the largest in the world in number of users and video game revenue. Has it been advantageous to be within Tencent to penetrate the Chinese market?
The main advantage that Tencent offers us is that they have a large number of users throughout China and, of course, they help us a lot to promote our games there and make them better known among the local public.
“Pokémon Go it became such a great phenomenon that, of course, many of our players started playing it, but many of them came back after a while. ”
There is something about his games that I find fascinating. Every time they launch a new title they create a trend in the mobile game landscape. For example, something as simple as the angry face in the game icon Clash of Clans. Many companies copy this type of icon in their games. In fact, there are companies that copy everything you do to the letter. Are you worried about how normalized plagiarism is in the mobile gaming industry?
I wouldn't say I'm worried about that. We respect everyone's work and play many games from other companies, but we decide what games we play as a company. We want to do what seems right to us and we don't like to react to whatever the competition is doing. As a general line of thinking, if we want to move forward as an industry, the only way to do it is to do something different, go to new places. That has a risk, you will often fail because you are doing something risky and different, but when someone does it right they get the industry moving forward. Think of something like Pokémon GoIt was a great success and also a great risk. It was something that had not been seen before. I think a single game can make the industry bigger and expand the audience of games in general. As an industry, I hope that more and more emphasis will be placed on doing new and innovative things, this is how we will make the industry better for everyone in the long term.
Speaking of Pokémon GoI read in one interview they did in the Finantial Times in which he said that for Supercell the launch of this game was like "a kick in the butt".
Pokémon Go It became such a great phenomenon that, of course, many of our players started playing it, but many of them came back after a while. But as I said, I honestly believe that, first of all, Pokémon Go It was a great game and it still is, and I consider it a very positive game for the entire industry, including us. I am very grateful to that game because I think it has definitely helped to expand the audience for everyone.
“We make loot boxes in a very ethical and transparent way”
Recently, Belgium has changed its laws related to loot boxes (loot boxes) and now the UK government is also studying regulating the existence of this type of mechanics in the games. Are you prepared for eventual legislative changes in Europe related to this?
We make loot boxes in a very ethical and transparent way, we have nothing to hide about how we do them and we believe that they can improve the game experience when they are done well, so we have not done any preparation.
What would you say to the parents of a child who wakes up at 5:00 in the morning to open a chest in Clash Royale?
I am also a father and I will never let my children do it. As game developers we have a great responsibility and I can honestly say that the way we design our games and loot boxes is ethical. It is very important for us to do the right thing. There is a great responsibility on the shoulders of game developers, and the more successful you are, the greater is that responsibility. But at the same time, parents also have a responsibility, I would never allow my children to use their phones at 5:00 in the morning. There are very easy tools to prevent that from happening; Apple, for example, has a functionality that limits screen time, so I encourage all parents to use that application and others that are similar.
I have seen that on the Supercell website they have a guide for parents.
Yes. That is an area in which the industry should invest even more. I think the problem is that for many parents mobile games with the model Free-to-Play, and all that they entail, remain something surprisingly new. As an industry, it is important to put more effort into educating parents, because it is very easy to use functionalities such as the mobile screen time limit. We need to educate parents.
"If we have a weakness in Supercell is that we are less directed by the data than you think, we are guided more by the creative instinct than the data"
I think it's obvious that behind the games Free-to-Play There are very calculated mechanisms to reward the player. For example, when you spend time without entering the game, you receive great gifts. It is no secret that these types of games use knowledge of fields such as psychology to try to retain players. I think this worries people.
The example you have given is very good. If a player returns to the game after leaving it for a year, it means that we have not offered him a game that he likes and, therefore, it makes sense to present something that, hopefully, makes that player enjoy the experience better. Honestly, in that we have done very badly as a company. It is only now that, for example, we have begun to pay a little more attention to those things in games like Clash of Clans. In fact, if we have a weakness in Supercell, we are less directed by the data than you think, we are guided more by creative people and creative instinct than by data. I think putting yourself in the player's place should be the first priority. And when the player returns, what makes sense to do is put the focus on the player above all.
Are you interested in opening a studio in Barcelona?
Could you be more specific?
I used to run a studio here in Barcelona, in my old company, Digital Chocolate, and I would be very interested in opening a studio or getting more involved.
“I used to run a studio in Barcelona and would be very interested in opening a studio here”