2014 was a great year for Supercell – and not just because it racked up revenues of close to $2bn.
With the launch of a new game, big changes to Clash of Clans and Hay Day, and plans for the Finnish firm's future hits coming along nicely, Supercell went from strength to strength last year.
We caught up with Clash of Clans' game lead Tommi Suvinen (pictured) to find out more.
What was the biggest thing to happen to Supercell in 2014?
2014 was a big year for us on two fronts: the global launch of our third game – Boom Beach – back in March, as well as an ongoing series of updates to Clash of Clans and Hay Day.
Obviously a new game is a big moment for any developer and we’ve been delighted at how popular Boom Beach has been so far. The vast majority of our game ideas never make it out of the company, and we don’t launch a game globally until everyone is confident that it can deliver the quality that players expect from Supercell.
At the same time, we always say that the launch of a mobile game is really only the beginning. You can never be sure that an update will be successful, and there are millions of people already playing the game who will be unhappy if the update doesn’t deliver. So it was a fantastic feeling to get such a positive reaction from players.
Few mobile games have the staying power of Clash of Clans. How have you managed to make a game players stick with for years?
There really isn’t a single, easy answer. The intention from the very beginning was to make a game that people would want to play for a very long time. So from the outset it was a conscious decision to develop a game that had the depth, quality and long-term appeal to keep players interested for years, rather than a ‘quick hit’ we could make and then move on from.
One of the ways we have done this is through social features. Players really enjoy the ability to chat and send messages to each other, and really work together in a meaningful way. When players feel that they have created something with each other, they will want to keep playing to protect it and build it up even further.
We also see games-as-a-service; we act on the feedback we get from players. By constantly developing and balancing gameplay, we’re able to not only create new challenges for players, but also keep the whole game fresh.
We devote as much time to developing our games after release as we do before launch.
As you develop the game over time, how do you make it appeal to new and long-time players alike?
We devote as much time to developing the game after release as we do before the launch. The big advantage we have after launch is the feedback from our players: what they like and don’t like, what they want to see in the future.
I think the best games provide new content to reward long-term players, but also regularly make improvements to the core gameplay and early stages that every new player starts with. We try to strike this balance in all of our updates. For example, our December update added a new top level, but also introduced a village layout editor that makes it easier for players to adapt their base.
What role do these long-term games play in Supercell’s overall goals?
We want every game we produce to be remembered and played for decades – it’s central to what we want Supercell to be known for.
We’ve killed a huge number of titles in development because the teams working on them weren’t convinced people would want to play them for years. We’ve never been afraid to make that decision.
What learnings have you taken from Clash of Clans and how will you apply them to future projects?
Meaningful social features go a long way in keeping the players happy and engaged. People love interacting daily with their friends, helping each other out, and going through shared adventures. The introduction of Clan Wars created a new level of social interaction, and it has been successful.
Having a large playerbase also allows us to examine in detail how different players interact with the game. Despite its simplicity, the game has a lot of depth, and the experience keeps feeling fresh as you unlock more units and improve your village. Veteran players get a lot of enjoyment with high-level battles that require unique skills developed by playing the game for years.
We’ve killed a huge number of titles because we weren’t convinced people would want to play them for years. We’ve never been afraid to make that decision.
Going forward, we have some key ideas that we think are crucial to our games, such as gameplay that stays fun for years and meaningful social tools. But we also know that expressing these ideas in a particular game is more of an art than science. That’s why we try many different concepts and see what ends up exciting the team and our players.
Why do you think so many mobile developers struggle to achieve the levels of retention Clash of Clans has?
The first thing to remember is there is a degree of luck in developing games. Nobody can predict what will be a hit.
I can only really talk about what we do at Supercell, but I know that developing games for mobile is different than for other platforms. Primarily, players now expect that a game will be constantly refined and updated after launch. So, to retain players, you have to treat development as an ongoing process that never really ends.