The world’s least powerful CEO won’t lead Supercell’s next chapter. Supercell is superscaling, and with it comes bureaucratization and hierarchy.
CEO Ilkka Paananen believes investing in their proprietary game engine is crucial for the company’s future. One way to scale is by increasing each developer’s productivity. The engine functions like a platform with “out-of-the-box” tools to avoid re-building the wheel for every title. The challenge, however, is that each game and genre has its own “wheel.” Supercell’s most ambitious project, Clash Heroes, opted for Unreal instead of the in-house engine, raising concerns about its effectiveness.
The economics of proprietary engines haven’t worked. Engine development is expensive, with costs amortized over customers. The fewer the customers, the more expensive development. This worsens when combined with new studio locations and remote work. EA’s Frostbite isn’t exactly setting the industry ablaze, and the multi-title property engine graveyard is stuffed to the brim with tombstones.
A stronger central engine also means a stronger central engine team with increasingly prioritized and controlled roadmaps by someone “else.” Will Clash of Clans or Clash Mini get priority for their requested engine feature? Politics is born anew.
Even on the labor side, centralized roles like “Chief Game Officer” have emerged. While we don’t know the responsibilities of this role, we’ve seen Pixar-style creative councils quickly devolve into soft gates, as King employees will vouch.
Supercell’s Next Chapter is a beautiful analysis of its next moves, but it wasn’t written by the “world’s least powerful CEO.” Perhaps changing this title is a part of the Next Chapter.