Superplus makes games that are founded on sociability and playful competition. The gaming industry is driven by a strong sense of community and developers’ willingness to help each other.
Kalle Jyly, Superplus Games’ CEO, does not have to think long to answer the question what is the most important characteristic of a startup entrepreneur.
“Determination. When you hit a wall, you have to figure out how to get through it.”
Determination was also needed during Superplus’, set up in 2015, journey to become a scaling-phase growth company that has raised a total of EUR 4.6 million in funding. Its three founders, all Rovio veterans, walked through the dark valley of death for the first two years.
“Our first game was a total flop. At that point, many entrepreneurs would have called it quits, but we decided to press on. We had some tough discussions and thought about what we did wrong and how we could do better in the future,” says Jyly.
Their persistence led to success: a game entitled the Hills of Steel, which has nearly 60 million players around the world. The company has also published Hills of Steel 2 and Brawls of Steel is in the test marketing phase. Game testers have their hands full, as this year Superplus will be adding two more games to test marketing.
Agile operations minimise risks
Superplus Games wants to offer people social gaming experiences. Kalle Jyly and his team develop games where players cooperate, and competition is playful.
“You can play our games with your friends or find new friends to play with. We use the term playful competition which means that competing doesn’t have to be so serious. Team work and team spirit,” says Jyly about the company’s philosophy.
They will not work on a new game until its perfect. Instead, the aim is to get it to test marketing as quickly as possible. This minimises risks and helps keep the small team’s budget in check.
“In the beginning, there’s an idea of a game that we think players will like. We quickly make a light version and test it on the market to check our hypothesis. If the hypothesis is right, we’ll continue with development. If it’s wrong, we kill the game and move on to something else,” says Jyly.
“We put only three people on new projects and won’t start growing the team until we see signals that there is interest for the game. The fewer the people, the easier it is to manage uncertainty and search for the concept. It is also important to measure as many things as possible within the product in order to create higher-quality gaming experiences.”
Competitors’ success is not our loss
Even though competition is very fierce in the gaming industry, cooperation is part of the culture. Kalle Jyly believes that other companies’ success is not a bad thing. In a small country, success fuels more success.
“The gaming industry is unique in that we support each other, despite being competitors. We meet with local companies from Helsinki as often as possible. We talk about how things are going and help each other. We also exchange experiences with gaming firms from abroad.
Kalle Jyly says that the success of Supercell and Rovio has helped all game companies in Finland, which has become one of the top countries in the industry.
“Without these success stories, it would be much more difficult for Finnish companies to raise funding. International investors believe that Finnish companies know the business very well. We Finns don’t like to brag, but we could make a little more noise about this.”
Funding involves something that Jyly says entrepreneurs sometimes forget.
“Sometimes people look for funding hoping for someone to come and save them. That won’t work because investors want value for money and scalability. It is important to show them that you already have some sales. Excel is better for raising money than PowerPoint.”
Put your heart in the game, but care for yourself, too
Superplus Games’ CEO speaks warmly about his work community which believes in caring. Be a nice person is a reflection of the company’s values.
“I’m proud of the team we have. It has taken a long time to put it together. We talk a lot and support each other. We feel like this is a home away from home. It is a point of honour with me that everyone in our team is doing well,” says Kalle Jyly.
The startup entrepreneur says that everyone has their limit. We need to take care of our own wellbeing and make sure our life is balanced.
“Grandmother’s three rules may sound boring, but they work: get eight hours of sleep every night, exercise a few times a week, and eat more or less healthily. That creates a foundation that helps you to cope even when it is really rough at work or in life in general.”
In a hectic world, we look for quick fixes that are a far cry from Kalle Jyly’s ideal world. His motto is: you are what you do every day.
“If you don’t care about what you do, then why do it at all? When you put your heart in what you do, you can look at yourself in the mirror each day after work and feel proud of yourself. In fact, one of the great things about entrepreneurship is that it is extremely difficult. When you succeed, against the odds, it definitely feels rewarding.
“All lasting and good things in life require perseverance. Whether it is entrepreneurship or something else. Entrepreneurship is not a sprint but a marathon,” says Kalle Jyly.
Tips from Vesa Raudasoja, Newco Helsinki’s Business Advisor for gaming:
- Think carefully whether game development is a hobby or a profession for you. Remember that the purpose of a limited liability company is to generate profit for its shareholders.
- Find out about various funding alternatives at the earliest possible stage. NewCo Helsinki’s Business Advisory Services and Business Finland are good places to start.
- Make realistic financing plans.
- Before investors will want to become involved, your company has to have something to show for itself.
- Read contracts carefully, even the small print at the bottom of the page.
- There are many kinds of business models. Which one is the best fit for your product?
- Make sure the founders discuss everything about the business thoroughly so that you are on the same page from the start. Review your plan from time to time.
- The right people with the right skills in the right roles is critical. Do not choose the CEO randomly from a group of friends.
- The gaming industry in Finland is exceptionally community-oriented. Don’t keep to yourself, network actively and openly.
- Make sure cash will not dry up.
- Do not put everything in the same basket and try to minimise risks.
- Develop your project management skills and make realistic schedules.
- Gain a proper understanding of the market and invest in analytics to gain valuable data.
- Do not try to perfect your game. Instead, try to release a preview (so-called soft launch) as soon as possible to gain feedback before the official release.
- Make sure work and free time are in balance.
- The game industry ecosystem will support your journey: help is available at every stage of entrepreneurship. NewCo Helsinki’s Business Advisor for gaming can help you find a tailored solution and the right contacts for your particular situation.
- If you decide not to continue as an entrepreneur, remember that gaming sector entrepreneurs are highly valued employees. Your time as an entrepreneur is never wasted.