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Supercell is one of the most valued smartphone game companies in Finland. The company has a unique team structure, has been in existence for 6 years, and has developed 4 top games in terms of most downloaded apps. This case study focuses on a company's cell structure and how it helps in its development.
William R. Kerr, Benjamin Jones, Alexis Brownell
Harvard Business Review (817052-PDF-ENG)
October 17, 2016
Case questions answered:
- Describe the characteristics of Supercell's cell structure. In what areas do the cells have decision-making authority? What do you think are the strengths and limitations of the cell structure?
- How would you describe Supercell's approach to game development? Include your assessment of their game development process?
- Why would Tencent pay so much for Supercell, a six-year-old company with four successful games? Does the deal make sense to you? Why or why not?
- Peter Drucker allegedly said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Do you think Supercell is an example of this adage? Does culture trump strategy at Supercell?
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Case answers for Supercell
1. Describe the characteristics of Supercell’s cell structure. In what areas do the cells have decision-making authority? What do you think are the strengths and limitations of the cell structure?
Supercell’s cell structure is composed of small teams of developers devoted to their own game. The cell size varies but is relatively small, ranging from 2 people to 15 people or more. Cells operated completely independently from one another and have minimal management oversight.
Cells have considerable decision-making authority. They are entirely responsible for directing the development process from the initial roadmap, targets to decisions about the game from aesthetics to the gameplay.
Cells have the power to decide when and whether they will move on to the next phase of development. They have the ultimate power to kill or keep the game. Cells also make decisions regarding resource allocation and usage.
I think the cell structure of Supercell has various strengths, especially in an innovative company where originality and constant innovation are the key.
These strengths include the following:
- Cell structure allows the teams to operate with greater speed and efficiency. It doesn’t have layers of official processes that create slowness and leave developers’ maximum amount of time to develop games.
- Cell structure also gives the team a hundred percent ownership and decision power, which creates an environment of trust and team-building.
- Cell structure also promotes innovation to happen because, within each team, they have the power to quickly test and iterate the game development without going through many layers of management.
However, there are also inherent limitations in the cell structure that create drawbacks, especially for a more traditional company.
- The independent cells can lose the company’s whole picture; it can gradually create information silos that there’s no communication between cells.
- The cells may compete with each other, or they may have a conflict of interest when resources are limited.
- Cells can also create inefficiency because what gets solved in each cell does not transfer the experience or process to other cells that may create redundancy.
2. How would you describe Supercell’s approach to game development? Include your assessment of their game development process?
Supercell has a very rapid iterative game development process. It’s very agile and lean. It follows multiple stages:
- the prototype of an extremely rough version
- “playable prototype” that will be shown other to cells to test and solicit feedback
- “company playable” stage for the company employees to play
- beta launch
- global launch
Supercell’s game development process is…
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