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Lessons from a game guru: Candy Crush Saga creator once survived six months without pay

Lebedev: Let’s talk about the agile process. At Signus, my company, we tried to do agile, and I always tell everyone that you do, but I think that every time you hear about agile, it’s not fully agile, not a full process. It’s very difficult to get everyone to work like this. One of the pieces of agile is continuous improvement. So how do you guys do it? Do you physically have boards and cards?

Palm: Yeah, we do a lot of that. But it’s also — the teams can have their own versions of this, something that works really well for them. It’s important to be flexible in your methods.

Lebedev: What happens when two studios work together? Or does that not happen often?

Palm: We have a platform functionality in Sweden, for instance, that needs to be used by the other offices, so we come together several times a year to work on that. We travel a lot to different studios to update the team on changes.

Lebedev: What are some weaknesses that you’re seeing personally?

Palm: I don’t know about weaknesses, but we definitely have bottlenecks around recruiting engineers. We’ve been focusing a lot on recruiting and getting the studios up to strength. That’s gone fairly well, though, I would say. It’s impressive to see that the London studio was able to do such a great game with Farm Hero Saga, the first game that was released from there.

Lebedev: How do you work? What’s your personal management style like? How do you keep yourself organized?

Palm: If you work with me, you know that I’m a man of chaos. I don’t have a team at the moment. I work a little bit with design still, but I work pretty independently in that area. When I was the CEO of Fabrication Games, though, I personally liked to work with people who take a lot of responsibility themselves. Management by not managing was my favorite way to work. I think that’s pretty Swedish, to make sure that people have the tools, that they can fail once and hopefully they’ll learn from that mistake.

Lebedev: Let’s talk more about the market. It’s important to look at the market, because it’s really changed. A handful of companies are at the top. King is one of them. Who are King’s competitors? Or does King have any competitors?

Palm: It’s a question that the CEO could probably answer better. I would see it pretty much as — we’re aiming to do these bite-sized games that you can pick up and play at any time. The competition is whatever people use to spend their time. We see, at least in Sweden, that traditional broadcast TV is losing a lot of its audience. One of the reasons is that people are using their smartphones more. There are a lot of things competing for people’s time.

Gaming is a great entertainment form that way. You can take it out and play it for a little while and it’s still meaningful, especially in a social context.

Lebedev: You’ve been talking about a lot of derivative projects. You tried licensed goods a little while ago. Can you talk about how that’s gone? I have the Candy Crush socks. My mother bought them for me. Has that been difficult?

Palm: It’s super interesting work. I’ve been involved myself with the socks, for instance. We say at King that we’re primarily a games company. That’s what we excel at and what we’re continuing to do. But we want to do things that feel meaningful for players and fans, things that will put smiles on their faces. We’ve been doing things that feel like fun products to work with. We now have a licensing team in London, so we’re taking that more and more seriously.

King game characters

Above: King game characters

Image Credit: King

Lebedev: King is great at doing these bite-sized games, like you said, but what about more mid-core games? What do you think of that area?

Palm: I’m a big consumer of games myself, ranging from hardcore to mid-core. But I think that when it comes to King, we’re aiming at doing more casual, social games. That’s where we’re seeing a big appetite in the market – games that you can play with your family members. Women have been really important to us.

Lebedev: King is very slow to move to new platforms. I don’t think you guys had any Kindle games for a while. It’s only been in the last year. Is there a reason for that? Why aren’t you on Blackberry, for instance?

Palm: Again, it’s very much a question about where we focus. Our teams are small. We want to be everywhere, but we can’t. We tend to do things that a lot of players are asking for. We haven’t seen a lot of fans on Blackberry asking for us to bring our games there. The challenge of going to that platform is too big for it to make sense.

The focus this last year has been the Asian market. We opened up offices in Japan and Korea, and we’re working with Tencent in China. That’s been one of our focus areas.

Lebedev: My last big question is, what would be your advice after 15-plus years as a developer? What might be three points of advice?

Palm: My first would be to be very passionate about what you do. You should go for something you’re interested in. With King, with my companies, it takes a lot longer than you would think. If you want to waste 15 years of your life, you’d better do it with something you really love. That would be my strong advice. If you’re passionate about making games, that’s a good area to work in.

Also, with indies now, I think that the mobile games market is in many ways very democratic. You have the opportunity to compete with big companies. But to do that, you need to grasp analytics and marketing, which are two big areas on one side of making great games.

Lebedev: I’ve never interviewed anybody, and I’ve always wanted to ask these famous questions. I’m going to ask you these questions and you have to answer with your first thought. What’s your favorite word?

Palm: That would be a Swedish word, Web Server Application Programming. That’s a course I created at the Royal Institute of Technology. I met the guys I still work with at King there. We were studying how to make big scalable server systems.

Lebedev: And what’s your least favorite word?

Palm: “No.” I’m a very positive person. I tend to forget everything that’s negative. I don’t like to work with people who are.

Lebedev: What turns you on? Candy?

Palm: My fiancé?

Lebedev: What turns you off?

Palm: God, I don’t know.

Lebedev: Clash of Clans?

Palm: No, I can’t think of anything there.

Lebedev: I don’t know how old you are, but — what sound or noise do you like?

Palm: In my spare time, I’m a nature person right now. I really enjoy the forests, bird songs and things like that.

Lebedev: What sound or noise do you hate?

Palm: That’s tough. Airplane noises? I spend a lot of time on airplanes.

Lebedev: You don’t have to translate for us. What profession, other than your current one, would you like to try?

Palm: When I was young, once upon a time, I took a career decision where I had to go for programming or for art. I’ve always wondered how I would work out as an artist. I actually did art for a few of our early game concepts, and it looked terrible, so maybe it’s good that I didn’t go into that.

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4 comments
Robert Lommen
Robert Lommen

"Now the site is called Raw Games." It's called Royalgames. Nice summary though.

Sixty Hertz
Sixty Hertz

I keep seeing king defend their 'cloning' under the guise that they are not cloning... if you are ripping a game's main matching mechanics (talking about 'match 3' games - tho i hate that term) then you are cloning. Sure you can add some cool features on a higher layer but your base mechanics are bejeweled, you have just appropriated the HARDEST part of game design, the rest is literally gravy... so i'm not buying that...


were there match 3's before bejeweled, of course, but they featured different matching mechanics... is match 3 a genre? yes but a genre is not defined by base mechanics, it's defined by a general exploration of a main concept, in this case connecting things to destroy them (what are erroneously called match 3s, gunpey, tetris, lumines are NOT match 3s)...


that being said, i have a ton of respect for king, mainly because they at least try to improve on the ideas they have ripped... i don't call them clones, i usually call them unofficial sequels, or the sequel that should've-been-made. 


I also see no comparison between king and zynga - zynga lacks process where king has one. That's it, seems small but process is EVERYTHING in a business that has tons of unknowns - you want to back the company that has a process that reduces those unknowns as much as possible (which sadly is never enough but the more unknowns eliminated the better!)


Yes king is not perfect, but they are perfectly situated to bring fat returns to investors. Despite my dislike of their 'creative' approach it, admittedly,  reduces the risks to almost nil: take a proven game and layer on experiencing enhancing features... hard to miss. But something that's hard to miss doesn't mean it's easy to hit a home run, which investors seem to think is the most important aspect of a gaming company. Ignore p&l, revenue and stability and predictability - can you make another candy crush??? it's ridiculous.


dos centavos.

Justin Friedman
Justin Friedman

His name is Tommy Palm? What is he a porno actor with a name like that?

Kyle Waring
Kyle Waring

for every success story like this there are hundreds of thousands of failures... app discovery is a problem

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