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Tommy Palm loves the startup life. So the man credited with helping to create the most popular mobile game on the planet, Candy Crush Saga, has decided to leave King Digital Entertainment for a new startup.
That’s a big deal for King, which was able to go public at a $6 billion valuation on the strength of Candy Crush Saga. This match-3 puzzler generated an estimated $250 million in the Sept. 30 quarter. Candy Crush Saga is still the No. 3 game in the world on the top-grossing charts, behind only Clash of Clans and Game of War: Fire Age. And it is a big reason why King has more than 495 million monthly active players. Candy Crush Saga is one of the few games in the world that has reached nearly everyone with a mobile device, and Palm was King’s public face for the game.
Palm has started Resolution Games, a startup whose works will include virtual reality entertainment. His cofounders include game veterans Martin Vilcans and Carl-Arvid Ewerbring. In an exclusive interview with GamesBeat, Palm said that he enjoyed his time at King, which acquired his mobile startup Fabrication Games three years ago. His job was to help King transition into mobile games, and he did so in spectacular fashion.
“It was a hard decision to leave,” Palm said. “King is a really fantastic company, the best company I have worked at. But I really like starting companies.”
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Palm took King’s Candy Crush Saga from the Web and, with a handful of people, adapted it for mobile gaming. They created a game that was easy to play and accessible to a large audience. Palm said that the Candy theme was one that was easily understood and could resonate across global cultures.
Sebastian Knutsson, chief creative officer and cofounder, said in a statement, ”Tommy has done a great job at King and we’ve had a lot of fun together. On behalf of the Company, I would like thank him for all his hard work and wish him every success in the future.”
“I was very keen on making King big on the mobile side,” he said. “All the ingredients were there when we met. That was something we were hoping to achieve. My personal goal was to work on a project with a lot of gamers.”
And when Candy Crush Saga debuted in spring 2012, the gamers came. It was innovative, allowing you to mashup power-ups to create new capabilities. Eventually, hundreds of millions played it thanks to viral recommendations from friends. The revenue from the free-to-play puzzler was so good that King began throwing out a wider net, advertising on television to get new players. King made it available on all platforms, and it kept the content coming. It now has more than 700 levels.
Preparing for its inevitable decline, King started new projects in the Saga series, and it has scored hits with games like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Farm Heroes Saga, and Bubble Witch 2 Saga. Palm wasn’t involved in those games, so he’s clearly not the only important person among 1,000-plus employees at the publisher. Palm, whose title was “game guru” at King, downplays his role. Still, his contribution was huge.
“I felt that over my 16 years in mobile, the potential was there for very casual games that could have very broad appeal,” Palm said. “We really accomplished that with the games that King now makes. It’s fantastic to see how games have become something that everybody enjoys.”
Palm said he enjoys working in small groups at startups, and that’s also what he’s best at. Resolution Games is Palm’s fifth startup. It has no website or other details yet.
“It’s slightly different kind of startup from some of the things I have done before,” Palm said. “We will focus on virtual reality. That is one of our angles.”
So far, it’s just three people in Stockholm, with a fourth joining soon. Palm said he has worked on mobile games for 16 years now. His story is like many entrepreneurs. He was once so broke that he considered giving up on the game business. He endured six months without a paycheck, and he almost took a job at McDonald’s to pay the bills.
“I remember this vivid moment in early 2000 when I’d been living without any income for the past six months,” Palm said at a conference last year. “I’d started to evaluate whether I was going to take a job at McDonald’s to support myself, or if I was going to continue doing this. We were at a conference in Gotland, and it had been raining. Everything was very gloomy. But we’d sent a proposal to Nokia, and we sat down at a bar and got the deal. The contract was huge by our standards at the time, and at that moment, the sun came out. I was almost in tears.”
Now he’s also trying to give back by starting a game accelerator, Stugan, that will help Swedish game startups get off the ground.
Vilcans is a seasoned developer who has worked at Dramatify, Vilcon, Goo Technologies, Wussap, Digital Legends Entertainment, and Jadestone Group. Ewerbring has worked at Bookl, EEA Consulting, and AnSa Protection. Aside from Fabrication Games, Palm founded Jadestone, the Game Trail, and a consultancy. Palm started programming games for the Commodore 64 in 1986, as a hobby.
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