"Once you break it through to the other side, it’s all worth it"
The story of a struggle between an ingenuous passion and a multi-billion dollar company
Not that long ago, Tommy Palm was a well dressed, struggling entrepreneur—similar to the audience he presented to at the Ncell Apps Challenge on November 15. “Even during the years when I struggled, I wore suits though I couldn’t afford them, because one has to look successful,” says Palm, the Games Guru at King Digital Entertainment, while responding to questions from the audience. Nonetheless today, Palm is an integral part of a company that made $514 million in the third quarter of this year, which include a million dollars a day from the game Candy Crush
As the Games Guru at King Digital Entertainment, Palm has been working at the forefront of the company’s cross-platform games initiative—taking games from social media to mobile devices. And the presentation at Everest Hotel, Baneshwor, was one of the routine lectures and presentations he makes around the world these days. But as cliché as it may sound, a story of struggle precedes every story of success. Palm’s disruptive mark on the industry took a hefty two decades to come by.
“I was very lucky, in the sense, at a young age I knew what I wanted to do in life—and that was to make games.” At 12, Palm made his first computer game—Cowboy, a Commodore 64-based multi-player game, which became quite popular among his peers. Pursuing the passion that he discovered at an early age, Palm joined college for a degree in computer science after finishing school. But before he completed his master’s degree, he decided to drop out and start his own company. “I figured I knew everything to start a business, so I quit school,” says the entrepreneur.
Palm started a company called Jade Stone in 1999 with a few friends from college. “Having the reassurance that my parents would at least provide me with food if things turned ugly helped me make the decision,” shares Palm candidly.
He had borrowed a substantial-sized loan from the bank but he wasn’t lacking in confidence. “At the beginning, I was optimistic—I was sure the company would take off any second,” says the entrepreneur.
The company started making games, and soon after, its clients included mobile companies like Nokia. However, unlike what he had previously thought, the company did not take off any second. Instead ten years went by for the company without much stability. “We would get a good contract, which would set us up for a few months. Then we’d have a bad run and go through a tough phase,” says Palm. After ten years of the tumultuous cycle, in 2009, he decide to leave Jade Stone. According to Palm, Jade Stone had become predominantly dependent on gambling games, which he wasn’t fond of.
During his years at Jade Stone, Palm had evolved as an entrepreneur. “I became much more cautious and realistic through those years, which was a development. But at the same time, I had become reluctant towards taking risks.” But almost as if fitting right into the void created by the change in Palm’s personality, Alexander Aekvall, a talented, young college student with many ideas and a zestful enthusiasm joined Palm to form Fabrication Games in 2009.
The company excelled in building mobile games as it worked with various publishers. Palm was also able to work on the games he was passionate about. But most importantly, the decision laid the setting for a chance meeting at a conference in 2011, which turned out to be life changing for Palm. At the event, Palm was introduced to a member of King Digital Entertainment, which was the second largest social game developer in the world at the time. Immediately the two connected with a shared vision that cross-platform games would be an integral part of the future of the gaming industry.
In 2012, King Digital Entertainment acquired Fabrication Games, and together they started working on the concept of cross-platform games. They decided to develop one of the games that King was already working on, which had the potential to grow as a cross-platform game. The team selected Candy Crush Saga and started working on the game rigorously, thinking of all the details possible.
“Developing games is like conducting an orchestra, there are so many details to look into,” says Palm, referring to all the details—from the sensual baritone voice that says ‘Divine’ when a move pops several candies to the gameplay that needs tickets from friends to move to the next set of levels. All these clever details would contribute to the game’s quick spread through the online social network. After six months of rigorous designing and building, the Facebook version is launched. The mobile version was ready in another three months. Then what followed was a revolution in online social gaming.
King has become the largest social gaming company in the world. It also went public in March earlier this year with the valuation of $7 billion. Even after two years from its launch, last month alone, Candy Crush Saga was played by almost a quarter of a billion different people. And Palm is one of the few people whose struggles are buried underneath this veneer of success.