Tommy Palm hasn't always guessed right, but he has cast his lot in some very fortuitous directions in the past.
Palm is a Swedish gaming entrepreneur who got his start programming as a teenager in the 1980s, using a Commodore 64. He transformed his hobby into a gaming studio called Jadestone in 1999. Since then he's started four companies--the most recent of which, Fabrication Games, was acquired by King Digital Entertainment. It was there he helped turn Candy Crush Saga into a mobile smash hit. And it was Candy Crush's widespread popularity--and wild profitability--that allowed King to go public at a $6 billion valuation last year.
Now the mobile-gaming mastermind is stepping away from King and starting from scratch again. I spoke with Palm about how he managed the relationship with his erstwhile employer, how he is finally building his dream company, and (pay attention!) his predictions for the future of technology.
Now that you've left King, tell me about your decision to work with King in the first place. There's always that bit of doubt that can accompany an acquisition, and some entrepreneurs end up, frankly, miserable, being locked up inside a large company for years.
I've been part of acquisitions before, so I knew some of the troubles that could come with that. But we had none of that with King; it was really hand-in-a-glove in a way. It was such an obvious exchange of knowledge. We didn't know much about social; King was already one of the leading companies in Facebook games, which we were super curious about. And King hadn't been working with a mobile platform before. So that created really good starting ground. For me it was one of the best companies I've worked for. It was a tough choice to leave. I have a lot of good friends there. But I really love starting companies: I feel like that's where my primary strength is.
You've been passionate about being a game developer for a long time--since you were a teenager. What, if anything, did that teach you about entrepreneurship?
I think initially I was very much focused on just building games. I kind of learned the hard way the business side of building a company. We were not that knowledgeable about that at all when I left school and started my first company, and we had a hard time during the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s. For me, that's been a good learning experience--taking the journey from the programmer side and learning more about management and economics down the line. I'm still very product-centric. That's why [my new company] Resolution Games is a very small outfit today, with four people.
Tell us about Resolution Games. One of the things you will work with is virtual-reality entertainment?
This is our third week--it is very new and a lot of fun. We haven't released much yet on what we are going to do. But VR is one of the aspects we are looking into. We are primarily going to be a game-development studio.
What gaming systems are you looking at? And why are you betting on VR being a significant part of the future?
We have no announcement yet on which one we are pursuing. To start off, I think that with gaming, virtual reality is very early. It's in its infancy. It's almost impossible today to distribute a title to consumers. But I think that we are seeing a lot of potential with the platforms. I started out way too early with mobile [Editor's note: Even Palm's first company dabbled in mobile gaming], but one thing that taught me is that it is very good to build up knowledge and have the chance to fail--and learn by making mistakes. And not trying to join in that sweet spot when it has already happened, because you will fall behind.
What does the company you want to build look like from the inside?
I very much believe in keeping small teams. Preferably for me, a team is an ideal size when you can all be in the same room and talk to one another straight over the table. That means groups of about eight people. I'm likely going to continue pursuing products that can be done by that type of team. In Sweden, we also very much like flat teams. Not so much reporting up and waiting for what the boss tells you to do.
What other bets would you make on the future of technology?
I just came out of the judging of the IMGA--International Mobile Gaming Awards--in the south of France. 14 other judges and I have been playing a lot of different mobile games and looking at the trends there. One thing that is super interesting in technology today is how many people have a really potent gaming console in their pocket, owing to smartphones. Because of games like Candy Crush, we see the games market open up to a whole bunch of people who traditionally don't play games. I think that's a really interesting market. We are also seeing a great combination of other technologies--with wearables and smart homes and cars--things that can interact with one another. These are good days to be an entrepreneur within software. There are a lot of opportunities.