Lessons learned from the Paradox podcast - Season 1

I've found a podcast made by Paradox Interactive, which is a company that's both making and publishing games. They talk about the business of video games, and if you want to listen to it on your own, you should search for The Paradox Podcast on iTunes or wherever you can find popular podcasts. Their games may not be my favorite type of games, even though I've played some Cities: Skylines which was published by Paradox. But the games are so successful that if they release a new game it often ends up as one of the top selling games on Steam, so it can be a good idea to listen to what they have to say:

  • As said, Paradox is also publishing games, but they say no to 99 percent of the games pitched to them (they get about 1000 pitches per year). But this is a small amount since a publisher like EA gets 1000 pitches per month. Paradox is also only interested in games that fits their portfolio of games, which is mostly management/strategy/rpg games. So they don't want to publish action games. 
  • Two popular games are Prison Architect and RimWorld, and in the podcast they mentioned the clever idea that some people want to pay a little extra to have their content in the game. In the RimWorld case you can pay $15 to buy a DLC that "gives you the right to enter a name into the game so it shows up in all players' games. Players will recruit, command, and fight you for all time!"
  • It's important to be able to explain your game idea in a simple way. For example, Cities: Skylines said their game is "A modern take on the classic city builder." 
  • Paradox is interested in publishing game that are infinite replayable, hard-core (which I think means you have to use your brain), allows you to create something, and easy to get into. Examples of these games are Kerbal Space Program and Dont Starve, which Paradox wanted to publish but were denied to. 
  • Paradox actually declined to publish World of Tanks, Rocket League, and Psychonauts 2, so if your game is rejected by them, don't feel bad. 
  • Ign (a company writing game reviews) bought Humble Bundle (a company selling games). In this podcast they argued that it might be problematic because when Ign write reviews of games they are also selling the games they are reviewing. How can the public reading the review think the review is honest when Ign will make more money by writing good reviews of the games they are selling?
  • Worldwide, steam is just 12-17 percent of the total PC market, even tough this percentage is higher if you look at Europe and America. So if you are an indie developer, it makes sense to focus on the PC market on Steam because you have limited resources, but if you are more popular you should also focus on other publishing platforms and consoles. Paradox has their own publishing platform called Paradox Plaza. 
  • When working with games, it's important to think long-term. For example, when Steam added the refund policy saying that users can get their money back if they played the game for less than 2 hours, the return rates increased. But Paradox were lucky because their games lasts more than 2 hours. So you need to ask yourself, what happens if Steam is changing a policy? Will it kill my game?
  • Single-player is dead! No it's not, but it becomes more and more difficult for big game companies to make money from single-player games.
  • To decrease the risk of making a single-player game that's not popular, big game companies have begun to follow the movie industry and produce games similar to the games that have been released before. So not much innovation is happening. 
  • The best game experience is when you have an emergent game experience where anything can happen and the game reacts to you in unexpected ways. Cities: Skylines is included here because you can create you own story. This is also why multiplayer games are popular because if you play against a real human it's impossible to know what will happen. This is also cheaper because the player is creating the content for you. 
  • The PC market is declining slowly. 
  • Paradox has always been trying to go in the opposite direction of the market: they stayed away from consoles, massive multiplayer games like WoW, free-to-play, mobile, and VR. Or as they said in the podcast "We look at what everyone else is doing and then don't do anything."
  • When pitching games to publishers, don't forget to first figure out what will happen after you've launched the game. A game is a marathon and doesn't always end when you have launched the game!
  • Loot boxes is a sensitive topic and Paradox has developers saying that they would quit if Paradox forced them to implement loot boxes in their games. 
  • Loot boxes is all about implementation and there is a right way and there's a wrong way to implement them. So the discussion should be how to best implement loot boxes. In one way, a game itself is a loot box because you spend money on it but you don't know if the game will be fun, so it's a gamble. 
  • The problem is that companies have realized that they are making money from micro-transactions (where loot boxes are included) so it's an unstoppable trend because a company needs to make money to satisfy the shareholders and be able to keep making games because the cost of making games has increased.  
  • The majority of growth in the game industry comes from Asia and free-2-play models with micro-transactions. 
  • Most "older" gamers are used to buy a game and get 100 percent of the content which is how the game industry was working. This is why they get upset when new games expects them to buy a game and then spend more money to get the full game. 
  • The easiest way to argue with a game company is to not buy the game. 
  • Paradox's solution to micro-transactions is to release a full game that is fully playable and is priced as a full game ($30-50). But then they also release several dlc updates to the game that people have to pay for (and some free updates). They also say it's important to not experiment too much with your core fans by implementing micro-transactions in different ways. It is after all more difficult to get a new customer than to keep an existing customer. 
  • How much does it cost to make a game? It's true that the software used when making games is not expensive. An indie developer doesn't have to spend a single dollar on the software needed to make a game because Unity, Visual Studio, Blender, and Krita are free to use (Unity will cost money if you have a profitable game but it's not expensive). It's also not expensive to publish a game. Several years ago you had to manufacture cds in boxes to be able to sell the game, but today you can just sell it over the Internet. An indie developer can also work from home or from a public space like a cafĂ©. 
  • But big companies need to make their own game engine so they can customize the engine to better fit their game, so they have to invest in research. Because of the research, big companies need to sell more games than the indie developer so they have to invest in marketing the games. Big companies also need big expensive offices. 
  • A Paradox game costs between 2-15 million Euro (both development and marketing costs are included). And it takes 2-3 years to make their games.
  • A Paradox game is not announced until it has reached an "approved alpha." This means that all the features and content is in the game, but the game still has bugs. You should be able to play the game from start to finish.  
  • You could argue that all of the expenses these big companies have are a waste of money. How could Minecraft become one of the best selling games if Minecraft didn't invest millions in research and marketing? The answer according to Paradox is that Minecraft's success wasn't sustainable and if you are a big company that wants to release several successful games you need a bigger budget.
  • As said before, Paradox's model is to release a playable game for a full price and then release free updates and dlcs. But it's difficult to achieve this balance between free updates and dlcs because if too much is free people will not buy the dlc, and if too much is dlc people will be upset because they bought the original game. 
  • Paradox employees are allowed to speak (on like Twitter) about their work, as long as they are not "di*ks." This makes it clear that all employees are actually humans and it makes everyone responsible for their work. It's common that gamers argue that game developers are only doing it for the money, but by communicating with individuals in the company, the games become more transparent. 
  • Paradox have actually explored a city-builder (like Cities: Skylines) but in 3d and in space. So while the roads are usually in 2d-space even though tunnels are possible, the "roads" in this game would be in 3d, so you can build these vertical roads. But they couldn't implement it because it became confusing for the player because you have to go into the model and see where you are. Another game they dreamed about was logistics on a larger scale. 
  • Paradox argues it's important to own the intellectual property belonging to your game.